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Recently the State Department of Education in Alabama issued guidance that advised teachers to use standards-based physical education instruction in the largest classroom in the school — the gymnasium.

Unfortunately, this guidance was not popular among all the residents of Alabama. The criticism came from all angles and was directed at the State Department of Education, the folks who work for children each day.

Detractors slammed the department for depriving children of having fun because to those critics, “What could possibly be wrong with teaching “Duck, Duck, Goose” and dodgeball to seven- and eight-year-old students enrolled in Alabama Public Schools?”

I take exception with critics who say that students are being deprived of fun. An activity is fun when it is enjoyable for everyone and these games (including getting blasted with a dodgeball) are not. While it is true that some children may enjoy these activities, it is also true that it can be humiliating for many students. For the less athletic and skilled, these games may result in feelings of isolation. Additionally, they often result in early elimination, which limits physical activity during the PE class period.

Bottom line, there are better ways for children to spend time in physical education. What if these children were offered appropriate instructional practices in physical education instead of these elimination activities? The kind of instruction that could help them learn life skills and concepts?

It would mean that time previously spent running relays or playing “What Time Is It Mr. Wolf” could be replaced with activities that help students value their participation in physical activity and develop skill patterns that lead to success in a variety of pursuits. These children could be empowered with the skills and knowledge to analyze, identify and improve their own fitness level.

More importantly, these students could use those same skills — the ones taught through standards-based physical education — to improve relationships, work cooperatively with teammates, and accept and give criticism. They might even learn to enjoy physical activity for their lifetime.

As a parent, I can appreciate the nostalgia of youthful games, but as an educator I know better. Physical education, as well as a host of other subjects, has evolved over the years.

For example, our kids are better off knowing that algebraic concepts need to be taught earlier so students learn to think conceptually about math. They are better off knowing that diverse texts and the study of history of multiple cultures lead to a better understanding of our current world; better off doing scientific experiments in the classroom instead of watching videos.

And, they are much better off having physical education teachers who recognize that all students need to feel valued and have the opportunity to move in class (which you don’t do when you get eliminated).

An effective physical education program that uses appropriate instructional practices will prepare Alabama students to lead active and healthy lives and can only benefit the state and its residents.

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  1. Kimberly M. Perry

    Christopher, thank you so much for writing about this topic. I am a teacher in SC. I have a problem with our curriculum including team sports. In my experience this gives middle school to high school PE teachers an easy lesson plan. Teach skills to all students, however the only ones that enjoy the activity are the athletes in the class. I have found that my cases are made up of 5% athletes and the rest your average teenager. I changed my entire PE program to benefit the individual student. We do personal fitness activities that involve ALL my students.
    I would like for us to get rid of team sports and teach our students how to take care of themselves without 5, 6, or 10 more players. Cooperative games can be taught without teaching basketball, volleyball, football, soccer, and softball. Maybe teaching like this has allowed our nation to be the most overweight and unhealthy nation in the world.

  2. Sarah Ghassan Maarouf

    I think you are absolutely right, there should be better ways of educating children about physical activities then in games that may not be inclusive to everyone or not as physically beneficial to each child, since there is the component of being eliminated. I remember being intimated by the other kids who could throw better, run faster, or just had a natural athletic ability. It discouraged me from participating, especially to my greatest ability, since it did not compare to theirs. This does create a feeling of isolation inside a child but also a social isolation as well, being ostracized in gym class is usually where you first feel like you do not belong. I think that if we taught appropriate practices in P.E. then not only would children´s physical health be improved, in a more balanced and logical approach, but their mental health as well since physical activity also boosts self – esteem and confidence in a person. Growing this roots while they are young is important to eventually flourishing as healthy and active adults.

  3. Anna Nelsen

    I agree that students need to be provided with fun, engaging physical activity that all students can participate in regardless of their athletic abilities. The emphasis for these activities should be on teamwork and sportsmanship. Students need to get their sixty minutes of physical activity every day, but this should be done the right way. Health educators cannot just teach kids about sports, they need to allow the students to physically play those sports and learn from them. Hands-on learning and experiential learning are some of the best ways for students to grow and learn. In addition, students should be able to share their ideas of what they want to do in class with the teachers. Games and activities in PE classes need to be inclusive of all students and teach important life lessons.

