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PE Curriculum Jumpstarts an
Active Lifestyle


Fishing, cycling, and ping pong may not be expected aspects of the physical education curriculum, but they are up-and-comers. PE is getting a redo, with an eye toward exposing students to the kinds of active games and hobbies that can be enjoyed throughout life. Kickball and its relatives, which appeal most strongly to students who are already physically active, are being kicked to the curb to make room (and funds) for the likes of yoga, golf, bowling, and badminton. Included: Expert Bane McCracken offers some simple advice to enhance the long-term impact of PE instruction.

"Team sports are great, but you don't see 60-year-olds playing pick-up football games," says Matt Kesler. "We are trying to get our students to get and stay active for the rest of their lives."

Kesler's physical education classes at William Fleming High School in Roanoke, Virginia, set out to introduce students to the kinds of active pastimes that can be enjoyed at any age. The school's "lifetime activities curriculum" was already in place when Kesler assumed his teaching position in 2003, but it has grown to include lifelong pursuits like fishing.


"Today's physical education needs to be standards-based," Bane McCracken told Education World. "It must focus on fitness and teach the skills that make physical activity enjoyable and lifetime in nature. The emphasis is on teaching. Physical education is not recess or a playground. You teach physical education."

The author of It's Not Just Gym Anymore: Teaching Secondary School Students How to Be Active for Life, McCracken taught physical education in the public schools of West Virginia for 32 years. Before his retirement three years ago, he was coordinator of physical education for the state.

McCracken advises teachers to stop playing kickball, in which students spend much of their time standing in line, and start teaching kids how to kick with force and direction, to catch, and to throw. The more proficient students become with those skills, the more likely they are to be physically active.

"Remember that fitness is a skill, and exercise is not a dirty word," he added.

There are many activities that can be introduced and taught in physical education and enjoyed throughout life. Running, walking, hiking, zumba, yoga, tai chi, and aerobics are a few that McCracken recommends.

"Physical education teaches skills that make physical activity enjoyable and lifetime in nature," he stated. "If student's physical activity habits are not changing as a result of what is being taught, then something is wrong -- inappropriate content, lack of the opportunity to learn, or ineffective teaching."

"We do a bicycle unit, archery, aerobics, golf, bowling, hiking, and a racquet sport unit. Basically, we try to get students interested in doing activities they can do for the rest of their lives," Kesler told Education World.


In Kesler's inner-city school system, the students know and love team sports such as basketball, football, baseball, and track, but the more meaningful long-term games and activities are less familiar. When possible, field trips cement the students' interest in the new activities and give them the hands-on experiences that spur further involvement.

During a unit about fishing, Kesler's students learned to cast, tie knots, and play games like fish golf. He promised that the group would go on an excursion to test their skills as a culminating activity, and the students were elated. Over half of them had never been fishing.

"I took them to a stocked trout pond where they could have success catching a fish, and they loved it," recalled Kesler. "Their faces were gleaming as each one of them caught a fish that day. I knew then that some of them would enjoy fishing for the rest of their lives. It was a rewarding moment as a teacher."

Funds for fishing equipment and the trip came through a grant from the Future Fisherman Foundation. Kesler's students hold fundraisers and bring their own money at times to go on field trips that aren't covered by the school. Many of the activities cost little or nothing for students to explore, but the price of transportation to appropriate facilities and destinations can be an obstacle to frequent endeavors outside of school.


"Our students love to take field trips," reported Pat Hupfauf. "Some of our more popular ones are swimming, golfing, and bowling, and our fishing trip is very popular. They also enjoy bike riding off-road, archery, pickle-ball, and ping pong. My goal is to find at least one activity for all of my students that they can enjoy doing for the rest of their lives."

Perry-Lecompton High School once offered a class called "team sports," but it became clear that the course was not meeting the needs of all students. It appealed only to those who already enjoyed those activities. Hupfauf's "Individual Lifetime Sports" course has attracted students who wouldn't usually choose to enroll in a high school physical education class.

Hupfauf begins each class with a 20-minute segment in which the students can do an activity of their choice as long as they achieve 2,500 steps on their pedometers. The Perry (Kansas) high school students revel in this freedom.

"Some will play basketball, others will walk, and some will pass a ball back and forth as they jog around the gym," stated Hupfauf. "The students know that fitness is a primary goal of the class, and we surround it with fun activities that they enjoy doing. I have many kids sign up for the class over and over, and they start some of these activities on their own time as well."

When students enroll, they follow a schedule of activities that is conducive to field trips. To defray the cost of the trips associated with his course, Hupfauf's students pay $3 for each trip, with no complaints. He allows the students to select the field trips that the class takes and gives them choices of "real world" experiences that simply can't be simulated at school. Hupfauf believes it is important to give his students ownership of the course. He provides guidelines and then permits them to make choices that are good for their health.

"I also only do activities for one week," he added. "I keep it fresh so the students don't get bored with any activity. I think that is important."