How to Create Student Fitness Opportunities & Physical Education in Online Learning

Sporty man in blue singlet and shorts doing stretches and warm-up exercises. Vector illustration set isolated on grey background.

At my junior high school every Wednesday, every student did the dreaded “20 minute run.” Regardless of which period you had PE, you ran a course designed by the PE staff that was one part dusty track, another through the baseball fields by the woods. In high school, when you took your required PE course you did the 20 minute run at least once a week too.

After six years of 20 minute runs, it became part of my weekly routine — at least one time a week I had to move my ass, work up a sweat and hit the showers. It’s this habit developed early that I credit my ability to do things I now love like help people move (crazy, I know), ride my bike in traffic (calm down, I wear my helmet) and play music (background music to the Getting Smart Podcast).

That’s why when we talk about expanding online learning opportunities, like me you might wonder where working out fits in. Isn’t childhood obesity on the rise? Will students taking online courses be more prone to health problems associated with a lack of exercise and diet?

“The name of the game is personal fitness choice when you attend school online,” says Beth Werrell from Connections Education, Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. Connections students select one of three physical options:

  • Participate in exercises described in weekly lessons
  • Practice yoga with a DVD that’s provided
  • Select and track their own personal fitness activities.

Beth also suggests options like Wii Fit and participating in the President’s Challenge awards program, which is administered by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. Connections students also track additional activities like organized sports online.

But how can students be held accountable for completing courses in physical education when the classes are online?

According to Mashable’s Vignesh Ramachandran, Florida Virtual School, “keeps students accountable for their progress through monthly phone calls with parents and students, as well as with ‘discussion-based assessments.’”

As schools continue to go blended, GoNoodle is addressing this issue in K-6. GoNoodle provides interactive videos and games that inspire short bursts of physical activity, which are proven to positively impact health, cognition, and learning. At of the end of this past school year, 336,000 elementary teachers were actively using GoNoodle to get nearly 7 million kids moving at school (up 235% in the past year).

Then there’s the wearable witness. Fitbit, Nike Fuelband, and Jawbone are all examples of quantified self activity trackers. Devices like these align with a lot of what we have been talking about in regard to personalization, assessment, and competency but for wellness. Dr. Bernard Bull echos this by identifying six education lessons from FitBit:

  • Constant feedback in easy to understand formats
  • It doesn’t choose the goals for you
  • It suggests goals by rewarding certain accomplishments
  • Fitbit doesn’t tell you how to step, when to step, or where to step
  • Online system facilitates user-generated interest groups
  • Online system has a built-in space for journaling

Using technology in physical education isn’t a new idea. But when it comes to assessment for student wellness for students who are enrolled in majorly online schools, how can we ensure that their health isn’t compromised for lack of accountability in exercising?

There’s value in fitness. The University of Utah’s Dr. Barclay Burns makes the connection for business but simplifies the importance of fitness very keenly.

Value in Fitness at its essence is really about the ability to stay alive. Right? It’s an evolutionary term. Do I get the opportunity to live another day and to do cool stuff another day? Can I be a professor another day?

Our students deserve to learn, solve our world’s comprehensive problems with knowledge and experience, and this often hinges on physical ability. It seems simple. But as we follow markers like childhood obesity, we haven’t been doing enough to support young people in finding value in fitness as much as we should.

As Smart Parents we need to be involved informed, intentional, and inspirational to support students in finding value in fitness. And as educators, we need to do everything we can to keep programs that educate students about their health. How this is accomplished, regardless of brick-and-mortar or online, must be determined by the student with supports that work.

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