Back in the day we threw balls at each other or played basketball for 180 days a year, killing time, when we weren't doing the Presidential Fitness Tests.
How would you change gym class in our schools?
Keep in mind that universal access is important. All levels of fitness must be accommodated.
I loathed gym -- the rope climb definitely stands out as one my most humiliating childhood experiences. The idea seemed to be that if the teacher forced you to attempt it -- with no coaching on method, no exercises to work up to it -- in front of your peers, sheer fear of ridicule would miraculously create upper body strength. Didn't work for me! Competitive sports also degrading, horrible, etc. Lucky for me I had enough social skills to make light of my clumsiness/weakness/general-ineptitude-at-anything-involving-a-ball and survived socially by being the gym class clown (i.e. "I know you're sad I'm on your team -- how do you think I feel, I'm always on my team -- sucks to be me!" Har-de-har-har). Downside = lifelong self-image as someone who is clumsy/weak/generally-inept-etc. I just started CrossFit and almost against my will, find myself cracking self-deprecating jokes before attempting anything I'm at all insecure about (read: practically everything).
My daughter's in 2nd grade at a new school and loves P.E. A 7-yr-old's account is not always reliable, but it sounds like there is a lot of throwing balls at targets on walls; stretching ("I can do the splits all the way, even in jeans!" you go, girl!); balancing and crawling games; push-ups (and other body weight exercises, I presume); and hula-hooping ("Mr McDonald taught me to hula-hoop around my neck today -- now I can be in the circus!"). No mention of dodgeball, soccer, or anything involving "picking teams" yet. I like it. Meeting her gym teacher in a couple of weeks, and have a lot of questions/ideas for him.
I'd have them do HIIT twice a week. If cardiac patients do well on it, then it should be great for pretty much all school kids. One potential benefit might be to instill in all kids (especially girls) that chronic cardio isn't required for weight loss/maintenance.
I would focus on getting the kids moving in whatever way they wanted. Even if it's playing tag. Not sports. The kids who want to compete can play outside of school. Not everyone enjoys team sports.
Forced team sports and assessments in front of the other kids are seriously brutal and humiliating sometimes for kids who aren't athletic. Speaking as someone who sucks at team sports, I remember many miserable PE lessons spent getting yelled at for an hour by my teammates for missing a ball or whatever. There were only two units in the whole year that weren't dreadful- swimming and distance running- because people actually wanted me on their teams/I was better at those things than a lot of the class. The rest of the year was spent basically having a panic attack before every gym lesson because I knew it was going to suck. Kids can be pretty awful. Hell, so can some gym teachers, though luckily mine were always great. Honestly, I know some people think it's important to measure fitness, but as someone else mentioned it's often very very demoralizing. I think typical gym classes just teach kids to hate exercise and sports.
In my last years of high school we had a bunch of different options for sports in gym, so we could pick something that we actually enjoyed. There was even stuff like yoga, dance, we could go for a run alone, lift weights, etc. But I'm not sure how that would work in elementary school, with the large class sizes, need for more supervision than 16/17 year olds, and limited teaching staff.
In elementary school I had a teacher who would take us down to the gym each morning before classes to do basic calisthenics, play tag, stretch, and just run around and burn off energy before sitting down all day. Totally non-competitive and she didn't single anyone out for not being very good at something or call out scores in front of the class (she would keep a private record of how many sit-ups etc we could do, but that was just for our individual benefit). She was totally chill about everything, and told us that the main thing was just to get moving. It was the best part of the school day, usually. Something like that would be awesome. Not sure how feasible it would be for a lot of schools though.
Edit: Christ, sorry for writing a novel. I'll do anything to avoid studying for organic chem, evidently.
I agree with much of what Oivia said.
For me the focus needs to shift a bit more towards inclusiveness. Many children become afraid of PE and feel ashamed of their ability as they get older. If they eat a poor diet they will likely be chubby no matter how good their PE class is. The best way to get these kids to stay active is to get them to feel happy about exercise and feel capable no matter their skill level or size. I work with kids and see everyday the difference a little positive reinforcement can make.
I would bring back the rope climb. It could be a good full year/semester activity. It would really stress working towards a goal and measuring progress. Start with progression pull ups to dead hang pull ups to rope climb with knots to regular rope climb. The teacher would be able to adjust as seen fit. The grade would not necessarily be on climbing to the top, but on progress throughout. It would be tough to do with large classes and time limits though.
The President's Physical Fitness test is a joke. I'm an English teacher. If I spent the whole year having students read novels of their choice, and then gave them, twice a year, a test on Shakespeare, without having actually introduced them to Shakespeare, I'd be labeled incompetent. Tenure or not, eventually I'd lose my job. Somehow, Phys Ed seems to get away with this. Units in softball and yoga, while tons of fun, don't prepare students to do pull-ups (boys) or flex-arm hang (girls). So, while I'd keep kids doing things that are fun and active, like yoga or team sports or that rite of passage, elementary school square dancing, I'd also have students doing things that actually condition them. HIIT sounds like a great idea.
Dodge ball was my absolute favorite! I liked the variety we use to call kill ball. Much better. No teams involved. It was each person for them selves 2 steps after you get the ball and throw, three hits your out. Much more running and moving, kind of like ultimate frisbee.
I know I'll get dogged for this, but what the heck. I actually think that competitive sport should be at least part of gym class. It doesn't exactly have to be introduced in elementary school, but a good old fashion game of kick ball wouldn't hurt. Kids are going to have to learn to cope with losing, winning, and everything in between and competitive sport is a terrific teaching mechanism in this respect. Heck branch it out...include ping pong, bowling, shuffle board, whatever...competition does build character.
To the other parts of gym, of course HIIT and learning how to stay fit for life are important also. As is introducing aspects of play. Bear crawls, crab walks, gymnastic basics all just to perform. This part obviously need not be competitive. Teach kids to shoot for personal bests in some of these other activities.
I think we have to keep a healthy mix of competitive and noncompetitive activities alive in gym. They both will play important roles in shaping our kids. Alternating between the two throughout the year would keep things interesting for all the kids.
Most of you had no P.E. instruction or very bad P.E. instructors if you were in a humiliatiing P.E. situation. I am sorry to hear that. My P.E. classes are all successful where children have many chances to do what they want yet still get challenged to improve their physical skills and 'blow off steam' as some of you put it (not education but oh well whatever your darlings need) Hopefully your children of today will be correctly physically educated! My best wishes to all of you.......
Gym class was uneventful until my last two years in high school, when we got a new gym teacher who had a pretty enlightened sensibility and approach to his job and the students. Classes were 1 hour long, and sometimes we would spend the entire hour walking briskly on a path in the woods nearby. Other times it would be 30 minutes of brisk walking (and talking) and then group activities (still in the woods) that emphasized communication and trust. No testing (other than NY state-required tests), no bullshit, just exploration, walking and fun. We played team sports too, of course, but with this just-get-your-blood-flowing attitude.