UNI hosts international physical education forum

Students at the Global Forum
Grundy Center students talk to conference participants
Gruny Center students exercise during the GOFpep forum

More than 70 educators, health professionals, administrators and policy makers from 30 countries attended the Global Forum for Physical Education Pedagogy (GoFPEP) 2010 on May 13 and 14 in Grundy Center, Iowa.  The forum, hosted by the University of Northern Iowa, focused on education reform in health and physical education.

GoFPEP guests saw first-hand the benefits of innovation and technology in the K-12 physical education (PE) program at Grundy Center's PE4Life Academy, a collaboration between UNI and Polar Electro, Inc.  

Using technology in Rick Shupbach's PE classes allows his students to be fully engaged in their class activities, creating an environment that's not only fun but also conducive to an overall healthier lifestyle.

The use of heart monitors, activity monitors and other technologies help the students assess their own activity level.  Tiana Saak, a fifth grader at Grundy Center, said she enjoys having her PE class everyday, and the data received from class is helping her examine her own progress.  "It helps me because I know if I need to exercise harder or not as hard, and we know when to stay in our zone," she said.

Students at Grundy Center aren't the only ones benefiting from this program.  UNI graduate students enrolled in the Polar Scholar Program are gaining a quality teaching experience.  Dan Gawrisch, a UNI Polar Scholar graduate student, said this program is unique because of the real life experiences working with students.

"Many graduate programs don't allow you to work with the kids in that way.  You just do a lot of coursework, and it's very unclear how to relate that to your teaching.  In this program, the emphasis is on working with kids."

The uniqueness of the PE program was echoed by visiting dignitaries from around the world.  Hans de Ridder, a professor at North-West University in South Africa, was not only impressed by the technology but also how students are seeing the value of exercise through different lessons and concepts applied during each class. 

"The way Rick is teaching them the value of exercise, lessons for life and what's important are excellent," he said.  "Today they had a lesson on sportsmanship and what's sportsmanship, and I think that's fantastic -- bringing the theory to the practice."

Shellie Pfohl, UNI alumna and executive director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, agrees that the program in Grundy Center is a unique and innovative model program.  "I think every physical education program in our country and around the world should look just like this one," Pfohl said.

"We've got to have innovative programs, and so we've got to start replicating what is happening here."

De Ridder said this program is an example to the rest of them, and he will take what he's learned during his visit back to his country.  "We've got to go back to the rest of the world and spread the 'gospel.'"

Research studies from the International Obesity Task Force have shown an estimated 155 million school-age children and adolescents worldwide show symptoms of obesity and being overweight.  According to the United Health Foundation, obesity and related problems already cost Iowa $852 million. 

According to Tom Newton, the director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, for the first time in history, children now are projected to have shorter lifespans than their parents. 

Grundy Center students demonstrate the exercises and monitoring under the PE4Life Academy.
Nigerian PE teacher Grace Odinwa talks about the difficulty of keeping PE in the curriculum
Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness
 UNI graduate Student Dan Gawrisch