  4. Morgan Gottel

    Hi Chris,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I completely agree that teachers should be gearing lessons towards everyone in the class, and not just the “jocks.” EVERYONE needs PE and it is important for our professionals to make sure the students are getting quality PE and becoming physically literate individuals.
    Thanks for the post!

  5. Eric Fisher

    Hi Christopher, as a health and physical education teacher from West Chester University, I couldn’t agree more! What school district are you working for? Appropriate practices ensure that children are safe and activities that are not safe should not be allowed in physical education classes! What level of school are you teaching at? Dodgeball was a very popular physical education activity in my high school, which recently, is no longer allowed due to the amount of injuries from it. What would be your best advice for someone who might be a high school physical education teacher that is co-teaching with the veterans who have been there and want to change anything they see is not best practice? I can only hope that other school districts are getting the gist from Maslow’s hierarchy stating, if students are not safe, they will not learn!

  6. Carlie Senatore

    Hi Christopher! I am a health and physical education teacher candidate from West Chester University. As an observer and soon-to-be student teacher, students feeling uncomfortable, being eliminated in games, and excessive waiting on the sideline is still extremely prevalent in today’s physical education classes. I can not agree more that standards based physical education is crucial. Along with the lifelong skills you mentioned, standards-based physical education acknowledges that students learn at different rates and in different ways. It calls for differentiated instruction and time modifications as needed. Standards-based physical education adheres to the idea that students’ grades should be an accurate reflection of students’ learning, and what improvements to make in curriculum if not. With that said, have you noticed a difference in any way from incorporating standards based lessons in your class? Have you received any input (negative or positive) from your administration, and/or State Department of Education in Alabama? Thanks for sharing!

  7. Grant Myers

    Hi Christopher! I am a Health and Physical Education teacher candidate from West Chester University. As a soon to be student teacher, students being eliminated from games or excessive waiting on the sideline of the games being played is still seen throughout physical education classes today. I agree with you 100% in the sense that standards based physical education is vital. Games like dodgeball and matball were a part of everyday physical education in my high school and although they are fun for some students they are nightmares for others. I found it more beneficial to use standards based physical education because it allows students to learn at their own rate and in different ways, along with learning the lifelong skills, like you mentioned. I commend your state education department for advising that teachers throughout your state start using standards based instruction because it is more beneficial to the students and it will make coming to physical education class more fun that showing up and getting creamed by dodgeballs. With that said, has your administration given you any input whether it has been negative or positive? Thank you for sharing!

  8. Joseph Heffernan

    Hey Chris,
    Thank you for your post, it was an intriguing piece. I am a Health and Physical Education teaching candidate from West Chester University and I am glad that there are educators like yourself who make sense of the importance of teaching lifelong goals in physical education. Physical education is not just for teachers to throw a ball out and tell the students to play. It has changed drastically over the years and this article proves that no ordinary “Joe Shmo” can teach a physical education class. As many others in this post have mentioned, I participated in a lot of dodgeball and elimination games throughout K-12 and it did nothing positive. I like the. idea that instead of having elimination activities, incorporate a fitness element into the game and say if a student gets eliminated they have to perform 10 Jumping Jacks and can go right back into the game instead of being eliminated and not being able to participate in any physical activity. I really enjoyed reading this because it is nice to see forward movements of physical education. There are going to be people who like the direction that physical education is going in which is in the “standards-based” direction and there are going to be people who don’t, like some of the Alabama residents. As long as the students future health is the focal point of your teaching, I think as a whole it is moving in the right direction. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Austin Hunter Sensenig

    Hi Christopher, I am a Health and Physical Education teacher candidate from West Chester University and soon to be student teacher. I can’t agree with you more about eliminating activities that involve the possibility of students being humiliated in front of their peers. The more the students are enjoying themselves and having fun, the more they will be willing to cooperate and participate in class. The more you are able to get the participation of your class up, the better. I also like how you care about the class as a whole and are worried about how each and every student feels. This builds your relationship with the students and could also have a big impact on the overall participation and attitude of the class. I support your viewpoint on the issue at hand. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Gina Scanlin

