Teaching Physical Education Research Paper Starter

Teaching Physical Education

This article offers a brief history of physical education in American public schools, addresses the unique instructional standards of each school level, and presents problems presently facing physical education. Physical education is an important curriculum course in America's public schools. There are unique aspects of teaching physical education at the elementary, middle grades and high school levels. Yet, curriculum standards at all levels have one thing in common: stressing the importance of heightening student fitness levels in order to improve the health and quality of life for the student.

Keywords Aerobics; Assessment; Education; Elementary Education; Fitness; Games; Middle Grades Education; Motor Skills; Physical Education; Obesity; Secondary Education; Special Olympics; Sports


One of the most important, but least appreciated, courses in education settings is physical education (PE). As anxiety continues to amplify for students to perform well on high stakes tests, the value of physical education will be heavily scrutinized, making the possibility of eliminated PE from school schedules an option for many principals (Stevens-Smith, Fisk, Williams, & Barton, 2006). The purpose of physical education in America's schools is profound due to the role it plays in helping students develop physically and socially.

Physical education is the most powerful tool to help students establish habits that positively influence their quality of life. Physical education teaches younger students how to appropriately interact with their peers, how to develop their motor skills and how to learn the basic skills associated with most sports and games. During the middle-school years, PE can play a critical role in helping some students deal with awkward growth spurts, uneasy social situations, and in refining sporting skills for future playing at an advanced level. At the high school level, PE is generally the only time for exercise and organized play that is allowed in the busy, often hectic schedules of older students. There is no doubt that physical education plays a vital role in supporting the academic progress of students of every age. Associated health-related skills are invaluable as students become independent adults who are engaged in the busy responsibilities of working and having a family.

History of Physical Education in America

Physical education in America has a relatively short history in public schools. The subject of Physical education actually originated as early as 500 B.C. in Greece. The idea of physical fitness focused on the historical Olympic competitions. The concept of Physical education was actually first mentioned in American historical documents by Benjamin Franklin in 1749 but was not put into school curriculums until the early 1800's. It was Charles Beck, known to be the first physical education teacher in America, who introduced a course in physical education at the Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts in the 1820's (Sparkes, Templin & Schempp, 1993). During this time, physical education was geared solely for males until Catherine Beecher, sister of the famous Harriett Beecher Stowe, introduced calisthenics into the curriculum for young ladies at the Hartford Female Seminary in 1823. Her purpose in creating this program was to improve the posture and poise of the young ladies enrolled in the school as they developed socially and academically (Davenport, 1980). Between 1850 and 1900, Dudley Sargent introduced fitness and weight equipment to calisthenics programs that already existed in private schools. Another influential person in the field was Pierre de Coubertin. His 1913 book titled, "Essais de Psychologie Sportive" introduced the idea of sports psychology (Cratty, 1989). This prompted educators to consider the importance of physical education on the overall well-being of students through the theory that healthy bodies increased mental health. In 1851 the first chapter of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) opened its doors in America, helping many sports gain popularity, and adding to the popularity of physical education.

After the Civil War, the inclusion of physical education inflated its popularity in schools across our nation. People believed that students who participated in regular physical education classes were healthier, had better hygiene, and were better able to avoid awkward and uneven growth spurts. Colleges added competitive sports programs in the early 1900's, which gave rise to physical education popularity due to the need to heighten the physical fitness and strength of the athletes. As World War I erupted, physical education faded from school curricula due to the absence of males in the schools. After the war, it regained popularity, which continued through the beginning of World War II. This war found Americans stepping up their fitness skills. Men needed to improve their fitness levels in order to be better soldiers and women had to be able to handle the physical demands required when forced to adopt the manual labor jobs performed by those left to become soldiers.

By the 1950's, physical education was a requirement in over 400 American universities and in thousands of secondary schools. The onset of the Korean War in 1950 found many potential soldiers were not physically fit enough to fully participate in war activities. This led to the creation of in 1956 the President's Council on Physical Fitness by President Dwight Eisenhower. This supported the rise of fitness standards through physical education instruction in schools across our country. President Kennedy continued supporting the President's Council on Physical Fitness and took interest in the development of physical education for students with special needs. President Kennedy adamantly supported the efforts of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shiver, as she began the Special Olympics in 1962. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson created the Presidential Fitness Awards that rewarded students who achieved prescribed fitness levels through a battery of local school testing. The items in this test primarily had significance for military preparation. These tests included pull-ups, push-ups, sprints and distance runs, standing broad jump, and distance throwing (Hartman, 2001). This fitness program is still used in many physical education classes today.

Significant Influences on Physical Education

The next profoundly significant influence on physical education came in 1972. Title IX erased discrimination based on gender in all federally funded educational programs. Title IX launched countless new opportunities for women in competitive athletics and sports.

During the 1980's, physical education curricula were developed and implemented in schools. Most were created with the basic goals of improving student fitness levels, improving motor skills, and increasing knowledge of games and healthy lifestyles. They were designated for elementary programs, middle schools and secondary programs. Each level of instruction has distinct ways of addressing the above listed goals while being appropriate for the maturity and age of the targeted student.

In 1995, the National Standards for Physical education were created by the National Association for Sports and Physical Education. They serve as the definition and value for the purpose of physical education and clearly state instructional objectives for PE courses (NASPE, 1995).


Today, one of the utmost goals of physical education, at all instructional levels, is to assist in the reduction of obesity in America's youth. In 2013 obesity affects 17 percent of American children and adolescents, more than doubling in numbers since the late 1980s. The US Food and Drug Administration (2002) stated that "Our modern environment has allowed these conditions (obesity and overweight) to increase at alarming rates and become a growing health problem for our nation" (USFDA, 2002). That report suggested that students in all grade levels participate in "daily, quality physical education" classes. Obesity is the cause of many health problems in our students, such as diabetes, hypertension, and high blood pressure. Regular physical education should address this potentially fatal issue due to the relationship between fitness levels and the quality of an individual's health. Physical education provides students with "more opportunities to exercise will help our children fight obesity, perform better academically, and grow up to be healthy adults" (Sherman, Collins, & Donnelly, 2007). Certainly, many educators use these statistics as reasons to support physical education programs in public schools at all grade levels.


Elementary Physical Education

At the elementary level, physical education is often taught by the regular classroom teacher. This was brought on in the late 1980's when schools were faced with financial deficits, did not have teachers trained as formal physical educators, and removed the time allotted for physical education to either additional academic time or to unstructured play time, frequently called recess. Despite these hurdles, Physical education has survived in many elementary schools. Physical education programs specific to elementary school curriculums are generally divided into 2 areas: primary grades and upper elementary grades.

Primary Grades

The areas of emphasis of physical education...

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