Teaching Physiology of Exercise to Reluctant Physical Educators

By Strawbridge, Marilyn | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, May-June 2012 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Physiology of Exercise to Reluctant Physical Educators


Strawbridge, Marilyn, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


Exercise physiology seems to be a course that students love or hate. Many physical education students and others involved in the related areas of health, teaching, recreation, dance, athletic training, fitness, and motor learning and development find this course a requirement at some point in their curriculum. It provides the scientific basis for many subjects under the broad Kinesiology umbrella. Each student comes to class with different interests, scientific backgrounds, and level of preparation. Certainly with such a wide variety of ways to approach the study of the body and movement, these differing contextual approaches complicate the job of teaching exercise physiology to undergraduate students. This is especially true in smaller institutions where you will find that the exercise physiology class is a common body of knowledge necessary for multiple programs of study. The challenge is to find a pedagogical approach that addresses the problem of making the subject matter relevant for all. Inquiry-based learning may help in this task when it begins with a question which is meaningful to all, arouses our own natural curiosity, doesn't require requisite knowledge, and challenges cognitive abilities.

Inquiry-based learning is an instructional method involving teaching through questions. This method was developed in response to a perceived failure of more traditional forms of instruction where Students memorize facts presented in texts. Through inquiry-based learning the student is guided to an understanding of key content. In this approach the learner is engaged in formulating a response rather than just being given an answer. The process is as important as what is to be learned. Students are engaged at a higher level and are challenged cognitively, as in problem solving. Multiple answers can be proved or disproved, and concepts are more likely to be transferred or applied to other content. When students learn to question, they are doing what scientists do. In structured inquiry-based learning the teacher poses the question, but students generate explanations based on the evidence they collect or the reasoned logical arguments they may present. Students come to know about the natural world, what is going on inside their bodies, and why things are the way they are. They are able to satisfy their natural intellectual curiosity in making sense of the world. For example, a question such as why do muscles get sore is of interest to most everyone. The purpose of this article is to present inquiry-based learning as a method of teaching applied to the subject of exercise physiology, with the goal of engaging students and teachers in more meaningful learning. Questions pertaining to exercise physiology concepts will be posed and followed by the guided active learning experiences that can be presented in class using lab experiences and lab type experiences when lab facilities may not be available.

Questions/Concept 1: During a very hard workout, like running sprints, some guys vomited and couldn't continue. What was happening in the body to cause this response?

This scenario is the basis of a group activity where students research many physiological concepts such as energy production for intense exercise, metabolism, acid-base balance, and buffering by-products of an energy system called glycolysis. Intense exercise, which relies on glycogen as an anaerobic source of energy, creates a byproduct called lactic acid. Usually with recovery time the acid is buffered by other processes. When these normal clearing or balancing processes can't keep up with the acid production, the acid in the body increases and results in an imbalance where the body fluid becomes too acidic. Symptoms of this very acidic state can include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and dizziness. After the question has been posed, students are given time to research a plausible explanation for the particular phenomenon. These explanations are developed through group discussions, available materials, research, and their own knowledge.

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