Minn. Online Physical Education Program Finds Niche

Published January 1, 2006

While it may be a little early to say the trend is sweeping the nation, online physical education programs are gaining popularity in states from Florida to Minnesota.

Jan Braaten, curriculum coordinator for physical education and health for the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), explained why her district began offering online physical education classes in the spring of 2005.

“Things have changed in the twenty-first century in many ways, and one change is the wide variety of options and lifestyles for our students,” Braaten said. “We still think it is a great benefit for our students to participate in a traditional physical education course. [But] the online courses are really there to fill a niche for certain populations of our students and to allow them to benefit from what we have to teach.”

Students who wish to free up their schedule for Advanced Placement classes, as well as teen mothers, multisport athletes, and students with medical problems, benefit from the flexibility of the online physical education class, Braaten said.

Online PE Gaining Popularity

In Minneapolis, the online physical education curriculum has been developed using national and district standards. Once students obtain a medical waiver from a doctor, they meet face-to-face with their instructor to establish their baseline fitness level.

Braaten said after students have completed these initial tasks, they receive a heart-rate monitor and begin progressing through a variety of physical education modules.

“Each module has a sport/activity journal piece,” Braaten explained. “This is the ‘meat’ of the course, because we want our students to engage in vigorous physical activity three times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. In the sport/activity journal, students will record their activity, their heart rate, their perceived exertion rate, and other aspects of a good workout. The sport/activity journal must be signed off by a parent, coach, trainer, or other adult.”

Over the past year, MPS has accommodated more than 300 students with its burgeoning online physical education offerings. Kathy Burns, an MPS spokesperson, noted demand is up, too.

“The online learning coordinator indicated that she has more requests than they can accommodate as the class has become very popular and in demand within our district,” Burns said. “She also reports other school districts are asking if their students can participate as well.”

Burns said growing media attention in the past few months has drawn requests for information about online physical education classes from around the United States and as far away as Australia.

Results Don’t Lie

Involving parents and other adults in the students’ fitness activities has been helpful, Braaten said. Between the regularity of the academic component, the partnership of parents and coaches, and a post-fitness test, she says students trying to cheat the system are usually detected easily.

“We do monitor the ‘proof’ of the activity piece of our classes very closely,” Braaten said. “As in any class where students do homework or other work outside of class, there is a chance that students are cheating. Our online teachers, being experienced educators, seem able to sniff out students who are not fulfilling the expectations of the course.”

The online physical education program is well aligned with trends in physical education, Braaten said. While the old model–usually calisthenics and other training in the school gym–emphasized rules, strategy, and sports, the new model is characterized by personal fitness–defining, achieving, maintaining, and measuring personal health, as well as understanding how to access fitness opportunities outside of school and create healthy workouts.

Kate McGreevy ([email protected]) is a freelance education writer living in New Mexico. She formerly worked with the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy in Washington, DC.

For more information …

For more information about the Minneapolis Public Schools’ online education programs, go to http://www.mpls.k12.mn.us.