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Health, Physical Activity and Physical Education: One way of squaring the circle

Volume 1: The Nature and Purposes of Physical Education

In the previous blog we explored the key issue that face us at this time as we seek to understand more about physical education and physical activity. It suggest that social justice and prejudices are still key reasons why students don’t get the physical education experiences that they want, need and deserve. It argues that we are all responsible in the development of teachers (be it ourselves or those who come under our care), and that only together can we ask the hard questions that need asking and then answering. The discussions around the blog focused on ways in which we might involve students in discussions around physical education and what it means to them. In this way we would be better positioned to offer a notion of physical education that was in keeping with their needs and desires

This week’s blog explores this issue from the angle of health. The authors argue that physical education has an established place in society and this could be used to promote and then enact a notion of PE that was firmly centred on health. Drawing on the research in the latter part of the last century the paper makes links between inactivity in childhood and inactivity in adulthood and argues that by addressing the first real difference can be made in the health of the nation.

 

Paper 19:

Sallis, J.F. & McKenzie, T.L. (1991/2012). Physical education’s role in public health. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education. (pp. 331-356) London: Routledge.

 

My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

My take home message from this paper is that physical education needs to be educative. The authors are writing at a time when the issue of physical inactivity was being clearly linked to early mortality and associated, and then equally compared, with “population attributed risks” such as cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In many respects they do a good job in bringing studies in the field of physical activity and health together for our ‘consumption’ but there seems to be a key educative message missing from the paper - i.e. that we need to radically change what occurs in physical education. Instead, they suggest that physical education” can easily be adapted to meet the current and future health needs of the [US] population”. For example, by ensuring that students engage in the requisite amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Given what we know about pedagogical and curricular change (then and now) this seems like a naive suggestion and one that undermines the efforts of teachers and fails to consider what it actually takes to engender and sustain change. The authors seem to be on the edge of a number of key ideas but they ‘hedge their bets’ on a number of occasions and skirt, in my opinion, around some of the key issues. For example, they talk about research that was undertaken across six lessons and suggest that it had an effect on the dietary behaviour of the participants. While I feel that this is a laudable outcome it makes no mention of long term change. In the same paragraph they talk about a five year study that had a notable and positive impact on cholesterol, dietary intake and health knowledge. Now while no direct change to physical activity or fitness was noted in either study I would not be alone in suggesting that if the five-year model was adopted in school physical education then there would be an increased possibility of sustained lifestyle change at the very least.

This notion of educating rather than schooling runs throughout the paper. The authors overlook the multifaceted nature of change in favour of the expediency of using the existing institutional structures around physical education to develop a form of physical education that favours health-related physical activity goals. That is not to say that they don’t make some important observations but they seemed to have squared the circle in a manner not in keeping with the broad and diverse goals of physical education around physical, social and moral development. Instead health has an endpoint rather than as a way of living that becomes the motivation behind change. I certainly agree with their argument that the major emphasis in physical education on team games is not conducive to lifelong physical activity. I also have a lot of sympathy with their argument that a games agenda in schools has a key impact on our future desire to watch team sports rather than participate.

However, the changes they suggest are not easy and nor are they achievable in the immediate to short term. We need to aspire to the future and face head on the challenges of change. So instead of thinking of next week or next year we need to think in terms of “by the time this student leaves this school in six years time s/he will be able to...” and then fill in the gaps. If the answer to that is have a free throw average of +80% or run 100m in sub 12 seconds then work to that goal, but if it is “value the physically active life” then what learning process do we have to have in place to achieve this six years hence? Is it more than short dietary interventions that may be forgotten by the end of the six years?

 

The Paper

Sallis and McKenzie’s main argument is that adult physical inactivity is an epidemically-proportioned cause of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases and that this serves as a strong rationale to shift the orientation of physical education squarely towards health. In doing so they hold that childhood inactivity is directly related to adult inactivity and therefore by changing the first you will positively impact on the second. They argue that because “school physical education is the only major institution that can address the health-related activity needs of virtually all children” it should be seen as a major contributor to improvement of the USA’s health crisis. 

