What Activities Count as PE?

Recently, during my presentation to the elementary teaching credential candidates at Dominican University of California, in San Rafael, a student asked me an interesting question: “What activities count as PE?” Where I teach, elementary schools are under increased scrutiny to meet California’s state PE requirement (200 minutes of PE instruction, every 10 school days). Increasingly, classroom teachers are being asked not only to meet those minutes, but also to document their activity choices and present the information to their administrators. The student who asked the question worried about teaching something she considers to be a valid PE activity and finding out later that her administrator disagrees.

Unless your district or school has a strict policy that calls for all PE activities to meet state and/or national PE guidelines, chances are there’s a lot of leeway in judging whether a PE activity is acceptable. To determine if something is a valid PE activity, ask yourself two key questions.

Does the activity involve instruction? Let’s say you set out some cones, simply tell your students to run, and then watch as they race around the cones for 10 minutes. That is a great activity in terms of fitness, but the amount of instruction is minimal. I would consider this a valid PE activity, but barely. What if you bring your students together at the end of the run and discuss the importance of running to their health, referencing the fact that children should receive 60 minutes of exercise per day? Now, you are adding a strong instruction piece to the activity. A lack of instruction explains why recess, in which children play freely without input from a teacher, is not regarded as physical education by most educators.

Can you reasonably argue that the activity is a valid physical education activity? This guideline is vague, I know. But deciding whether an activity counts as PE depends in part on whether you can make a strong case for its validity. When considering an activity, ask yourself these additional questions:

  • Does the activity get my students moving?
  • To what extent are my students interacting during the activity?
  • Are my students working to develop specific fitness skills?

If the activity meets one or more of these criteria, then you’re probably OK.

For example, let’s say you bring out a set of beanbags. You demonstrate the proper form for an underhand toss, then you put students into small groups to work on tossing and catching. Would this count as a valid PE activity? I think it would. There is a strong instruction piece—teaching the form at the beginning. Though the beanbag toss is not rigorous physically, the students are developing physical skills (toss and catch). Additionally, they are developing social skills by working together in groups.

If you wonder whether the activities you choose are acceptable, talk with your administrator. They can alert you to specific PE considerations for your school or district, and they will appreciate your proactive step of seeking their feedback.


Using Time-Outs During Outdoor PE Sessions

One of the most common class-management issues, as any elementary school teacher will tell you, is overly chatty students. For some students, the outdoor PE setting makes the temptation to talk (while they should be listening to the teacher) too great to resist. How should you handle these chatty students?

A time-out—removing a disruptive student from the current activity—is one of my favorite class-management tools. But you must use time-outs responsibly to get their full benefit. Keep time-outs short, about 3 to 5 minutes. Often, the students who present the most severe behavior challenges are the ones who most need to be involved in organized activity. So you want to get them back into the action quickly. At the end of a time-out, chat briefly with the student you disciplined. Make sure they understand the mistakes they made and know what they have to do differently.

The added bonus of a time-out is its potentially strong impact on the other students in the class. Often, immediately after you issue a time-out, other chatty students quiet down as they realize that there could be a consequence for their behavior.

Moves Like Jagger: How Body Language Can Help You Manage Your PE Class

It’s hard for an audience to look away from Mick Jagger when he’s onstage performing with the Rolling Stones. Even in a football stadium, with thousands of spectators, Jagger’s stage presence captivates the crowd.

How does he do it? Aside from natural charisma, Jagger and other rock stars use exaggerated body language and movement to hold the audience’s attention. Check out a Rolling Stones concert video on YouTube, and take a close look at Jagger’s moves. He runs back and forth across the stage, he throws his arms up and down as he dances, and his face is always expressive.

Like Mick Jagger with his audience, you can command your students’ attention by using demonstrative body movements. You don’t need to be over the top with rock-star physicality. Just try these simple techniques when you address your class:

  • Be active. Don’t stand in one place too long. Watching you move helps students who are standing farther away connect with you.
  • Speak slowly. Give your students time to digest the information. Slower speech builds suspense and interest in what you’re saying.
  • Raise your voice. It’s harder for your students to hear you outdoors. Speak louder than you would in the classroom.
  • Use your hands. Gesture frequently as you speak to your students. This movement adds visual interest to what you’re saying.

If you can master these techniques, not only will you hold your students’ attention more effectively, you will also notice a drop in class-management issues since your students will be more engaged.

California State Superintendent Opposes Federal Cuts to School Nutrition Programs

On Friday, California State Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson spoke in opposition to federal budget cuts that could impact school nutrition programs throughout the state.  Torlakson was speaking at the Ninth Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego.  An article from the Santa Clarita Valley public television (click here) lists several programs which assist children and needy families that could be reduced or cut if President Donald Trumps proposals are carried through. I want to applaud Torlakson for his positions.

California State Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson