The Teacher's Role in Elementary & Secondary Physical Education

Instructor: Donna Ricketts

Donna Ricketts is a health educator with 15 years of professional experience designing health and wellness programs for adults and children.

In this lesson you will learn about the role that elementary and secondary level classroom teachers play in physical education. You will also learn how teachers can incorporate physical education into the classroom.

Why Kids Need Physical Education (PE)

Kids today spend far too many hours in front of computers, portable devices, or television screens, and very few hours participating in heart-pumping, physical activity. One place where children can engage in physical activity is at school. PE in schools is important because it provides kids with the opportunity to exercise and gain knowledge of how to live and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

By participating in a regular physical education program, children can:

1. Improve physical fitness

Regular PE can improve children's muscular strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, and body composition.

2. Learn healthy food behavior

PE also teaches kids about the health benefits of making healthy food choices (e.g. eating more fruits and vegetables), which in turn can help prevent childhood obesity.

3. Strengthen social skills

PE helps children socialize with others successfully while providing opportunities to build self-confidence through participation in dances, games, and sports.

Youth Playing Soccer
Youth Playing Soccer

Barriers to Physical Education in Schools

Despite the wealth of knowledge concerning the benefits of PE, many schools provide very little or no daily physical education. Lack of time, budget cuts, and testing pressures often mean that schools cut PE. It is recommended that elementary and secondary children receive 30 - 60 minutes of physical education a day. Providing opportunities for PE throughout the school day can help.

Classroom teachers are encouraged to provide such opportunities, but many classroom teachers report not feeling capable of teaching physical education because they lack adequate training. In addition, teachers may not know how to incorporate exercise into their classroom without taking away from core subjects. Despite this, it is absolutely possible for teachers to include physical activity in their classrooms. Let's examine how that role changes with school level.

Teacher's Role in Elementary Physical Education

A helpful elementary-level fitness intervention is to talk openly about movement, fitness, and food choices during class time. Beyond talking, there are countless creative ways to get moving!

Incorporate Movement into Lessons

This means doing daily work with added movement. For example, read aloud while students walk at a moderate pace around the room, and then ask students to identify the verbs in the text by acting them out as they listen. Another example would be while reviewing for a test, ask the students a series of true-or-false questions. Assign actions for both 'true' and 'false' so students can participate in the review.

Movement Breaks

Movement breaks are ideal when teachers notice kids are becoming restless and they can lead to improved focus and performance by students. Movement breaks can be short (doing 10 jumping jacks behind desks) to long (a full recess period).

Fitness Drills

Teachers can work with school administrators to incorporate fitness drills throughout the school day. When a 'fitness drill alarm' sounds, everyone in the school building stops what they are doing and participates in the pre-arranged physical activity. Examples of exercises could include push-ups, crunches, or step-ups (on bench or chair).

Teacher's Role in Secondary Physical Education

Besides offering the types of interventions discussed for elementary level students, secondary teachers can make lessons more hands-on and engaging for older kids by integrating PE into lessons with the use of interdisciplinary or cross-curricular teaching, an approach that involves teaching a unit across different core subjects.

Interdisciplinary Teaching of Physical Education

Physical activity and health knowledge can be combined into theme subjects inside the classroom. For example, a math unit may include using tools like a pedometer to do statistical analysis with predictions and graphs to study a student's daily activity. Social studies can also use pedometers for tracking steps across the state, city or neighborhood. Science lessons can focus on a student's energy expenditure or how their body responds to increased activity.

High School Track
High School Track

Incorporate Movement into Lessons

Incorporating movement at the secondary level requires giving more room for higher-level thinking and freedom. Here are two examples of how secondary teachers can incorporate movement into lessons:

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