Where Are All the Soapbox Cars?

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My most memorable childhood playthings weren’t factory-made. When I think back, I had the most fun swordfighting with poplar saplings, sliding down snowy slopes on cardboard boxes and playing battleships with homemade graph paper.

I‘ll never forget our day-long sod fights up in the woods—protecting  forts hammered together from old crates and using ammunition made from clumps of grass with dried soil still attached—or the satisfying puff of dirt that signified a direct hit on an opponent’s clean shirt.

But when was the last time you saw a child playing with a soapbox racer made from scrap lumber or a crystal radio set that they had assembled themselves?

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve noticed any kid in my neighborhood using homemade playthings—such relics have all been replaced by space-age technology from the toy factory.

Nope—a poplar sapling doesn’t stand a chance against a battery-operated Jeddi sword with sound effects and luminous plastic blade. Why rely on gravity to move your soapbox car when a mere $500 will buy you a fully operational miniaturized electrical sports vehicle.  Graph-paper Battleship games are now computerized, and air-powered splatter guns with washable die pellets have replaced our hand-tossed dirt sods. Crystal radio sets have been supplanted by 400 pound boom-boxes with enough power to stuff the Toronto Skydome with thumping, stereophonic sound.

Let’s face it, this is not the decade of do-it-yourself kids.  And while I must confess that I had my share of high-tech gizmos as a kid, including a T-V ping-pong game and a slot car racing track, none of them occupied much of my play-time.

Today, many kids have the attitude that if it isn’t store-bought and doesn’t have a peer-accepted designer label, it isn’t worth using.  And that’s a shame.  Our children are missing the great satisfaction of playing with one’s own creations. And with this, they’re losing the ability to improvise, to innovate, and to create something usable, if not perfect, out of nothing.

Perhaps as physical educators, we should provide more encouragement for creative improvisation. Check the “Equipment” section of the PE Update website and you’ll find dozens of ideas for home-made sports and PE equipment: everything from tin can walkers and 2”x4” balance boards, to garden-hose quoits and  pizza box hurdles. Here are some other ideas—some tongue in cheek and some not— that might improve our childrens’ dearth of plaything creativity:

  • Make MacGyver re-runs required television viewing for all school-age children.  Although our students may never need to know how to make an atomic bomb out of a comb and a lipstick tube, the program’s emphasis on creativity and improvisation is valuable.
  • Allow each student one hour a week in the school dumpster to find materials to build their own game or sports implement.  This “dumpster time” will also reduce the school’s waste output.
  • Provide an extra classification for school waste materials included in blue-box programs.  One box for glass and metals, one for paper products, one for organic material…and one for kids.
  • Use P.E. class as a “market” for your students’ creative efforts.  Sometimes all it takes to get a child’s creative juices flowing is an expressed need for it.  Scoops made from bleach containers, tin-can walkers, home-made hoola hoops, broomhandle aerobics implements—these are all examples of phys-ed equipment your students can make and use in class.

Perhaps our growing awareness of the environment and the trend towards recycling will make home-made playthings more acceptable to young people.  And as teachers, we can use this new attitude to develop our students’ ability to improvise and innovate.

P.S. In case I’ve given you the impression that I was a combination Huck Finn/Thomas Edison as a child, I have a confession to make…I never was able to  get my crystal radio set to work, and I’d personally like a light-saber.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]physical education,children's play,games,sports equipment[/tags]

Frequency of Physical Education Affects Adult Obesity Levels

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( I don’t normally do this, but here’s an article directly from the pages of the PE Update.com website).

“As public health officials wring their hands about the obesity epidemic, there’s a solution that is relatively low-cost, ready to implement and obvious to anyone involved in school health and physical education. Implement quality daily physical education in every school!

Our schools have the ability to ensure that every student receives physical activity on a daily basis…and to provide these students with the tools needed to maintain an active lifestyle into adulthood.

The effectiveness of physical education isn’t conjecture. A study at the John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has quantified the effects of physical education classes on students’ adult body weight.

The John Hopkins Study

The researchers studied 3,345 teens in grades eight through 12, tracking their participation in physical education and extracurricular sports, then measuring their height and weight five years after graduating from school.

It was found that the more days of physical education participation per week, the greater the chance that students would maintain a healthy body weight into adulthood.

To put the statistical results into layman’s terms, the chances of becoming overweight adults decreased by 5% for every additional day of weekly PE or sport participation. Students who participated in daily physical education and/or extracurricular sport were 28% less likely to become overweight adults!

A Solution to the Obesity Problem

While both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Department Of Health and Human Services recommend physical education at all grade levels, less than half of high school students participate in physical education classes. Less than 6% of junior high and senior high schools offer daily physical education.

