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Physical education teacher honored for advancing curriculum

April 24, 2013

Professor Hans van der Mars of Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College was honored by the nation’s preeminent national authority on physical education for his contributions to quality K-12 physical education curriculum, instruction and programs. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) presented him with its Curriculum and Instruction Honor Award on April 26 at its national convention in Charlotte, N.C.

“Hans has long recognized how effective physical education teachers positively impact the well-being and academic success of students in grades K-12,” said Mari Koerner, dean of the Teachers College. “His widely respected practice-based research and coursework broadens the scope of what physical activity during the school day means and helps children reach their full potential by creating fitness habits that can last a lifetime.”

When teaching future educators, van der Mars said a critical first step is to help them reconstruct their conception of what the daily work of a physical educator is like. He said students often have entrenched ideas about physical education teachers based on past personal experiences and that preparing new teachers requires starting at square one.

“If you figure that a youngster who completes a K-12 education will have breathed over 14,000 hours of school air,” he said. “Over that time, they’ve seen teachers at work and they build an incomplete picture of what teaching must be like based on that.

“So with our future physical education teachers, we need to get them to be open to learning teaching strategies that we know are more appropriate and proven in helping students learn skills and knowledge to lead physically active lives. We try to get them to see what good effective teaching looks like and what is needed to accomplish that.”

Referring to the “2012 Shape of the Nation” report supported by NASPE in conjunction with the American Heart Association, van der Mars said it underscores the new message schools are giving kids about exercise – there’s something for everyone. The report states: “Gone are the days of calisthenics, mindless exercise and contests that favored the most athletic kids.”

According to the report, quality physical education can contribute to a student’s academic performance and attitude toward school. This may have a simple explanation: Physically fit and active students are more likely to attend school and experience fewer discipline problems. The report also cites recent research indicating that physical activity might positively impact academic performance through “a variety of direct and indirect physiological, cognitive, emotional and learning mechanisms” that are not yet fully understood.

The study notes that some experts predict obesity will reach 30 percent among children by 2030, with approximately one-third of K-12 students watching TV three or more hours on an average school day and a third also using computers the same amount of time. But it also suggests that recent data may indicate the rapid obesity increases of the 1980s and 1990s are leveling off.

This broader approach to providing every student with health-optimizing physical activity of about an hour a day – a cumulative number recommended by most health organizations including NASPE that includes both organized activities and unstructured play – has been the research topic studied by van der Mars over the past three years.

“The question is ‘what can we do’?” he said. “It’s part of a national movement to look at the school day and school campuses as a whole in providing opportunities for physical activity for all students. We ask when during the school day should kids be encouraged to be physically active beyond their physical education classes.

“So you start looking at before school time, lunch recess, recess, after school times, even activity in the classroom where there is a chance for kids to get a little ‘brain break’ for two to four minutes. They get off their chairs and do something physically active to get the blood flowing, to get away from mental tasks for just a short time and then get back to their academic work.”

With that in mind, van der Mars launched a research project at three East Valley high schools to provide them with ASU interns two days a week who oversee student access to physical activity venues – gymnasiums, weight rooms, basketball courts, tennis courts, outdoor fields and other facilities. The ASU future teachers supervise the students and supply any equipment needed. The physical activity is strictly recreational, not instructional, with students deciding what to do.

“The research project is essentially based upon the notions that ‘if you build it, will the kids come? And if the kids come, will they play?’” he explained. “So this program has become a training ground for our majors to get some experience seeing that when three criteria are met – access, equipment and adult supervision with activity facilitating – that kids will actually come and be quite active.”

In its news release about the award, NASPE noted that van der Mars focuses largely on practice-based research relative to physical education teacher education programs.

“Professor van der Mars has maintained involvement in local and state programs and projects that foster the development of quality physical education programs, helping future educators understand how to move theory into practice,” the release states. “His specialty areas are sport skill analysis, secondary methods, curriculum-program development, sport education curriculum and analysis of teaching and learning in physical education.”