In making this case the authors suggest while PE has not historically been viewed as a public health programme they are compelling reasons for such a shift in thinking. With the dangers of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and premature mortality and the strong links to physical activity (or the lack of it) Sallis and McKenzie believed that PE could be redesigned to serve as a preventer to sedentary lifestyle. They even go as far as suggesting that a “reasonable yet untested hypothesis” would be that such a change could influence up to 97% of the population. In this paper they make other “probably”, “speculative” and unsubstantiated claims and assumptions about physical activity and health.

However, they also make a case that any “comprehensive approach to promoting children’s health must go beyond the confines of the school”. This means involving families and the community in the educative process, even if school remains as the centrepiece of any intervention. Sallis and McKenzie also argue that 50% of elementary age children don’t have adequate time for PE, that they are neither active in class nor prepared for lifetime activities, and finally that they are too often taught by non-specialists (see blog on Hoffman). This argument certainly holds true with many others and sits at the crux of the educative arguments made around PE.

The authors focus on elementary schools and hold that teachers trained in physical education are better able to change behaviours around physical activity. However, while I support their implicit argument that elementary school is where we should initially focus our efforts in improving PE by employing specialist teachers, I would argue that this does not take into account current teacher education or expectations around pedagogy and content in PE. To that end we need to find way of achieving teacher and school ‘buy in’ to any form of change. Furthermore, that change needs to be educative and not simply programmatic.

 

What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate? Use the comment box below to ask question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.?

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is this your responsibility or just something else to be put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be.

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? Please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

 

 

