Applying Newton's Apple to Elementary Physical Education an Interdisciplinary Approach; If Knowledgeable Movers Are Better Movers, Learning the Laws of Motion Should Improve Children's Movement Skills

By Gagen, Linda; Getchell, Nancy | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Applying Newton's Apple to Elementary Physical Education an Interdisciplinary Approach; If Knowledgeable Movers Are Better Movers, Learning the Laws of Motion Should Improve Children's Movement Skills


Gagen, Linda, Getchell, Nancy, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


What do a five-year-old child jumping onto a poly spot, an eight-year-old setting a volleyball, and a young golfer hitting a drive have in common? The first and most obvious fact is that they are all children moving. Also, all of these individuals move in accordance to natural, physical laws that influence their actions. That is, part of their movement can be predicted based on certain mechanical principles that govern motion on planet Earth.

Professionals in the field of physical education can take advantage of these principles of motion (frequently studied within the domain of biomechanics) to better understand motor performance and developmental changes in children (within the domain of motor development). This will enable them to design lesson plans (within the domain of pedagogy) that will allow children to learn and take advantage of naturally occurring phenomena within the gymnasium (Getchell, 2001; Haywood & Getchell, 2005). By using a multidisciplinary approach--focusing on biomechanical principles within a developmental context--physical educators can improve both their instruction and children's motor performance in the gymnasium. The examples in this article focus on elementary school physical education, but physical educators at all levels can adapt these methods to suit the specific developmental requirements of their students.

Physical education is a movement science. Typically, elementary school physical education teachers plan to include movement in many diverse forms in their curricula so that students can have as many different movement experiences as possible. This reflects the first of the national standards, which calls for every physically educated person to "demonstrate competency in many movement forms and proficiency in a few" (National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 2004). The second national standard details the need for movers to apply "movement concepts and principles to the learning and development of motor skills" (NASPE, 2004). Many of the movement concepts and principles are based on natural laws of science that govern all motion on Earth. The purpose of this article is to review three basic principles known as Newton's laws of motion; to apply these principles to moving, growing children; and to show how these principles can be integrated into planning within an elementary physical education setting.

Biomechanics and Motor Development

Early movement patterns have certain distinctive characteristics across a wide variety of skills. When a kindergartner throws a ball, he or she often lifts the ball and thrusts it forward; movement is primarily elbow flexion and extension, with little or no activity outside of the forward motion (figure 1). The early throw resembles an early strike, which also consists primarily of elbow flexion and extension (Haywood & Getchell, 2005; Roberton & Halverson, 1984; Wickstrom, 1983).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The similarities across movement patterns do not occur by chance. They result from the physical principles or laws that govern movement. The following sections will focus on the three laws of motion first published by Sir Issac Newton in 1687. Newton's laws underlie movement, and therefore, provide them with some predictability. Examining these laws in detail can help physical educators to understand more about predictable, developmental change.

Newton's First Law: Inertia

Simply stated, Newton's first law says that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by a force (Hall, 2006). This law is directly applicable to physical education and sport. The first part, referring to an object at rest, is known as inertia. Inertia is related to the mass of an object: the heavier a ball, the more force a student must generate in order to move it. What this means within the context of a physical education class is that students must generate force--they must move, run, throw, or perform some other action in order for any movement to occur. …

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