High School Students' Physical Education Conceptual Knowledge

By Ayers, Suzan F. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, September 2004 | Go to article overview

High School Students' Physical Education Conceptual Knowledge


Ayers, Suzan F., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


The value of conceptual physical education knowledge has long been acknowledged (American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, 1969; Kneer, 1981; NASPE, 1995) yet has not been formally measured or assessed. Seven multiple choice tests with established validity and reliability (Ayers, 2001b) were used to assess the concepts identified in Mohnsen's text (1998). Tests were administered to 3,263 high school students at the schools of 17 NASPE Teachers of the Year in 16 states. On all tests, girls outscored boys, and Caucasians outscored all other racial groups. Examinees' average performance on each test war: motor development (65 %), exercise physiology (62 %), social psychology (60 %), biomechanics (57 %), aesthetic experiences (56 %), motor learning (53 %), and historical perspectives (49 %). Analyses of each area determined concepts students knew and did not know.

Key words: assessment, concepts, testing

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While the cognitive domain has long been emphasized as a critical component of a good physical education program (American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, 1969; National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 1995; Placek & Griffin, 2001), it continues to be the least represented outcome in our profession (Lawson, 1987). The national K-12 content standards (NASPE, 1995) present a compelling case for knowledge in the development of physically educated individuals (Franck, 1992). However, there exists a long standing debate over the primary goals, purposes, and aims of quality physical education programs. Some more widely advocated curricular approaches have included health-related fitness (Sallis et al., 1999), personal and social responsibility (Hellison, 1985), and sport education (Siedentop, 1994). It is important to acknowledge the value of different approaches to quality instruction, yet for the scope of this paper, discussion will be limited to the role of cognition in developing physically educated individuals.

Cognitive Research

As Lee (1997) noted, researchers have addressed the cognitive domain in physical education through various paradigms. Cognitive researchers have focused on areas including student and teacher perceptions (Langley, 1995; Lee, Landin & Carter, 1992; Solmon & Lee, 1996), assessing cognitive processes during physical education (Solmon & Lee, 1997), and health-related fitness concepts (Dale & Corbin, 2000; Goldfine & Nahas, 1993). Cognitive research addressing conceptual knowledge leaves research that has examined student perceptions and outcomes (Griffin, Dodds, Placek & Tremino, 2001; Hare & Graber, 2000; Nevett, Rovegno, & Babiarz, 2001; Placek, et al., 2001). While domain specific in nature (e.g., soccer tactics or health-related fitness knowledge), this research generated important findings providing insight into conceptual knowledge development in physical education. Findings include: (a) student misconceptions can reflect deep-seated cognitive constructs of meaning (Hare & Graber); (b) prior knowledge often differs from target conceptions and can interfere with developing new and accurate conceptual knowledge (Griffin et al., 2001; Hare & Graber, 2000); and (c) students' conceptions can be simplistic and inaccurate, such as the idea that fitness = looking good = being thin (Placek et al., 2001).

Historical Place of Cognition in Physical Education

Considering these recent contributions to the knowledge about how cognition influences student learning, it is necessary to address the knowledge considered critical to developing physically educated people. The nature of important knowledge in physical education, as defined by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), has remained consistent for nearly 35 years, as evidenced by a series of publications defining that knowledge. …

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