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 Professor's book links physical education, community service 



February 2, 2010

CONTACT: K.E. Schwab


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Professor's book links physical education, community service          


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Marybeth Miller, an assistant professor of physical education at Slippery Rock University, has been using community service-learning as part of her classroom teaching for years. Those experiences are included in her new book written so others can add service learning in their own classroom settings.

           The 400-page book "Service-Learning in Physical Education and Related Professions: A Global Perspective," written with James D. Nendel, an independent research, author, founder and executive director of A Champion's Heart-He Po'okela Pu'uwai, an organization committed to bringing hope to children in impoverished areas around the world through play and sport, was released earlier this month by Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

           "I am obviously excited about the publication of our book. It has been two years in the making, and I think the fact that it offers a global perspective is what will make it a success for those who teach physical education teacher education or work in higher education related fields worldwide," Miller said.

           "I really see it as a resource guide specific to our profession," she said. 

Miller said she began the work, "Primarily because as many of us in the profession of physical education teacher education have dialogued about our experiences in integrating service-learning into our curriculums, we found it to be an exciting pedagogical tool that enhanced our students-learning experiences by learning to serve and serving to learn."

"While we also believe strongly in serving our community as educators, our primary responsibility is to our students. The great benefit to this model is that it can accomplish both. It is an excellent tool in our pedagogical toolbox and also truly makes a difference in the lives of others," she said.

Since joining the SRU physical education faculty in 2005, Miller has taught a "Movement Education" course, a professional methods course with majors in physical education, special education, elementary education, early childhood education and combinations of these disciplines as majors and minors.

Starting the second year, she designed a course-embedded service-learning program called "Moving Concepts" an interdisciplinary educational movement program for approximately 60 children 3-5 years of age with and without disabilities. The children are taught by 32-35 SRU education majors each spring semester.

"Moving Concepts" links academic course concepts from "Movement Education" to a needed service, in this instance a standards-based developmentally appropriate inclusive movement education program for early childhood learners. Moreover, the cornerstone to this experience for the SRU students is their ability to reflect upon their service learning as civic-minded future teachers. 

Miller said she realized with proper tweaking, the class could offer both the required educational component from the teaching side while simultaneously incorporating a service-learning component, thus showing up-and-coming teachers how they could properly incorporate the importance of service learning into standard class work without skipping a beat.

 "Students actually get to see the concepts of service learning modeled as part of the 'Moving Concepts' class - and they are excited by it," she said.

In order for Miller to accomplish the design of the program, she had to search outside of her discipline's literature to learn about service learning and its application to physical education teacher education. What's more, her research line involving service learning confirmed the "fitness" of a service-learning pedagogy to teach "Movement Education," and through national and international presentations she came to recognize others had similar discoveries. Giving rise to the idea for the book.

Miller said she quickly realized that a global perspective would be necessary. "Simply, because we have seen the pedagogical model began to be accepted in other regions of the world. We wanted to have educators in many countries, including the U.S., share their service-learning voice of pedagogy, research and applied experience, grounded in an experiential learning framework. 

"We also wanted to share how service-learning is developing outside of the U.S. as it is implemented into diverse curriculum models. It also has become clear that our global connections grow closer each day through the advances of technology and communications and the needs that we can meet are not only local but global in nature." 

            Miller is passionate in trying to elevate physical education classes and its related disciplines to first-class status with regard to the importance and impact on the daily lives of people. This historical richness of the SRU physical education, teacher education program draws attention to its steadfast professional preparation, now including service learning.

"We believe that through our service-learning we provide skills and knowledge that impact the people we work with to uphold the view that the movement disciplines are important to guide people to live healthier lives resulting in a universe of human physical and psychological well-being. Sport, play and leisure-recreational activities are means to developing hope, joy and the richness of life that all of us search for. When we bring our expertise and resources and involve our students in service-learning projects we can literally change communities, locally and globally."

She said the related areas include sport management, adapted physical activity, recreation, therapeutic recreation, athletic training and a number of other areas.

She said the book is divided into three segments. It includes examples contributed by higher education faculty who have tried different approaches to providing their students with meaningful experiential-learning opportunities. "We have also included University student voices to share their service-learning experiences and perspectives of the learning that ensued," she said. 

"Part I is a more theoretical and philosophical approach to discussing what service-learning is and what parameters have been explored in our discipline as well as in higher education settings in general, and the integration of standards to ensure high-quality service-learning. Part II focuses more on the pedagogical frameworks which service learning thrives in and explores how the model specifically meets national standards and best practices. It also explores the emerging role of research in service-learning so that we can better measure the effectiveness of what we believe is a valuable and necessary tool for today's evidence-based, best practices teaching world. 

            "In our book we define 'service-learning' as projects that meet real needs in schools and communities which are integrated into curriculum for courses and/or programs," she said. "Throughout the book, we address the constructs of volunteerism versus service-learning. While we promote the idea of volunteer and even teacher-directed, community-service projects, we see them as part of a progression that would lead one to actual service-learning projects directed and developed by students."

            "We view service learning as a credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of the course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility." Miller said.

           Part III provides national and international service-learning program models in higher education physical education and related professions from the U.S., Canada and various countries throughout the United Kingdom. Included is a chapter on the SRU physical education department's service-learning initiatives conducted during the freshman through senior year.

           Miller was honored with the Professional Honor Award from the Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance earlier this year. The award cited her efforts in providing both professional and personal inspiration to members of the organization. 

           For the past three years she has served as chair of PSAHPERD's early childhood committee, created the committee's mission statement and revised the code protocols as well as provided information for the PSAHPERD Web site. She has also secured additional committee members and recruited speakers for the organization's annual conventions for the past two years.

           Miller earned her under undergraduate degree in physical education at Western Michigan University, her master of education in special education and her doctorate in motor development both at the University of Pittsburgh.


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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