Exercising Modern Methods in Physical Education to Inspire a New Generation of Lifelong Movers
By Margaret Chantung
Many adults can reflect back on their childhoods and remember when physical education—commonly known as P.E.—involved running laps, doing push-ups or sit-ups and other organized sports while teachers wielded whistles and clipboards. While these practices placed an emphasis on physical conditioning, they didn’t necessarily follow best practice nor hearten a love for movement and exercise.
Adding fuel to the fire, despite state standards that outline the amount of time and the type of curriculum physical education programs should provide, P.E. has been marginalized and reduced in schools across California and the nation. This is largely due to the misperception that time spent in P.E. hurts student preparation for standardized testing. In fact, empirical evidence suggests that time spent in physical education, with high amounts of physical activity, can actually boost test scores and academic achievement for K-12 students.
“All the evidence suggests that a quality physical education program will boost academic performance,” said Dr. Paul Stuhr, associate professor of kinesiology at Cal State San Marcos, who has been studying and working within the teaching-learning paradigm of physical education since 1995. “Setting aside 30 minutes a day for physical education will not lower test scores at the K-6 level but will actually improve them. Schools should take note and do everything possible to place 150 minutes per week for elementary children and 225 minutes per week for secondary school students.”
Physical education has evolved since the 60s, 70s and 80s. Leading the way is the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE), the leading organization for the field of physical education.
According to SHAPE, “The goal of physical education is to develop physically literate individuals who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity. Quality physical education programs that are aligned to state and national standards play a key role in the promotion of a healthy lifestyle.”
Stuhr’s expertise is in Adventure-Based Learning, an evidence-based model for physical education that places an emphasis on developing a student’s intrapersonal and interpersonal relationship skills through the use of sequenced and highly structured physical activity.
“Adventure-Based Learning is the deliberate use of experiential learning activities for social and emotional growth,” he said. “It’s fun, it’s challenging and it’s an emotionally safe way to experience relationship skills in a cooperative setting.”
A philosophy rather than a set of activities, Adventure-Based Learning is a holistic approach that emphasizes themes of community building, cooperation, emotional and physical trust, and problem solving not commonly found in traditional physical education programs. With the help of a teacher that acts as a facilitator, students participate in physical activities, and then through a debriefing process, develop skills in communication, goal setting, leadership and accountability.
“If a child doesn’t have a positive experience with physical activity by age 12, we are more likely to lose them as adults to being lifelong movers,” said Stuhr. “It is paramount that we set an appropriate foundation for children to enjoy and flourish with their physical activity pursuits.”
In Adventure-Based Learning, physical education is never exclusionary nor punitive—in other words, a student would never be removed from an activity to sit on a bench based on his or her ability to play, nor would he or she be told to run a lap or do push-ups as punishment.
Instead, activities are inclusive and involve teamwork and cooperation. For example, one such game called Pipeline is a lively and thought-provoking activity involving the movement of assorted balls and objects from a starting point to a container. Because Adventure-Based Learning is mastery-oriented in nature, students progress at their own pace, thereby eliminating competition and placing more value on achieving the group goal. This has shown to increase relationship skills, intrinsic motivation and enjoyment of physical activity.
Stuhr, who earned his Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Education at The Ohio State University, has taught at CSUSM since 2008. In his course, Kinesiology 310, CSUSM students conduct off-campus field experiences at local North County schools where they practice and demonstrate their knowledge with elementary and middle school students. This type of service learning impacts K-8 student learning outcomes, helps the physical education teacher—by providing low student-to-teacher ratios—and gives undergraduates valuable teaching experience.
In recognition of his research contributions to the field of physical education teaching and coaching, Stuhr was recently honored as one of five Research Fellows selected by SHAPE. Research Fellows are selected based on significant and sustained research contributions and related service to the field. Over the past 20 years, only three university professors from California have been awarded this status for their research within the area of sport pedagogy.
“It’s an honor to have your peers look at the totality of your work and recognize it,” he said.
But for Stuhr, his passion is truly in giving young people opportunities to become the best version of themselves through physical education:
“The bottom line for me has always been and will continue to be, how can I be explicit in helping students meet their potential while pursuing their educational goals. I affirm that Adventure-Based Learning can contribute to this mission.”