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On Tuesday 14 May at 21:23 Dylan Blain said
I believe the promotion of a healthy, active lifestyle to be a crucial part of a PE teachers job. The time they spend in PE lessons is not enough to meet current recommended activity levels for many schools and so students must be educated on the importance of physical activity and other healthy lifestyle habits. Providing a variety of opportunities for students to attend extra curricular activities can increase participation for many however with traditional activities like the major games it is often the same 'sporty' students that turn up. Providing exercise activities in and out of lessons has proved to be popular in our school. A re-development in our old school gym into a health & fitness centre has created an environment that is inviting for all. This is allied with a motivational programme of study focussing on the fundamental movement skills so that students develop a physical literacy and confidence to become 'movers'. We have seen an increase in the number of students attending extra curricular activity in this facility including a number of students who do not engage with traditional activities outside of lesson time. It is hoped that this will encourage more students to continue with physical activity on leaving school and into later life as they will have a firm grounding in why and how to lead an healthy lifestyle. There are of course so many other influences however providing positive experiences within the PE programme is crucial.
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On Tuesday 14 May at 21:24 Joey Feith said
Great post, Ash. In my opinion, physical education has to be so much more than just "meeting daily physical activity levels". Although a lot of emphasis is put on health and fitness in PE, it's important that we remember that we are there to educate the whole child. Providing them with opportunities to develop not only their psychomotor skills, but their cognitive and social skills as well is key. The fact that we (hopefully) do this in physical activity settings will (hopefully) make our students feel comfortable and confident in adopting a healthy, active lifestyle throughout their lifetimes. That being said, it is so important that, when we set out to accomplish this, we do so in a planned and thoughtful manner. Using our state/provincial/national curricula (or borrowing from others when we don't have access to one - the internet is a wonderful thing), working with other teachers to map out scope/sequences, and being serious about the way we plan our lessons are all ways that we can make sure that our students are receive a physical education experience that will set them up for a lifetime of health and wellness.
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On Tuesday 14 May at 22:02 Doug Gleddie said
An intriguing conundrum to say the least!... There is so much that I could say and perhaps even want to say but I will limit myself to this. 1. Let's remember that PE takes place in a flawed system. We can certainly make change and impact lives but we also have to contribute to and work within the current context of schools. PE needs to be part of a wave of educational change - not just PE change. Otherwise we are just re-arranging the deck chairs... That being said, one promising contextual change is the idea of Health Promoting Schools. In the words of Lawry St. Leger, "Let us rethink school health away from kits and projects to solve problems and use the school as an ongoing setting where health is created, supportive environments are built, partnerships made and many skills are learned. Then we might be able to say this is what school communities can realistically do to build the health and wellbeing of their students now and into the future (2004, p. 408)." PE within a context like this takes on a new meaning! 2. Physical Literacy. I have a lot (too much?) of hope for this concept and framework. PL is so much more than the number of steps a child takes, the number of minutes of MVPA or the number of games rules she can spout out. As per Dr. Whitehead, PL is a lifecourse journey. Essentially, we want to have thinking,feeling, moving individuals capable of adapting to change, meeting individual/community/societal needs over the entire life-span. In the words of one of my students: physical activity + physical education = a contribution to the physical literacy journey. Even though this concept has been around for 20 years, I don't feel we have yet begun to maximize it's potential to affect change. Change starts with us (and we, the PE professionals, are often our own worst enemies...).
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On Tuesday 14 May at 22:55 Amanda Stanec said
Awesome summary, post, & comments! I do not disagree with any of the comments from my colleagues. I just need to add that physical education is currently expected to do so much, yet very few barriers (time teaching students, limited professional development opportunities, class size, etc.) are being removed. We sit kids down all day, and fill them with medications to sit still - and don't honor that they are supposed to be "rowdy" (? - you get my point). Doug hits the nail on the head - Health Promoting Schools with a cutting edge quality physical education curriculum (delivered by well educated professionals who have professional development opportunities through their career, etc.) at the core is key. I also think that all physical educators should be well educated on how to weave in classroom content so that learning is meaningful and that students' academic success can be optimal. I truly believe that until this happens, PE will continue to be on the chopping block. Administrators are scared. Government officials are scared. (of course these are generalizations) They don't like low test scores & they often fail to even fathom how the system might be revamped to truly honor Health Promoting Schools. Parents must be informed of quality PE in our schools, and must vote people in who value health & happiness - hell, and even money as it's a lot less expensive to develop Health Promoting Schools than pay for all the sick who would otherwise be living life to its fullest potential.
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On Wednesday 15 May at 11:04 Anne McKay said
When discussing how health and physical education might connect always needs to come back to our understandings of what we mean by health. If I am reading the summary of the article correctly it is suggesting that health is privileging the idea of physical health and focusing on a medical model of health in which we need to "fix" the problem. As others have suggested physical education, while arguably contributing to the physical aspects of health, can be so much more if a more holistic model of health is considered. A focus on how physical education contributes to physical, mental and emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing ( a model that we often refer to as hauora in NZ, a concept that was gifted to our HPE curriculum) provides a more strength based and holistic focus. I agree with the colleagues who highlighted the possibilities of health promoting schools and the importance of connecting curriculum, school ethos and partnerships within the community so that there are connections within and beyond the school that can address identified issues and ensure consistency of message. I agree with you Ash that Physical education needs to be educative and not seen as just a "run around" to address ideas of energy in and energy out so that our kids dont get fat or that they might get disease associated with lack of activity. As Joey said - we are there to educate the whole child
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On Thursday 16 May at 13:06 Brendan Jones said