If our society truly wants to reduce health care costs, productivity losses to business and the human suffering involved with an overweight, unhealthy population, they should be adding physical education classes, not eliminating them! We must make daily physical education a requirement at all grade levels, and it should be taught by qualified physical educators using a curriculum aimed at providing the skills and knowledge necessary to participate in a lifelong fitness regimen.

Physical education isn’t a frill. It’s a necessity!

References:
1. Robert Wm. Blum (MD, MPH, PhD), David Menschik (MD, MPH) Saifuddin Ahmed (PhD) Miriam H. Alexander (MD, MP), “Adolescent Physical Activities As Predictors of Young Adult Weight.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, January 2008.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]Quality Daily Physical Education,QDPE,adult obesity[/tags]

My Top-3 Reasons Why the NCAA Tournament is Better Than the NBA Playoffs

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The NCAA basketball championship concludes tonight, and with it, one of the most enjoyable spectacles in sport.

To me,  this three-weekend playoff is much more exciting than it’s professional counterpart. Here are my top-three reasons why the NCAA tournament is better than the NBA playoffs.

  1. The sudden-death format creates a sense of urgency that makes players go all-out, all-game! No coasting, no “we’ll get them next time.”  Plus, players who are trying to make it seem more motivated than players who already have millions in the bank.
  2. The referees  actually call fouls – particularly traveling and offensive charging. The NBA brain trust is so concerned about keeping scoring levels high that they feel it’s OK to allow an extra step when attacking the basket. It’s OK for big men like Shaq to bowl over a smaller opponent if it ends in a basket. And a charge is seldom called under the net – that would reduce the number of slam dunks in a game.
  3. And that seques into the final reason I enjoy the NCAA tournament so much. The teams play defense. I enjoy watching players who work their butts off on “D.” And I love watching teams struggle to crack and opposing defensive scheme. The games I enjoy the most may involve only 50 or 60 points. When baskets have to be earned, they have more value.

NBA officials…wake up. The pro game is so slanted towards the offence that baskets mean very little. Games in which teams score 120 points aren’t as much fun to watch as you think. Soccer, hockey and baseball have all managed to survive without triple-digit scoring!

To me, pro basketball is the Hollywood version of the game. The NBA feels that reality isn’t dramatic enough, so they shade the rules to embellish the more specatacular elements of the sport. In fact, they’re wrong. I’d rather watch the real thing. And millions of NCAA basketball fans obviously feel the same way!

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]NCAA basketball,NBA basketball[/tags]

Half-Time Twittering

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Technology is bound to affect sports in ways we could never have imagined. An example happened last week in the NBA. It was the convergence of wireless computer technology, the internet and a new social networking service called Twitter.

Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to post quick thoughts to the internet.  Examples might be, “Dick hates shopping, but he’s going for groceries now anyway.” Those of you who have used Facebook have a similar function called “Newsfeed” comments that you post by filling in the “What’s on your Mind” box.

Milwaukee Bucks forward, Charlie Villaneuva made news last week by posting a Twitter comment during the half-time of a game against the Boston Celtics. It was a simple message –  basically that he had to step it up in the second half. And he did. And his team won the game.

However, this half-time Twittering was frowned upon by his coach, Scott Skiles, who felt it left the impression that his athlete was playing with his computer at half-time rather than focusing on the game.  Villanueva disagrees, saying it didn’t interfere with what normally goes on at half-time during NBA games. However he won’t be making any future half-time posts.

But aside from heckling, such close interaction with fans DURING games, is certainly a new development. And it can lead to a number of issues, especially since such computerized communication is two-way. For example:

  • The potential for disturbing, distracting messages from opposing fans. Or even from Mom, telling you that you forgot to take out the garbage.
  • Coaching, in sports where coaching usually doesn’t occur during games , i.e. tennis, golf, badminton.
  • The disclosure of information that can be used up by opponents – who may be reading  these tweets on a cell phone from the other bench. For example, “Coach says we’re going full-court press with two minutes to go.”
  • Insider information to bettors. Certainly at the elementary and high school level, this shouldn’t be a problem. But there is the potential for abuse at the college and professional level.

And what’s next? Distance runners with earpieces getting tactical information like in NASCAR?

I do appreciate Villanueva’s attempt to keep a close connection with his fans during games, but maybe this is one step over the line.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]Twitter,Charlie Villaneuva,[/tags]

Food Container Rant

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This is a tale of an invention that has been rendered useless because of corporate greed.  Strictly speaking, it’s not a physical education issue, but it does affect any teacher who packs a lunch for school or team trips.

What invention am I talking about? Plastic food storage containers.

