Physical Education researchers promote literacy and numeracy skills at local school

Peter Hastie, Brenna Cosgrove and Jessica Richards

Peter Hastie, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Kinesiology, along with doctoral students Brenna Cosgrove and Jessica Richards, conducted a month-long intervention at D.C. Wolfe Elementary School incorporating concepts from the classroom into physical education to improve retention and performance.

The partnership between Auburn University and D.C. Wolfe, located in Macon County, Alabama, aimed to help classroom teachers reinforce children’s learning of selected content in math and language arts. Over the one-month period, teachers from each grade K- 6 selected a specific element from their current instruction, such as fractions, pronouns, and spelling words. The researchers then reinforced this material during the students’ physical education classes.

The students engaged in chasing, fleeing, dodging, throwing, catching, and basketball skills in response to questions posed by the researchers. For example, if they thought the fraction 32 /45 was larger than 47/21 they would dribble with their left hand, and if they thought 32 /45 was smaller than 47/21 then they would dribble with their right hand.

“You could see very quickly how many of them answered correctly and understood the concept or if it was an area that needed additional work,” said Hastie. “The goal is that through enjoyable and active movement experiences, the children can practice not only their sport skills, but also receive reinforcement of classroom content in a way that is fun but still challenging.”

One key component of the project was to empower the teachers who are the content experts and have control over the material being reinforced in physical education. The P.E. pedagogists then find ways to maximize classroom learning without sacrificing time spent in movement skill learning.

“It was really fun spending several weeks with the children and seeing them progress and grasp more difficult concepts as the weeks went on,” said Cosgrove. “They were surprised that learning could be so much fun.”

The overall goal of the project was to increase the literacy and numeracy skills of the children, as well as to provide teachers strategies they can use to promote these skills and provide on-site professional development to the physical education teacher.

“If we can teach the teachers, our work is that much more powerful because they reach so many children every day,” said Richards. “It’s really about serving others to help make a positive impact on future generations.”

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