A few Md. schools reinvent gym class

From a Winter Olympics-themed unit at Trinity School in Ellicott City to a walking unit at Glenelg High School in Glenelg, Maryland, Howard County gym teachers are creating new types of units in order to give even students who aren’t as athletic as those who participate on team sports a chance to shine, the Baltimore Sun reports.

A PE unit on golf started a few years ago at Pointers Run Elementary School in Clarksville. Second through fifth graders play with colorful clubs and Velcro targets in a two-week unit every September, which is run in partnership with a local foundation, The First Tee of Howard County, which provides learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf.

“Since this is an independent activity, students love to challenge themselves,” the Sun quoted PE teacher Katarzyna Brodka as saying about the unit. “We don’t make it competitive. We just want to develop love for the sport and introduce an activity students can perform with their families for a lifetime.”

Other units:

  • Hand-eye coordination is developed in a “Minute to Win It” unit at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, based on the TV show.
  • Students at Waverly Elementary School in Ellicott City are using heart monitors to measure exercise intensity.
  • At Swansfield Elementary School in Columbia, students have participated in a “first driver’s ed course” on bikes for about 11 years.
  • À la “American Ninja,” students at Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton develop arm strength as they go “up, down, and across a pegboard without their feet and legs touching the wall” at one of the stations in an obstacle course developed by PE teachers Erika Swan and Phil Ranker.

That bicycling unit, believe me, is needed in Maryland, where biking on roads is hazardous in many, many places, although a nice system of multipurpose trails does exist. Students practice riding in a straight line, mounting and dismounting a bicycle, using arm signals, and avoiding hazards and yielding to oncoming cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

A new law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December. It makes PE part of a “well-rounded education” that schools are required to provide for students, despite the absence of any standardized testing in the subject.

In the past, many academics have opposed including PE as part of the school curriculum, especially in high school, citing studies that showed, for example, only 16 minutes of a standard 45-minute period were used for physical activity, the rest being spent in sedentary activities that don’t even make students break a sweat. Or they cite the concern of hindering a student’s path to college by lowering a non-athletic student’s grade-point average with a ‘C’ in gym class.

But proponents of PE won the day in Congress and are generally more numerous, even among those of us whose straight-A grades in high school were obliterated by a ‘C’ in gym class every single quarter and semester. (Illinois, where I went to school, is one of a few states that requires four complete years of physical education as a high school graduation requirement, although holes have been poked in that law since I went to school.)

Although claims that physical activity can help with the childhood obesity epidemic, it is likely that better eating habits will have a stronger effect. Still, physical activity is important as kids’ bodies develop, and important lessons, including teamwork and competition, are valuable in their lives in a more general way.

As for that obstacle course at Lime Kiln Middle School, it will no doubt help kids accomplish things they had no idea they could do prior to taking the unit in PE. Anytime kids learn that they can accomplish something cool, it helps with self-esteem.

So why do students think PE is important? Here’s a list of the Top 10 reasons they gave in a non-scientific poll at New Hope-Solebury Upper Elementary School in Pennsylvania:

  1. Learn how to stay in shape so you look good
  2. Learn skills to be better at sports
  3. Learn activities that help you feel strong
  4. Learn teamwork and how to help others
  5. Learn exercises to make our hearts healthy
  6. Learn new activities that are fun to do
  7. Learn that practice and effort equal success
  8. Learn how the body works
  9. Learn skills to enjoy physical activity forever
  10. If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.