Fitness for Life: Middle School introduces key health-related fitness concepts while providing students ample physical activity and the opportunity to try out a wide variety of physical activities. In addition, the program is designed to teach self-assessment and goal setting skills, to teach social and diversity skills, and to help students understand how they can help their bodies work efficiently and effectively.
When teachers and administrators first hear about the Fitness for Life: Middle School program, some wonder why a student text is needed to teach middle school physical education, and how a textbook can fit into grade 6-8 physical education class schedules, especially since time spent in the classroom is time not spent doing physical activity.
NASPE has defined the physically educated person as one who participates regularly in physical activity, is physically fit, has learned the skills necessary to be physically active, knows the implications of and the benefits of physical activity, and values physical activity and its contribution to a healthy lifestyle (NASPE, 1992).
Clearly, promoting regular physical activity—which includes creating as much physical activity time as possible—is a primary goal of physical education. However, classroom sessions are appropriate as part of a total curriculum designed to prepare physically educated students, when those classroom sessions are well planned to meet these specific objectives:
- Teaching concepts, principles, and self-management skills that will promote physical activity, fitness, and skill outside of physical education class. Physical education cannot accomplish all of its objectives within its scheduled class time, so learning in the classroom that promotes out-of-school physical activity is critical to the overall learning process.
- Avoiding inactive time in activity sessions. It is inefficient to try to teach some concepts in the gym or on the playing field because the resources for teaching and learning those concepts may be limited in those settings. A few well-planned classroom sessions can help students learn important concepts in settings that provide adequate teaching resources and help minimize the time teachers spend standing and talking to students during physical activity sessions.
- Scheduling appropriate use of classroom sessions. Fitness for Life: Middle School is designed to be flexible so it can fit into a variety of schedules. It can be used in one 9-week unit; implemented as part of a semester- or year-long program; or implemented in several short units over several grades (for example, 3-week units in each of three grades). The base plan includes two classroom days a week for 9 weeks; the semester plan includes one classroom day a week for a semester; and the yearly plan includes one day every other week for a year. The program can also be implemented in three grades, as 3-week units accounting for six classroom days per year for each of the three grades. Time spent in these sessions promotes efficient learning of important objectives based on NASPE standards as well as concepts included in subjects such as math, science, and language arts.
- Teaching concepts that make physical activity sessions more efficient. Once students learn key concepts (biomechanical principles, for example), they are more efficient in their skill learning sessions. Once students learn concepts related to social relationships and diversity (and discuss them in the classroom setting), they are better able to implement them in activity settings. Once students learn key concepts about fitness and exercise, they can relate them while doing fitness assessments and planning personal activity programs.
- Teaching students how to do physical activity correctly. Performing physical activity properly is important, and the classroom setting can be more effective at driving home important ideas such as staying hydrated or effectively practicing routines. If you learn to do activity correctly, you will get more benefits and avoid problems associated with incorrect activity. Some people drop out of activity because they do not know how to do it correctly. Learning key concepts helps students to be active and to perform activity properly.
Fitness for Life: Middle School is not meant to be a substitute for traditional physical education. It is designed to meet specific objectives within a comprehensive physical education curriculum. Well-planned classroom sessions can promote efficient learning of concepts and principles that will prevent inefficient use of time in activity sessions and promote optimal learning in activity sessions.
Finally, “articulation” from middle to high school was a key feature in developing the middle school program. Students completing the middle school program will have a strong foundation for entering a high school personal fitness course, yet with minimum content overlap. The middle school physical activities and fitness concepts are presented in a developmentally and educationally appropriate way to prepare students for more extensive study in high school. The NASPE standards are addressed in a developmentally appropriate manner in both the middle school and high school programs. The article “Fitness for Life Articulation” (see Also of Interest) describes the coordination of content between the middle school and high school Fitness for Life texts.