I saw a quote the other day "the classroom is more about control than learning". I fundamentally agree with this and think it has definite implications for the PE practitioner. So many PE units or programs are grounded in the past or present and based on - classroom control, controlled (safe) pedagogy, controlled assessment - order and predictability are valued as signs of a good practitioner. But Is that what the real world is like? No - in fact the real world is very fast moving, vibrant and "random". PE needs to adopt vibrancy as a future proofing strategy. The purpose of PE is changing - its not always skill and drill now, but play. Its education, not schooling. I like the point you made, Ash, about “by the time this student leaves this school in six years time s/he will be able to...”. I'd like to think that I could wave goodbye to my students at the end of Year 12 knowing that they had established a positive approach to physical activity, communication, goal setting and resilience - hell, toward life itself. But I'd also know it wasn't just me that had fostered that - the process is much more holistic than any one faculty. Connections and synchronicity with the community and its youth is essential. Student voice - listening to what the kids say, about anything - should be part of faculty planning. Inviting kids to help design their learning, and letting them take over their learning is a scary, but ultimately mutually beneficial venue IMHO - Jonesy
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On Thursday 16 May at 13:53 Ken Forde said
My goal as a teacher of Physical Education, as I describe it to parents, administration and my students is relatively simple; by the end of your time in our program I hope you will have the knowledge, skills, confidence and awareness to choose a healthy lifestyle. What that looks like will be drastically different for every student, but the goal is the same. In 10 years, given a variety of options, I hope I have equipped my students with the knowledge, skills, confidence and awareness to make the healthy choice -- not the easy choice. I want my students to be comfortable walking into a new fitness center that they have the skills to both build their own program, or failing that, know enough not to be taken down the wrong path by an unscrupulous personal trainer. I want my students to recognize the pitfalls of "easy fitness fixes" later in life. I want my students to be comfortable enough to join an intramural league in University, even if they have never played the sport before. I want my students to not necessarily understand, but at least recognize the terms used by a doctor in their later life. To get what I want the Physical Education class has to involve all of the potential choices students will face when they leave our care - team games, elimination games, health & fitness (skills and theory), individual games, outdoor activities, swimming and the list continues on. The education of our subject is not based on how many free-throws you can make, or how high you can jump, or how "fit" you are at this single period of time. It is not how much activity you experience when in lesson. It is not any of these things, it is all of them. Student learning in Physical Education must be based around the individual and always endeavor to educate them in the tools necessary for a life of healthy choices. A bit of a ramble that does not stand up to Dr. Ash's outstanding evaluation and synthesis, but feel better for having contributed my two cents.
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On Thursday 16 May at 17:10 Mel Hamada said
"Childhood inactivity is directly related to adult inactivity and therefore by changing the first you will positively impact on the second". Isn't this the sort of statement we should be holding up to our community? If you asked any parent what attributes they hope their child has in 2063, 50 years from now, what do you think they would say - to be obese, unhappy, depressed, diseased? No of course not, but the disconnect is there. At parent teacher interviews when I am talking to a student and parent and the parent openly shares their concern about their child's lack of physical activity or fitness, I always ask the parent what activity they do either on their own or with their child - and they are usually astounded that I would ask and answer that they don't do anything, but they want their son/daughter to be fitter. It takes a whole village to raise a child, and that means that we need to have the school but also the parents and the wider community endorse the importance of physical activity and promote wellness not just the PE teacher on their own, but a PE teacher is a good start. This education needs to be enough to, as Ken has said, leave them in a place where they can seek guidance with some confidence of knowledge and practice from their classes, and not be fooled by gimmicks. I have really got something from the blog and comments here, thank you for sharing so openly.
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On Monday 20 May at 09:33 Ashley Casey said
Thanks to everyone for replying. I will try and sum up your thoughts and take the discussions forwards. Sorry that it is a little late - indeed the next blog is posted - however I will try and tie into that one at the end of this reply to help the ongoing discussion. Firstly, I would like to say agree that time in lessons is not enough (Dylan) and that we also need to be aware that traditional extra-curricular programmes attract the same sporting kids and not those who are disaffected. To achieve greater buy in and better sense (and reality) that we are building to their future we need to look beyond the habits of our subject. I realise that there are some things that decent folk just don’t do but I do feel we need to challenge the expectations around physical education. One way to do this is to consider the notion that PE is about more than meeting the daily physical activity needs of kids (Joey). Instead, it needs to consider how we can educate the whole child. This is not through a haphazard hope that the needs of the whole of every child will be meet. Therefore, it requires thoughtful planning and some degree of falling down as teachers and rising stronger to meet the challenge rather than being comfortable. That said, we also need to acknowledge that PE takes place in a flawed system (Doug) and that it is expected to do too much on a playing field that isn’t level and which is mired in obstacles and replete with barriers (Amanda). It just ain’t fair but I guess that this is what we are faced with. Therefore we need to find ways of getting over these problems and flaws and settling on a better, if as yet incomplete, idea of what PE is and does. To do that we need to focus on what PE is capable of doing. It is not a medical intervention that fixes health (Anne) and perhaps drawing on the ideas of a more spiritual people is a step forwards. We need to stop focusing just on the body and instead seek to educate the whole. The idea of Haugra seems replete with possibilities where physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing are considered. To do this we need to understand our student and this means talking to them and listening to their voice (Jonesy) but not only in PE but across the whole school. Yet to do this the kids need to have confidence and awareness in and of themselves (Ken) so that they have the capacity to make decisions about spirit and emotion. This cries out for community involvement and if we can get the parents involved (Mel) then we begin to break down the barriers and start to find new ways of becoming physically educated. In the next blog I explore the idea that PE is a way for students gaining physical capital (or indeed losing it) and that we should consider the needs of all students in this aspect of cultural capital. However, we also need to be aware that there are different rules for boys and girls and that physical education is guilty of being gendered in its approach when it favours team games over lifelong activities.

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