Alumni Take Innovative Approach to Physical Education

Posted: November 27, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Amy Biderman

What do physical education and social studies classes have in common? Visit Laura Bellis’ eighth grade physical education class at Liberty Middle School in Clifton, Va., and you’ll find out.

Bellis’ students use a climbing wall with a blackboard that lists the three branches of government — each level corresponds to the judicial, legislative or executive branch. On another day, their climb might be associated with their rights and responsibilities as a citizen.

“The wall reinforces what students are learning in their social studies classes,” notes Bellis, who devised the lesson. It is one of many innovative teaching approaches being taken by graduates of the School of Recreation, Health and Tourism (RHT).

Teaching physical education is a second career for Bellis. Following many years in journalism and public relations, she earned a BS in health and physical education from George Mason in 2001. After teaching for a year at Stone Middle School in Centreville, Va., she moved to Liberty four years ago.

Each week, Bellis has a cardiovascular day. Students start out the year either walking or running while using a heart monitor. Once they’ve mastered staying in their target heart rate, they can choose an activity such as basketball, soccer or volleyball. “The idea is to find something they’re good at and happy with,” she says.

Bellis also shows creativity in observing National Physical Education Week each May. She asks teachers throughout the school to wear something to show the type of physical activity they do as part of their lifestyle. From tennis outfits to biking shorts, the teachers’ attire “reinforces for students that exercise is good for everybody, not just professional athletes,” she says. “We recognize and celebrate physical education.”

Another RHT graduate using innovative practices in his classes is Chris Dofflemyer, who teaches kindergarten through sixth grade at Cub Run Elementary School in Centreville. He received a BS in science and physical education in 1996 and an MA in education (Initiatives in Educational Transformation Program) in 2004.

As early as first grade, students in Dofflemyer’s classes learn to take their carotid pulse by simply counting the beats in six seconds and adding a zero to the end of their total. By third grade, most students know how to do a pulse check for any activity.

Dofflemyer provides a variety of opportunities for students to remain physically active even when they’re not in the classroom. After-school programs include flag football, basketball and ping-pong.

In addition, he promotes the Hershey Track Meet in Fairfax Country and two events sponsored by the American Heart Association: Hoops for Heart for third through sixth grade and Jump Rope for Heart for kindergarten through sixth grade.

Dofflemyer also takes students on a field trip to a local high school for a run on the one-mile track. In addition, he and his colleague Jenny Murray put on a Wellness Fair every other year.

An electronic “Blackboard” allows students to log on from home and see information on upcoming fitness events. In a summer program called “Healthy Lifestyles,” students in the fourth, fifth and six grades keep a log of their physical activity and meet goals for awareness of their level of physical activity. Forty-five students joined the optional program this year. Each child has an account with a password and a weekly calendar.

“The idea is to link technology to encourage kids to get active — and stay active,” Dofflemyer says. “We promote fun, active things like going for walks on the beach, taking a dog for a walk, riding a bike or participating on a sports team. We also encourage them to remain active even when they’re doing something sedentary like watching TV — they can do pushups or curl-ups during the commercials.” He and his colleagues have discussed making the log a monthly assignment during the school year.

Dofflemyer uses a self-assessment grading tool, which allows students to rate their individual effort for each class. This gives students a voice in their grades, making them more accountable for their effort and behavior, while giving him personal interaction with each of his students on a daily basis, he says.

Dofflemyer has worked with student teachers at Cub Run, calling the experiences some of the best of his career. “I teach the students to be reflective,” he explains. “When they think something didn’t work, I encourage them to question themselves and figure out why it didn’t work and how they could have handled it differently.”

In fact, his work with student teachers was so rewarding that Dofflemyer decided to broaden his experience and become an adjunct professor in RHT. He is an instructor for Physical Education 365: Measurement and Evaluation of Physical Fitness.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different format in CEHD magazine.

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