Curriculum

Internet Spawns Online Physical Education

By Darcia Harris Bowman — January 29, 2003 3 min read

Florida teenager Jessica M. Fox is “kind of anti-sports” and admits to having no interest in sweating alongside her peers in a high school gym class. So, while her classmates at Cypress Lake High School ran laps last year, the 16-year-old junior logged on to the Internet for a new kind of physical education.

Some 1,600 students statewide are expected to follow in her footsteps this year by enrolling in a cyberspace gym class to knock off the state’s high school graduation requirement of one semester of physical education.

“Personal Fitness” is not a video game. The half-credit course is one of the Florida Virtual School’s most popular offerings, and it actually requires some real-world exercise. How much and how hard students work out, however, is largely up to them.

Ms. Fox, whose 2,000-student high school is in Fort Myers, said she took the class with the Orlando-based online high school because it looked heavy on academics and light on exercise. “It takes more time than regular gym class because there are more assignments and reading and writing, but I’m better at that anyway,” she said. “I know my friends at school definitely had to do a lot more running.”

Florida Virtual School officials said the online fitness class is not an easy out for students who hope to clear high school without breaking a sweat.

“There’s nothing passive about online learning,” said Bruce B. Friend, the chief academic officer of the virtual school. “Most of our students tell us they’re doing more in our personal-fitness class than they would in their own schools.”

Some experts doubt that claim.

Judith C. Young, the executive director of the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, concedes that the Internet may be useful for teaching students about nutrition, the benefits of exercise, obesity, and other health concepts that round out a good gym class. But the technology has its limits, she argued.

“The cognitive aspect of this class is great, but the problem comes in with the performance part of physical education,” said Ms. Young, whose association is based in Reston, Va. “If this [online class] is the only experience some students are going to have with physical education, it’s questionable.”

Ms. Young said Florida is the only state she knows of where students have the option of receiving all of their physical education through the Internet.

Welcome to ‘Wellville’

The Florida Virtual School’s fitness class doesn’t look like a cakewalk.

Students must work their way through a virtual village called “Wellville,” which consists of 11 modules containing all the fitness and nutrition content the state wants students to know before graduation.

Those who enroll in the class have to complete a fitness pre- and post-test; pass nine quizzes and a final exam; memorize the meaning of terms like “hypothermia,” “heat cramp,” and “shin splint"; determine their body-mass index; and learn about the dangers of obesity, the benefits of stretching, healthy methods of weight loss, and daily calorie requirements.

Add to that work the actual exercise required, and teenagers should find themselves spending six to 10 hours a week on the class, said physical education instructor Jo D. Wagner.

But how reliable are the exercise logs the students submit as proof that they’re working out every week? The school’s physical education teachers never see their students. Instead, they rely on parents or other approved adults to keep the teenagers honest.

So students could say they ran a mile when they didn’t. Or they could claim they did 50 sit-ups when they barely managed half that number.

Ms. Wagner insisted that kind of fudging isn’t likely.

“The first thing I ask the parents is, ‘Have you seen ‘em sweat?’” said Ms. Wagner, who has taught physical education for 19 years. “We do monthly progress notes for our kids and their parents, and we require [teachers to make] at least one monthly telephone contact with students and parents.”

The online fitness course is hard enough, she said, that some students drop out rather than do the work required. But those teenagers are few and far between: The class had a 93 percent completion rate last year.

Suffering from both asthma and acid reflux, sophomore Chelsey M. Campbell said she wasn’t wild about exercise, but the online class got the home-schooled Palm City teenager to the community gym last semester.

She didn’t look forward to the workouts, but said she didn’t consider cheating an option.

“I went with my Mom every time, and I did what I said I would,” the 15-year-old said. “This was not my first course at this school, so I realized it absolutely does you no good to lie.”

Coverage of technology is supported in part by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Whitepaper
The Digital Transformation in Elementary Education
This white paper reports on the impact of this digital transformation, highlighting the resources educators are most likely to use, their...
Content provided by Capstone
Curriculum School Halts Use of Fictional Book in Which Officer Kills a Black Child
Fifth graders in at least one Broward County school were assigned to read a book that critics say casts police officers as racist liars.
Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5 min read
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alhadeff told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she does not feel like the book "Ghost Boys" is appropriate for 5th graders.
Lynne Sladky/AP
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Whitepaper
Empowering Teachers for Student Success
Discover how teachers are effectively using databases with insights from educators who use Gale In Context: For Educators to collect, org...
Content provided by Gale
Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty