How to make your kid hate math, writing and PE all at the same time

As more and more states fall prey to the veiled bribery of Race To The Top (RTTT), the required implementation of teacher-evaluation-based-on-student-test-scores is already displaying the dangerous symptoms the critics of corporate reform have been warning about. According to a maddening article in the New York Times yesterday—yet another that wastes no time in blaming teachers for the achievement gap (and please, someone needs to smack some sense into Nicholas Kristof)—revision of curriculum is frantic in at least a dozen states.

The Times quickly pointed my attention to the effort taking place at Bearden High School in Knoxville, Tenn., where “physical education teachers are scrambling to incorporate math and writing into activities, since 50 percent of their evaluations will be based on standardized tests, not basketball victories.”

As someone with a degree in Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, I balked at this development. Of course I had to Tweet about about it, and the absurdity kept me up much of the night, an insomnia further fueled by some of the interesting responses to my 140-character scoff. Among them, some ideas to incorporate math:

How many feet are in 2 football fields? Inches? Centimeters? A basketball court? Tennis court? Perimeter of each?

How long does it take to run around the perimeter of a football field if running @10 meters/sec?

How many basketballs would it take, if placed side by side, to fill a basketball court? Tennis balls on tennis court?

Measure each other, then:how high must you jump to touch rim? How high *can* you jump? What’s difference?

some crosscurric is good. Don’t spend all pe time on math but 5-10 min out of an hour not bad idea

This is to say nothing of the writing which should also be incorporated. Perhaps an essay about whether a tennis ball makes any noise when it bounces if nobody is around to see it bounce? Ah, but that is getting into philosophy and there’s no time for that!

One of the more sun-shiney responders (who offered several of the above suggestions) offered this as well:

Racers have to figure out minutes/mile (pace) while training,pace changes on type of run.#important2success

To specific and serious athletes, yes, important to success. But to the average kid in PE class? Hmmmm. I asked him if he had any ideas for third grade MathPE problems. His response?

Sure. How many jumping jacks do they do in a minute if they do one every 2 seconds while warming up?

Critical to success, indeed!

The way I see it, that last problem—or “word sentence,” as Pearson would like us all to know it—is a math problem for a math class. Albeit, one for a creative math teacher whose kids might get up out of their seats to test whether it really does take one minute to do 30 jumping jacks (more if you’re overweight like more than 1/3 of American kids, less if you’re wealthy and your parents can afford after school tennis lessons. Oooh! Do I sense a follow-up math problem to the original problem?). Of course, a third grade teacher might risk being written up for having her students deviate from the all-important worksheet. No jumping jacks in class! Stay in your seats with eyes on the board and quiet hands!

Look, my 6-year old has PE one time each week for a total of 30 minutes. That is one time, for 30 minutes, including the to-and-from-the-classroom time. Every Tuesday at 2:15-ish—after a day of sitting at her desk, then on the carpet, then at her desk, then on the carpet, then back at the desk, then back to the carpet doing math and literacy, math and literacy, math and literacy (not to mention the pathetic district-designed art “class” taught every 6-ish weeks); and after one 15-minute recess at 11:15 ish, and a 30 minute combined lunch and recess, during which my baby usually has to choose between eating or play, since there isn’t enough time for her to do both—she lines up with the other 23 children in her class (slated to be 31 next year) and heads out to PE where she has a smidgen of time to get her pent up ya-yas out. That is her time to exercise her body, the time when running is actually permitted on the playground (for reals).

Where—I respectfully ask certain excessively-upbeat and positive people who think the incorporation of math and writing into PE is an awesome idea—she should do additional math and literacy? Moreover, why? And who does that serve?

We have a very big problem with childhood obesity in this country. And when a child participates in any form of exercise only once a week like many American school children, it can be very hard and not terrifically enjoyable; it can be interpreted as punishment, and is sometimes used as such. Toss in some extra math problems (“gym teacher recently spread playing cards around and had students run to find three that added to 14″) and once more, we are setting our kids up for failure. With rare exposure to (fun) exercise, children tend to develop negative attitudes toward fitness, pervasive and difficult-to-change negative attitudes that have direct impact on their current and future health, both physically and emotionally.

Cross-curriculum teaching can be a good thing. Teaching the whole child is a good thing. But this isn’t about cross-curriculum teaching. And we are a long-ass way away from teaching the whole child, moving ever further from such an ideal. None of this is even about what is best for kids, and advocates of math and writing in PE need to stop pretending that it is.

