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Overhauling Fitness for 2017, Part II

By Neil Morgan Griffiths

As physical education (PE) evolves, the modern focus is gradually switching from fitness testing and fitness assessments to the more relevant target of getting all students involved in physical activity. The ultimate goal is to have our students value this as an ever-present part of their personal daily schedule. Pangrazi (2008) was clear in his “View Toward the Future…” when stating that traditional outcomes for PE that are based on physical and health-related fitness are largely genetically controlled, misplaced, and ultimately passé. To the credit of many modern-day PE departments, the practice of evaluating students against measurements from standardized levels of physical fitness is becoming less common. However, letting go of “Fitness” is proving to be no easy task.
I recently chatted with my eighth-grade son about his current PE unit. He was capable of talking about the various components of health and skill-related fitness, to the point where he produced a list to demonstrate exactly what he felt he knew. However, in continuing the conversation, I then asked him what exercise was. After agreeing that he should take five minutes or so to think about this, he came back with a blank; he had nothing. Although I would not want to blow this out of proportion, and could simply view this lack of response as a tiny void in my son’s learning, it could just as well be interpreted as a cavernous disconnect indicating a lack of fundamental understanding. Suffice to say that the conversation raised questions.
Exercise can be viewed as any given activity requiring physical effort, designed to produce specific beneficial responses in the participant, that usually relate to improved health or physical capacity. How our students respond as individuals to exercise in its myriad and varied forms is the essential question that should drive any form of inquiry in this area. Starting at the elementary school (ES) level, this should take precedence over defining “Fitness” and its components. In a recent conversation, a colleague presented an interesting perspective in postulating that fitness was merely a notion, not a concept (Faucher 2017). With that in mind, how does the notion of fitness maintain its elevated status value?
Although presented and accepted as a generally very well written, current, relevant, and structured document, the SHAPE America MS (6–8) Standards perhaps offer insight into the above question. In relation to Standard 3, it is noted that references to fitness activities, skill-related fitness, fitness levels, fitness knowledge, and fitness assessments, are made on approximately 35 occasions. However, within the same Standard, exercise is mentioned only five times, and notably with no directive as to the importance of even understanding what it is. Exercise/exercising appear only twice in Standard 3 at the ES level.
Having our students value engagement in both structured and unstructured daily physical activity, with an understanding of how their own body responds to any given form of exercise, should be one of the main goals of any and all future PE programs. In order for that to happen, first and foremost an understanding of how we use and design physical activity for our exercise purposes needs to be established. This understanding and learning outcome should come ahead of any explanation as to the notion of fitness. It probably could even be argued that our use of the word fitness should be completely discontinued. Perhaps it is time that instead of complicating young minds with the components of fitness, we simply start discussing the “components of exercise”—that could potentially streamline our understanding and solve all of our problems!
Neil Morgan Griffiths is MS PE Teacher and Coordinator of MS Activities & Athletics at American International School Dhaka.
Pangrazi, Robert P. “A Look Back and a View Toward the Future: Active and healthy schools.” Presentation at EARCOS Conference, Singapore 2008. Standards

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