PE that looks more like a health club and less like … well, PE

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At Fairview High School in Boulder, gym class is a lot like a trip to the recreation center.

On a recent Wednesday morning, as the second hour of PE class began, some students grabbed colorful bibs so they could take part in the indoor soccer game. Others rushed downstairs to the school’s weight room or to a converted racquetball court filled with spin bikes. Still others entered the wrestling room where Zumba classes were about to begin.

Students were free to choose where and how they would perform the day’s exercise. The class, called “PE by Choice,” represents Fairview’s attempt to redo its physical education curriculum around fitness, personal effort, and the idea that exercise prepares the brain for learning. . At the same time, it’s an example of how the state’s high school physical education standards, which emphasize lifelong fitness and individual goal setting, translate into everyday practice.

Aside from a dance-focused physical education offering at Fairview, the days are gone when all students would focus on a sport, whether they loved it or hated it, excelled or had. difficulty. The new approach, which requires fitness testing three times per semester and the use of heart rate monitors up to four days a week, still includes team sports but to a lesser extent.

In any given week, you have up to 10 different activities to choose from, ranging from beach volleyball to yoga. Despite the multitude of options, some students were initially reluctant about the new version of the PE curriculum, said Rob Vandepol, a physical education and health teacher who helped lead the effort.

Zumba was one of the choices in a recent physical education class at Fairview High School.

“We had a group of kids who were like, ‘No, it’s going to be too hard,'” he said. “They [were] just not really understand what the program is. It’s all about self-improvement and doing things you love.

Ninth grade student Odali Arvalo, one of the few girls who made football in the recent second period class, said she loves variety.

“Sometimes you get bored of always having to do the same thing… Not all sports are suitable for you. So you have to find something that works. I think it’s better instead for everyone to choose for you.

For PE staff, the new model presents logistical challenges, sometimes requiring three teachers to supervise up to 120 students in four locations. In the recent second period PE class, Vandepol split his time between the football game and the cardio room, quickly walking down the hall from one to the other every five or ten minutes. The other two teachers occupied the weight room and the wrestling room.

“We have supervision issues,” he admitted, describing how he and other teachers sometimes scramble to keep an eye on everyone.

“At some point you have to decide what is really good for the kids,” he said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen, but I guess what I’m saying is it’s good for the kids.”

Inspiration in Illinois

Fairview’s new physical education program was inspired by a similar effort started a decade ago at Naperville Central High School in Illinois. This school, which VanDePol and other Fairview staff visited in 2012, was featured in the influential book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by Harvard Psychiatry Professor John Ratey.

The details of the two programs vary somewhat, but both focus on student choice, continuous fitness assessment, and effort-based scoring. At Fairview, students are assigned a fitness level from one to four at the start of the semester based on scores on the standard tests of cardio, endurance, strength and flexibility.

Students in Group 1 – between 17% and 33% of students after the first round of tests – are the fittest students, required to wear a heart rate monitor only once a week. The pupils of group 2 wear the monitors twice a week, the pupils of group 3 wear them three times a week and the pupils of group 4 wear them the four weekly days of physical education.

On days when students are wearing the monitors, the goal is to get at least 25 minutes in “the zone”, which corresponds to a heart rate of at least 140 beats per minute. Achieving that goal over the number of days required by their fitness level accounts for 40 percent of students’ marks. If students don’t meet the goal, they don’t get full credit.

For Kaelec Signorelli, a football player who had landed in Group 4, the format seemed to offer a refreshing sense of autonomy.

“You actually decide who you want to be,” he said. “Are you going to be the big slacker who … doesn’t get your heart rate up?” Or you can be the athletic person trying to do this stuff.

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One of the hoped-for benefits of Fairview’s new approach to physical education is that it will engage more students, not just those who can score goals or slam dunks. As Vandepol watched the fast-paced indoor soccer game, he noted that not everyone finds ball sports to be suitable.

Fairview physical education teacher Rob VanDePol describes the rules before a recent soccer game during physical education.

Fairview physical education teacher Rob VanDePol describes the rules before a recent soccer game during physical education.

“Most of the kids in the cardio room, they’d be the typical group that sucks and tries not to get hit by the ball here… so we’re trying to make a big social change.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t want students to try new activities. In fact, PE by Choice encourages cross-training by awarding additional points if students attempt more than one activity category per week. Part of this is because different activities promote different athletic skills, but building a repertoire that lends itself to permanent activity is also part of the equation.

As Vandepol presented students with the long list of activities available as he finished his recent class, he spoke about the obstacles that plague many adults when it comes to exercise.

“We want you to jog because one day later in life you might not be able to make it to the weight room, go to the gym and play with all your buddies… but you You may be able to come home from work at 6 a.m. clock at night and just go for a jog and you will feel better.

It is a theme contained in the high school section of the state physical education standards, adopted in 2009.

“Overall, our physical education program is moving toward lifelong physical activity,” said Sue Brittenham, physical education consultant for the Colorado Department of Education. “It really tends to move away from team sports. “

She added: “It’s quite difficult to get a group of adults together to play flag football.”

Time and money

While PE by Choice seems to be making its way to Fairview, don’t expect to see it widely copied in Colorado just yet. Even Vandepol, a staunch supporter, knows it’s a tough sell.

“I hope he will eventually [spread]… But I know change takes a long time, especially in education.

He said physical education teachers at other high schools in the district have expressed interest in the concept, and some already offer a choice of activities, but they don’t use heart rate monitors to measure heart rate. effort or hold students accountable.

These watches are part of the heart rate monitors that students wear during PE.

These watches are part of the heart rate monitors that students wear during PE.

Meanwhile, at least one middle school in the Jeffco District uses pedometers in much the same way Fairview uses heart rate monitors, but the component of choice is missing. Whether due to staff limitations, space constraints, or liability issues, the idea of ​​sending students to multiple locations during PE is an obvious sticking point for many schools.

“I know there are some high schools there is no way that can happen,” Brittenham said. “There is no way we can let them not be directly supervised.”

The price of the technology is also formidable. Fairview, where all students must complete three semesters of physical education to graduate, spent about $ 12,000 on heart rate monitors as well as additional chest belts so students could have theirs.

Money and other challenges aside, students like Mariano Kemp think PE by Choice makes sense. The ninth-grade student, a returning running back on the first-year football team, had a sweaty glint on his face after spending the recent second-period class lifting weights.

“This is really… how they should treat a physical education class, to keep the kids as fit as possible, to push you to the best of your ability.” [of your] capacity.”


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