WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — 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.
Books shared space with basketballs in the equipment room at Manatee Elementary School in Lake Worth, Fla. During gym class.
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.”
“I don’t work for Parks and Recreation,” said Ms. Patelsky, explaining the unorthodox approach to what has traditionally been one of the few breaks from the academic routine during the school day. “I am a teacher first.”
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 a wide variety of subjects incorporate literacy instruction and bring more “informational text” into the curriculum. Many states have interpreted these standards to include physical education and have developed recommendations and curriculum for districts and teachers to incorporate literacy skills and informational text into gym classes.
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.
While generations of bookish but clumsy children who feared being the last pick for the dodge ball team may welcome the injection of math and reading into gym class, the push is also motivated by a simple fight for survival by physical education departments.
At Deep Creek Elementary School in Chesapeake, Va., children count in different languages during warm-up exercises and hop on letter mats to spell out words during gym class…..