    Hello Christopher, and thank you for sharing your view on empowering students through appropriate practices in our PE classrooms. I am a teacher candidate at West Chester University and feel as though any activity that eliminates students from physical activity or any activity in a classroom should not be taking place. I agree that our students need engaging physical activity that ensures that all students can participate. Too often we see the ‘athletes’ engaged and everyone else just watching them pass the ball around. I recently observed a class where the girls simply stood in the middle of the playing area while the boys played around them. If we are basing our objectives on getting the ‘whole’ class involved and creating activities that offer that, we would be headed in a much better direction. I appreciate how you stated that if we taught through the standards, we would be teaching skills that our students can use to improve their relationships, work with teammates and give and accept criticism. These are great life skills that our students deserve to learn. Thank you again for sharing your view.

  11. Lucy

    Hi Christopher! I am a West Chester University teacher candidate. I agree, fun activities are activities that are fun for all students, not just a few. While some students enjoy playing dodgeball, for example, others hide in the back. Games that eliminate or humiliate students can discourage them from participating in regular physical activity outside of school, which is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. As you mention, activities that involve elimination also decrease active time. Obesity rates and health issues continue to rise, and it is critical that we help all students meet the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. We can accomplish this by providing students with a positive learning environment and standards-based lessons that will teach them important skills to help them become physically literate individuals. The more active and confident students are, the more fun they will have and the more they will learn. Games like dodgeball and kickball can be fun, but there are so many other activities that are more effective and keep all students engaged. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Layla Elshimy

    Hello, I am currently a health and physical education teacher candidate at West Chester University. I agree with your view on standards-based education. As you stated, students will receive a better-quality education if what they are learning has several benefits. Through standards-based education, students are able to participate in a variety of activities while learning skills and movement concepts. I really liked how you stated that physical education also helps students learn life skills that they will need in the future. I appreciate the time you have taken to discuss what quality physical education can do for students and why it is so important in a school’s curriculum. What is the next step to advocating for a well-rounded physical education program in your child’s school district? Thank you for your time.

  13. Mark Pegula

    Hello, Christopher. I am currently a West Chester University Teacher Candidate studying health & physical education. I agree with your argument that the curriculum should be a standards-based education. Standards-based educations give students the opportunities to participate in a variety of activities and learn the skills necessary to engage in all of them. This allows students to practice the movement skills that they will need in order to carry on a lifetime of physical activity. It also exposes them to a variety of activities and allows students to decide for themselves which activities they enjoy and decide for their own which activities they want to further pursue for a lifetime. Thank you for sharing your experiences and for continuing your great work.

  14. Leandra Josephine Conti

    As a health and physical education teacher candidate at West Chester University I appreciate and agree with your stance on how a physical education program should be base on standards. Standards based curriculum allows for affordances for all students at different skill levels, making it possible for maximum participation or all students. Elimination games humiliated students and does not allow for maximum participation, which only hurts the student as they are not getting much physical activity. If your district insists on offering these activities to students, claiming not teaching them is taking away their “fun,” perhaps suggest an after school club or activity. This way students who are participating are doing it on their own time and of their own free will instead of being forced to play a game they are uncomfortable with. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

  15. Taylor Ann Potter

    As a student and health and physical education teacher candidate at West Chester University, I can attest that this change in this field is coming. Our classes are molding us to become a new generation of non-humiliating physical activity. I agree that elimination games can create a resentment towards physical activity. They can learn “if I am not good at the skill my punishment is I cannot do it.” We want to ignite a desire to live a healthy lifestyle rather than punish the less skilled. Thank you for sharing your story.

  16. Benjamin Ross Farber

    Christopher, I am currently a Health and Physical Education teacher candidate from West Chester University. I highly encourage other states to take on appropriate practices in regards to physical education. Elimination games in the gymnasium does not encourage physical activity during the limited time in the physical education class. Using practice tasks that encourage physical activity from all students involved gives each student a sense of accomplishment and belonging. Great post!