NY Times - On a recent afternoon, the third graders in Sharon Patelsky’s class reviewed words like “acronym,” “clockwise” and “descending,” as well as math concepts like greater than, less than and place values.
Ms. Patelsky, the physical education teacher at Everglades Elementary School here, instructed the students to count by fours as they touched their elbows to their knees during a warm-up. They added up dots on pairs of dice before sprinting to round mats imprinted with mathematical symbols. And while in push-up position, they balanced on one arm and used the other (“Alternate!” Ms. Patelsky urged. “That’s one of your vocabulary words”) to stack oversize Lego blocks in columns labeled “ones,” “tens” and “hundreds.”
Spurred by an intensifying focus on student test scores in math and English as well as a desire to incorporate more health and fitness information, more school districts are pushing physical education teachers to move beyond soccer, kickball and tennis to include reading, writing and arithmetic as well. New standards for English and math that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia recommend that teachers in all subjects incorporate literacy instruction and bring more “informational text” into the curriculum.
But some parents say they object to the way testing is creeping into every corner of school life. And some educators worry that pushing academics into P.E. class could defeat its primary purpose.
As budget cuts force school officials to make choices between subjects, “it’s just a way to make P.E. teachers more of an asset to schools and seem as important” as teachers in core subjects like language arts, math and science, said Eric Stern, the administrator in charge of physical education for the Palm Beach County schools, the country’s 11th-largest school district. “We are taking away the typical stereotype of what P.E. used to be like.”
Across the country, P.E. teachers now post vocabulary lists on gym walls, ask students to test Newton’s Laws of Motion as they toss balls, and give quizzes on parts of the skeleton or food groups.