I’m the king of leftovers. I eat them for most lunches. And when I pack for team trips, I usually pack my travel munchies in a plastic storage container so they don’t get scrunched.

Several years ago, a company (Glad or Ziploc, I believe) came up with a wonderful invention. Small rectangular storage containers that held one or two leftover portions. My grocery store stocked only one size and they all used the same snap-on top. It was so easy – you knew every top would fit, and the containers all stacked perfectly inside each other, making a nice, compact pile inside your cupboard.

I was in food storage heaven.

Alas, my happy days were not to last.

Soon other companies got into the act. They began innovating, and added numerous sizes and shapes. They redesigned the containers so the old tops no longer fit the new containers.

The result – where once there was a compact pile of plastic containers in my cupboard, there now lies a big old mess. And, finding the top that actually fits a container is now a test of patience, often requiring me to  spread a selection of tops on my counter and using trial-and-error until I find one that fits.

What brought on this diatribe? Last Friday morning, as I was packing for a team trip to Toronto for an indoor track meet, already late, I was delayed to the point of growling as I tried to find a top for a food container. From such frustrations are revolutions born!

Food container companies… I curse you now!

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]physical education,plastic food containers[/tags]

Recreational Sports Facilities & Physical Education SAVE Taxpayers’ Money!

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You may have been involved in a such a debate – whether your local government should invest in local sports facilities – perhaps to be housed on your school property.

While it didn’t involve school property, my hometown has just been involved in such a political donnybrook. Our mayor, in my mind a forward-looking politician, proposed a multi-use sports facility and performing arts centre for our city of 155,000. This proposal raised the ire of a very vocal group (many of whom are retired citizens who spend their spare hours writing letters to the editor), who want all public monies spent on smoothing the potholes out of local roads.

The arguments of this vocal opposition was that spending money on recreational facilities is a frill, whereas infrastructure spending is a necessity. And of course, the new sports facility would result in an temporary levy in taxes.

It’s the typical argument of the ill-informed…the same type of people responsible for declaring physical education to be a frill subject.

In fact, the opposite is the case. Physical education and the provision of facilities that encourage physical activity are anything but frills. The western world is in the midst of a childhood obesity crisis – a crisis that will result in an astronomical increase in health care costs in the next decade or two. In publicly funded health care systems, like Canada’s, Great Britain’s, and even America’s Medicare, that cost is borne by the taxpayer.

And that cost greatly outweighs the cost of prevention investments such as multi-use sports facilities and qualified physical education teachers.

Is this simple speculation? Absolutely not. A 2004 Queen’s University study has estimated the Canadian cost of inactivity and obesity  (in 2001) to be 9.7 billion dollars!!  In the U.S., in the year 2000, the cost of obesity alone was pegged at 117 billion! It is estimated that the direct medical costs in the U.S., of individuals aged 15 and older, are $330 more per person for those who are physically inactive versus physically active people – multiply that by every person in the country!!

The World Health Organization has stated that investment in sport (time, equipment and facilities) will yield three times that investment in medical cost savings. Any canny investor, seeing a 300% potential profit, would jump on that investment.

The outcome of the debate in my hometown? The pothole people won. Their victory will save them some municipal tax dollars, but it will cost them more in provincial health care taxes. A shallow victory indeed!

By the way, if you want an excellent health-class project for your students, check out out the following website developed by the East Carolina University Department of Health Education and Promotion. It will help you calculate the costs of inactivity in your own community, city, state or business.
Cost of Inactivity Calculator

References:

1. A summary sheet on the WHO/CDC Workshop on Economic Benefits of Physical Activity / Burden of Inactivity, Ashville, USA, 18-22 July 1998.; http://www.who.int/hpr/physactiv/docs/health_and_development.pdf

2. P.T. Katzmarzyk & I. Janssen, “The economic costs associated with physical inactivity and obesity in Canada: an update.” The Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, February 2004.

3. Michael Pratt, M.D ., et al. “Higher Direct Medical Costs Associated With Physical Inactivity.” The Physician and Sportsmedicine 28(10).Oct 2000.

4. Quantifying the Cost of Physical Inactivity, East Carolina University Department of Health Education and Promotion, 2006.  http://www.ecu.edu/picostcalc/

5. A.M. Wolf, JE Manson, G.A. Colditz, “The Economic Impact of Overweight, Obesity and Weight Loss. In Eckel R, ed., Obesity Mechanisms and Clinical Management.” Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2002.

6. World Health Organization, 2003; Health and Development through Physical Activity and Sport.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

To subscribe to the free PE Tips of the Week Newsletter, Click Here!
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[tags]physical education,inactivity costs,sports facilities,tax savings[/tags]