It is amazing reflecting upon my college experience to recall the number of best practice concepts that were folded into our learning experiences. One of the big projects we completed in our elementary methods course was a cross curricular unit. Each student selected a topic and then created physical education lessons that met all of the state physical education standards and reinforced concepts related to the subject chosen. At the time, I chose Native Americans and created a unit that reinforced a wide variety of concepts related specifically to Native Americans but also reinforced language arts and math concepts. It was a lot of work and required a good amount of research but it really made me realize the impact a physical education program can have on academic achievement. As I began my teaching career, I took that experience with me and began to search out ways to introduce cross curricular activities in my physical education program.
There are many opportunities to reinforce core content and cross curricular activities in physical education class. This effort to support language arts, math, history, and science should not come at the expense of teaching physical education standards and content. The key is to find creative ways to reinforce the core material while keeping true to the goal of teaching the skills and concepts related to developing lifelong movers. Below you will find some suggestions on ways to reinforce core content in PE.
Integrating Math in Physical Education
Skill drills in physical education provide many opportunities for students to practice counting in multiples. Student can also be given points for completing different tasks. As the points add up, students will need to use basic math skills to compute their score. Another skill that is easy to incorporate is pattern building. This can be done as station work or as part of creative relay races. Money can be used as a reinforcement for completing tasks thereby giving students additional exposure to the look of various types of currency (coins vs. bills) and how to count it. There are also many opportunities to discuss math vocabulary that relate to physical education (i.e. – angle, measurement, perimeter, distance, etc.).
When students enter the gym, a great way to reinforce language arts is to have the students read instructions for their warm-up. If doing this, keep the language simple and post three or fewer basic instructions. Physical educators can use spelling words in a variety of creative ways to help students (i.e. – jump rope spelling, word sort challenge, GeoMat spelling, etc.). PE teachers can also reinforce key vocabulary using a Word Wall.
One of my favorite ways to support science was to perform experiments in physical education class. The practical use of experimentation vocabulary when learning about heart rate or burning calories is a great way to reinforce these important science concepts in physical education class. There are also many opportunities to highlight science related vocabulary that is used during PE classes (i.e. – speed, friction, angle of trajectory, fulcrum, lever, aerodynamics, etc.). There are other awesome activities that use student knowledge of science concepts (i.e. – Habitat Survivor (dodging and fleeing), Evaporation (tossing flying discs at a target), Rocket Launcher (striking and catching pool noodles), etc.).
Social Studies is made up of a variety of sub-disciplines like civics, economics, history, and geography. Each discipline has unique vocabulary that can be highlighted in physical education classes. If organizing students into squads or teams, using history vocabulary as team names is a simple way to reinforce the terms (i.e. – Presidents, important Native America tribes, important historical battles, famous Black Americans, etc.). There are also many opportunities using creative activities that are specific to social studies content (i.e. – anything that deals with the Olympics can be connected to Greece, Chinese jump rope has a natural connection to the history of China, etc.).
The key to crossing the curriculum is using the resources available to you at your school (other teacher and/or your administrators). For me, it has always been pretty simple because my wife is a 5th grade teacher. In many ways, her knowledge and expertise with the core content has helped me be a more effective physical education teacher. I realize that this may not be your situation but I also know that there are many teachers in your school that would be more than willing to provide ideas on ways that you can help their students be successful.