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 SRU physical education courses emphasize health and wellness 




December 15, 2008

Contact: K.E. Schwab  




SRU physical education courses emphasize health and wellness      


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - "Times are a changing, and you better shape up" is part of the philosophy Randall Nichols, Slippery Rock University associate professor of physical education, says is driving the physical education course curriculum both at SRU and in schools across the nation.

           "The process started eight or 10 years ago and has continued to gain momentum," Nichols said. "We have incorporated new philosophies into nearly all of our physical education courses, with the underlying philosophy moving away from team sport activities in physical education to those that focus on the individual's health and wellness growth."

           "Of course, we still have some traditional classes dealing with the fundamental sports, but the primary focus is on teaching skills that will allow people to lead healthy, active lives. New activities involving mountain biking, cross country skiing, aerobics, indoor cycling or spinning, snowshoeing and other similar activities are now part of many PE programs," he said.

           "As we teach students to be physical education teachers, we have focused on activities that focus on the health and wellness aspects of physical education. Our health-related fitness aspects of physical education puts more emphasis on helping students learn to assess their health and develop personal goals. We hope they will pass this teaching onto their students when they enter the classroom as teachers," Nichols said.

           "While some schools and some programs continue to offer team sport activities, they often modify the program - even the rules - to help those with lower skill levels gain confidence and become involved in the activity. In the past, a unit on basketball would certainly have favored the athletes in the class, allowing less-skilled students to fall by the wayside. Now, the teacher makes modifications to involve everyone. They may turn the session into small group competition, pitting those of equal skill against one another. They use the sport, not so much for the sport, but for the activity it produces," he said.

           Physical education classes at all levels - elementary, junior high and high school - are experiencing the change. "Equipment is changing and professionals are looking for ways to teach students how physical activity can affect their lives, especially as we see increases in weight at all levels. There are also links to improved cognition being shown," he said.

           "Some students may say, 'This is not what I learned in gym class,' but we are seeing more students understanding the program and embracing it as they enter the teaching profession," Nichols said. 

           The change is coming from both directions. "Sometimes we see the changes from the top - the superintendent or the principal - and sometimes, it is being instigated by the physical education teacher who realizes there is a different way to engage their students," Nichols said. Some of the changes have also been included as part of the federally mandated Wellness Policy.

           The curriculum concepts have also gained momentum because more and more people are realizing society is becoming less healthy in general. "More people are also seeing a need for physical education. Those involved in health care costs also promote the benefits of physical education knowledge," Nichols said.

           Outside physical education classes, wellness centers, which traditionally are based on individual health promotion, also incorporate much of this approach into their programs, Nichols said. "People go to such facilities and look for an expert to help them develop personal fitness goals - the exact type of information we are giving our students to pass along to their students in the classrooms," Nichols said.

           "Students - and teachers - now routinely incorporate technology into their PE classes. Heart rate monitors and pedometers help level the playing field in sport activities, and there is a move toward exer-gaming. Our department has applied for grants to add exer-gaming as a supplemental teaching exercise," he said. "There is still concern about the amount of 'screen time' a youngster may receive, when you consider videogames, Internet activities and television, but I think those problems will be worked out." 

           Marybeth Miller, an assistant professor of physical education at SRU, agrees. "We want students to leave school with knowledge and skills they will be able to continue to use over their lifetime in maintaining and improving their health." she said.

           "We teach our students that physical education classes should be fitness oriented with lifetime activity approaches that will allow their students to maintain and improve their health throughout their entire life," Miller said.


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.


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