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The Double Payoff of Better Physical Education Classes

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “The ‘New PE’ Aims to Build Bodies and Brains” by Laura Pappano in Harvard Education Letter, January/February 2015 (31 2, pp. 4-6);
In this Harvard Education Letter article, Laura Pappano reports on new thinking about physical education, which is moving more PE classes from dodgeball and basketball to activities that promote fitness, fun, and fairness.
“We are teaching kids to take care of themselves beyond school,” says Lisa Daly of the Plymouth, Connecticut schools. Not only do cutting-edge phys ed classes get more students actively involved (less sitting on the sidelines waiting your turn and no opt-out for “non-athletes”), but there is also evidence that physical activity boosts academic performance.
“Kids who are active and fit do better in school, better on achievement tests, better on measures of brain health,” says James Sallis of the University of California-San Diego. In one study, kids who exercised regularly outperformed a control group on executive function, working memory, response speed, cognitive flexibility, and multitasking.
Ms. Pappano lists the following characteristics of new PE classes:
- A focus on wellness rather than athletics;
- Fitness games that value teamwork, build confidence, and encourage self-expression;
- More choices so students can find activities they enjoy;
- Recreational activities that students can enjoy outside of school;
- Teaching skills like throwing, catching, and kicking as physical training, not sports prep;
- More use of technology, including heart-rate monitors;
- Use of music to enhance activities; and
- An energetic pace, providing students with a real workout.

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