Students who are provided with adequate physical education and physical activity have greater chances for lifelong health and academic success. However, many students do not receive sufficient physical education or opportunities for physical activity.
Knowing the Terms
Physical education, like all subjects, comes with its own terms and definitions. For teachers who are not as familiar with physical education, here is a quick overview of terms.
Did You Know?
- Physical Education (PE) is a planned sequential instruction that equips students with the knowledge, skills, capacities, values, and enthusiasm to maintain a physically active and healthy lifestyle into adulthood.
- Physical Activity (PA) is defined as moving one’s body in any way.
- Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity (MVPA) involves a range of physical activity that provides adequate health benefits. Moderate intensity is a minimum level and includes brisk walking or bicycling. Vigorous intensity is associated with large increases in breathing or heart rate, for example jogging, aerobic dancing, or cycling uphill.
- School physical activity has declined significantly since the 1970’s with 12 hours of free time lost per week, a 25% decrease in play time, and a 50% decrease in unstructured outdoor activity.
- Most students fall short of the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. For example, among female students 12 to 15 years old, only 3% meet the recommended minutes and only 10% of male students 12 to 15.
- The quality of physical education programs is not equal across social and economic statuses. Students in affluent schools spend 20% more time in moderate to vigorous physical activity than students in low income schools. Furthermore, students in the fittest low-income schools engage in about as much moderate to vigorous physical activity as students in the least fit higher income schools.
California requires that students participate in a minimum number of minutes in physical education and to be tested on their level of physical fitness.
- Elementary students, grades 1 through 6, are required to have a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education every ten days.*
- Secondary students, grades 7 through 12, are required to have minimum of 400 minutes of physical education every ten days.*
- Every two years, districts must administer a physical performance test to students in grades 5, 7, and 9. These results are reported to the California Department of Education (CDE). To see the tests and results, please visit the CDE website.
* These requirements may vary based on the structure of your school (e.g. kindergarten through eighth grade rather than kindergarten through sixth grade). For more information, please visit the California State Board of Education’s website
California has put into place legislation to improve physical education and activity opportunities for school-age children. Below are some examples of what California has done recently.
Teachers Make a Difference
- SB 896 (1998) requires that every two years districts administer a physical performance test to students in grades 5, 7, and 9 and submit these results to the California Department of Education.
- AB 1793 (2002) requires the State Board of Education to adopt physical education curriculum content standards, encourage districts to employ credentialed physical education teachers and encourage that physical education be taught for no less than 200 minutes every ten school days.
- SB 1868 (2002) secures the establishment of courses in physical education in elementary and secondary schools. Physical education manuals must be distributed to all teachers.
- SB 78 (2003) effective 2007, students must pass the Physical Fitness Test in 9th grade to be eligible to receive a two year exemption from physical education.
- SB 1131 (2006) provides one time funds to use for professional development, equipment and supplies for physical education.
- SB 601 (2007) establishes criteria for granting two-year exemptions from physical education and requires state review of districts’ compliance with physical education instructional minutes and other program requirements.
Even if you are not a physical education teacher, and especially if you are, you can help improve physical education and physical activity opportunities for your students. As a teacher, you can:
- Take short classroom activity breaks, lasting five to ten minutes, inside the classroom.
- Encourage students to set personal fitness goals.
- Reward participation in physical activities rather than achievement.
- Refrain from punishing students with exercise.
- Get involved with your district wellness policies.
- Find out if students in your school or district are receiving the minimum required minutes with at least 50% of those minutes spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity.
- Encourage your association to learn more about programs such as Safe Routes to School that encourage walking and biking. Discuss possible implementation with district personnel.
While the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds
project is currently in the initial planning stages and still developing resources for teachers, there are many organizations that have been working on these issues for many years and have developed useful teacher resources. Please visit the resources section
of the website to learn more about opportunities to influence physical education and physical activity in your classroom, school, or district. Additionally, many creative teachers throughout California have developed innovative projects. You can learn more about this in Take Action