Like most of what is happening in education right now, this is about power, politics, and money. The kids are simply the collateral damage.



12 Responses to How to make your kid hate math, writing and PE all at the same time

  • shannnnon says:

    I’m in Nova Scotia, and here they just eliminated homework for kids under grade 3. My son had a hell of a teacher when he was in grade 3 before they changed the rules. He had at least 2 hours of homework every night PLUS 30 minutes of reading to which we had to listen and log in it in a book. Every day was a battle. My husband would walk away and I was stuck fighting the homework blues. Now he has no homework in grade 5. None. Occasionally he has a math sheet, but its usually because he was farting around doing something else and didn’t get it done at school. I also think the no gym time is seriously contributing to the escalating diagnosis of ADD and ADHD in today’s kids. Get them outside to play! Bring back gym to 3-4 times per week. Never mind the fact the the government is continually trimming the funding for gym, music and art programs….It’s going to have serious consequences very shortly….I’m afraid….

  • Lys says:

    Maybe you should home school

  • Anne says:

    There is so much I have to say, but will have to do so in an email, so that I don’t get written up by my administrators. What I can say now is that having been a teacher, turned counselor (no counseling happening there, academic only), now the Post-Secondary Counselor, I have seen many perspectives and unfortunately have been part of the problem (so as not to lose my job I taught to the test). As a teacher I was considered successful because I had 95% pass rate on the exit level exam, required to graduate from high school. Now I’m in a position to counsel, guide, help kids figure out what they are going to do after high school. What I see and experience is maddening, unsettling, and disheartening. Our kids aren’t prepared – not for college, not to work, not to be socially responsible. I appreciate you and all of the other parents who are speaking up. Thank you!

  • Keep fighting the good fight, Aaryn. See you Saturday night–we can vent in person.

  • Bethany says:

    Yep, in Poway too… 30 mins a week of PE (if they get to it). They do have a voluntary running club before school for 15 minutes but there is no real hope of any excercise happening after school either because after a very long day of math and writting she comes home to 2+ hours more of math and writting, 30 mins of required reading, 30 mins. of “suggested” multiplication drills with flashcards, and 2X per week there is an additional 30 mins. of required math and grammer games (a.k.a. worksheets) she must do online. The games she does online measure how well she is prepared for her MAPS tests.

    Poor child doesn’t even have time to go outside and run around with her friends like a crazy person before it gets dark. We are all going to hell in a hand-basket.

    • Aaryn says:

      Yup. And all that is why the worksheets that come home go directly into the recycling bin. It’s why the Pearson math workbook gathers dust on a shelf. It’s why her “required reading” is done as a family, in bed, during the nightly bedtime routine and consists of books our daughter chooses. It’s why WE decide what activities she will be do when she is not at school and why those activities do not include homework. Funny: Ruby has improved in class since we stopped having homework battles and forcing her to sit at the table for hours after she’s already sat for hours in a classroom.

      There is NO research to support the validity of homework for small children. None.

  • MidLyfeMama says:

    Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. My kid starts kindergarten next September. We have decided to send him to the public school in our town, and I am wondering about the wisdom of this.

    • Aaryn says:

      Public schools are good and will only be good if parents who care continue to take part in them. So good for you for choosing a public school. That being said, as someone who already parented through kindergarten, I would advise you to ignore the homework. Ignore it. Kids are getting plenty of sit-still-and-focus while at school. What you do at home is your business and kindergarten is only kindergarten. I wish I’d had that perspective at the time, and hadn’t taken it all so seriously.

  • Jenn says:

    Interesting article on NY Times on benefits of exercise in overall brain function:

  • Carrie says:

    Yes, yes, and yes! We are down to one PE class per week in elementary too. Math and Reading are all they do outside of so-called special area classes which still exist but got hit hard last year, and will likely be the first on the chopping block when budget gets cut again. Your recess situation sounds like my first-grader’s. Wonder why those kids can’t sit still–could it be that they are first graders?! It is crazy what is being asked of kids in the name of passing state-mandated tests and district-mandated assessments. It’s not for the children, it’s for the reputation of our schools and to evaluate our teachers. Pretty sure my district’s teachers are also being evaluated on overall reading and math scores, so…Thanks for great post!

  • Jenn says:

    PE once a week? WTF? and art only once every 6 weeks? That’s insane. I’m an adult, with a serious focus on writing my dissertation and even I need to get outside and move around at least once a day!

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