An orange balloon clung to the gymnasium wall at Perry Creek Elementary School high above Delilah Phillips’ head on a Friday morning. Static electricity was keeping the balloon suspended in the air.
During a previous P.E. class, the 8-year-old and her second grade classmates learned about this imbalance of electric charges, while volleying balloons around the gym with their hands. On this day, Phillips was teamed up with Khloe Kneifl, 7, and Samantha Olson, 8. The girls scurried around the gym trying to keep a balloon from hitting the ground with ping pong paddles.
“It’s good,” Phillips said of the activity.
Over the years, physical education has evolved from a focus on learning sports to life skills, such as balance and spacial awareness, according to physical educator Heather Hensley. While the twice-a week, 30-minute sessions still begin with calisthenics and laps around the gym, science, math and other subjects become integrated.
“It’s good for them to see that P.E. isn’t just come in and run around and kick balls. We’re thinking,” she said. “We were using balloons, and all of sudden, they’re talking about static electricity. They’re rubbing their balloons. They’re sticking them on walls. It’s like, ‘OK, Go with it.’ All my classes went right to that. They’re thinking. They’re not just playing.”
Four of Sioux City’s elementary schools, as well as East, North and West middle schools, are currently in the candidacy phase of becoming International Baccalaureate (IB) World Schools. IB aims to teach students to think critically and independently. This year, Hensley said she’s really pulling in to P.E. class what it means to be a learner.
“We’re just trying to get them to be kind of a round, whole thinker,” she said. “With IB we’re working on being an inquirer.”
Hensley said she also wants her students to lean to become “lifelong movers.” That’s a difficult task when tablets and other electronic devices are competing for their free time.
Hensley, who has been with the Sioux City Community School District for 16 years, said today’s students get to spend more time working “hands on” with equipment and in smaller groups in order to sustain their attention.
“I feel that it takes a lot more to keep their attention and focus. They’re so used to having things in front of them all the time,” she said. “When you’re in a big group, you might touch the ball once every five or 10 minutes. When you’re in small groups, everybody has their own equipment or at the most, they’re using a partner to share.”
After a brief warm up of Frankensteins, sit-ups, jumping jacks and sprints, the students gathered at a white board, where Hensley reviewed volleying. She also asked the students to recall the activity’s connection to science. A girl shouted, “Electricity.”
“We were talking about static electricity. Now, what’s this word,” Hensley asked while pointing to the board.
“Force,” a boy yelled out.
“I want you to notice the difference if you hit the balloon hard with the paddle or you swing soft,” she said. “You’re going to be inquiring. You’re going to be thinking and asking yourself, ‘What happens when you do those two things?'”
Photo by Jesse Brothers, Sioux City Journal.