2006 C. H. McCloy Research Lecture: Defining Learning as Conceptual Change in Physical Education and Physical Activity Settings

By Ennis, Catherine D. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, June 2007 | Go to article overview

2006 C. H. McCloy Research Lecture: Defining Learning as Conceptual Change in Physical Education and Physical Activity Settings


Ennis, Catherine D., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Key words: Be Active Kids!, curriculum, elementary, pedagogy

Charles H. McCloy was a distinguished scholar whose any contributions in measurement are too numerous to mention. Like many scholars of the day, much of his work focused on improving the quality of motor performance. Sixty years ago, he identified a preliminary list of motor educability factors that he argued were instrumental to skilled performance (see Figure 1; McCloy, 1946). Although we describe and categorize many of these differently today, it is interesting to note the range of factors he included on this list. In motor learning, curriculum, and pedagogical studies, perspectives on learning encompass both knowledge and performance in physically active environments. Conceptualizations of what actually constitutes "learning," continue to be the subject of much discussion in both educational psychology and pedagogy.

Figure 1. McCloy's (1946) motor educability factors.

* Insight into the nature of the skill: "catching on"

* Ability to visualize spatial relationships

* Ability to make quick and adaptive decisions

* Sensory motor coordination: e.g., eye w/hand

* Judgment of relationships of the subject to external
objects in relation to time, height, distance, direction

* Accuracy of direction and small angle of error

* General kinesthetic sensitivity and control

* Ability to coordinate a complex unitary movement

Evolving Approaches to Learning

Traditionally, behavioral psychologists defined learning as an enduring change in behavior that can be observed and measured (Shuell, 1986). More recently, cognitive psychologists have taken a somewhat different view, defining learning as a change in "the way a person thinks, reasons, believes, and processes information, in part, by expanding or altering the individual's existing knowledge base" (Alexander, 2006, p. 123). A significant dimension of the existing knowledge base in any area is conceptual knowledge, which includes an understanding of the principles and relationships that permit the learner to apply knowledge usefully and use it for analysis and evaluation. Most conceptual learning occurs as a gradual accumulation of information through experience. In this respect, conceptual change encompasses not only dramatic shifts in knowledge but also everyday developments in human understanding (Murphy & Alexander, 2006; Rumelhardt & Norman, 1981). Cognitive psychological viewpoints and the learning theories that have evolved from these perspectives drive many of the educational reform initiatives in schools today (Alexander, 2006; Ennis, 2006; Ennis & McCauley, 2002).

In this paper, I will discuss a line of research examining the acquisition, organization, and use of knowledge associated with conceptual change in which we are engaged at the University of Maryland. It builds on foundational research by scholars in science, mathematics, and reading education as well as in motor learning and physical education pedagogy, examining student learning and performance in complex environments such as those found in games and sport. We are extending these ideas to examine children's conceptual learning associated with physical activity and fitness content. Our research has led to National Institutes of Health funding to design, implement, evaluate, and disseminate a conceptually oriented health-related fitness program for elementary children, rifled Be Active Kids!

This physical education curriculum, funded through science education, focuses on changes in students' conceptual knowledge as they conduct science experiments, examining the effects of exercise on their bodies. However, it is not a sit-in-the-classroom program. Instead, children engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity in every lesson as they participate in the scientific inquiry process. Specifically, one of our objectives is to provide evidence of student learning, defined as conceptual change, without significantly reducing the frequency and intensity of physical activity. …

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