Saturday, October 2, 2010

Brain Gym

We’re all aware of the grim statistics on overweight American kids. 15% of children aged 6-19 are seriously overweight, while over 10% of kids aged 2-5 are overweight. Within some racial and ethnic groups, the rates are even higher. Doctors and child advocacy groups have continually sounded the alarm that today’s students are the most sedentary and unhealthy generation in American history. Why, then, is physical education caught in the crosshairs of some districts’ politicians and school administrators’ sights as an expendable area of the curriculum?

Earlier this year, the governor of New Jersey raised the idea of eliminating physical education classes for elementary students altogether, and severely curtailing the time required in gym for the upper grades. One reason cited was that those varsity athletes who already practiced 8-10 hours a week risked injury if participating in gym class. Well, maybe. But what about the other 95% of the student body?

Schools and PE teachers who have to defend the importance of physical education in the curriculum are gaining in numbers. Under pressure to raise test scores, school districts look for any additional time in which they can cram extra instruction. Unfortunately, areas like phys ed, art, music, and even recess come under increasing fire as “frills” that can be sacrificed in the name of “enhanced instruction.”

Physical education classes do much more than teach gross motor skills. In addition to improving cardiovascular health and promoting healthy lifestyle skills, gym classes offer more team-building opportunities than any other subject on a regular basis. Good communication is practiced repeatedly, as students learn to cooperate and work with peers of varying skill levels, personalities, and ethnicities. These are vital skills that they will need later in life in their work environments and communities. Kids’ self-esteem can increase, and exercise is a proven stress-buster. Research has also shown a strong correlation between physical activity and increased test scores. MRIs of kids’ brains have revealed that fit kids have significantly larger sections of the brain (particularly the basal ganglia and hippocampus) which govern actions like maintaining attention, the thought process, and complex memory.

My picks this week are from PE Central, a site dedicated to offering the latest information on developmentally appropriate physical education programs for kids. Most students through the teenage years need at least an hour of exercise each day; some of these activities can be done in regular classrooms to help interject some physical movement across the curriculum. As always, please check our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week for many additional resources, lessons, news, and information about the importance of student physical education and exercise. Now get those kids moving!

Subjects: Physical education, Math, Geography
Grade: 6-12
This is a great activity that combines math, geography, and physical fitness. Over the course of the unit, students gradually increase their jogging time, while plotting their progress on a map of the Appalachian Trail. One lap for the students equals one mile on the map.

Maintaining Target Heart Rates Using DDR
Subjects: Physical education, Math
Grade: 9-12
Get your groove on! Using Dance Dance Revolution, students calculate their target heart rate zones based on individual resting rates, and then maintain their target heart rates while participating in various activities.

Candy Bar Fractions
Subject: Physical education, Math
Grade: 4-5
Students learn about the relationship between exercise and burning calories in this activity. Students divide candy bars into parts, figure the number of calories per section, and calculate how long and vigorously they have to exercise to expend the calories.

~Joann's Picks - 10/1/2010~


  1. Physical activity is so important, it makes me sad that any school sees cutting PE a viable option. Great resources at PE Central!

  2. PE really is a vital component in our students' educations, in so many ways. It seems that in order to chase impressive test scores, more schools are forced to focus on teaching to the test, and less on true education. Colleges still desire "well-rounded" students, but how can students be well-rounded if schools need to cut art, PE, and other courses? And yes - PE Central has great resources! :)


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