Meaningful Physical Education at STEAM Academy

“Meaningful physical education can change the game for the next generation of students.”


Jordan Manley, PE teacher at STEAM Academy in Kentucky, believes that physical education can open up doors for students’ wellness that will go well beyond their time in class,


“My physical education classes aim to build confidence and connections to fitness and wellness that will empower students to be part of a movement culture well after they leave our high school.”


While no small task, Jordan has pushed for meaningful physical education through transformative lesson plans and curriculum, personalized technology, and prioritizing student voice and choice.

Why Meaningful Physical Education Matters


When Jordan says he wants to change the game of physical education, he means it, 


“A lot of times, fitness gets added to PE lessons as a time filler. But that leads students to dislike fitness because there is no context as to the why, what, and how of what fitness education really is.” 


But through a reflective and democratic process, Jordan says that meaningful physical education can build powerful connections to the importance of fitness, 


“Physical education should be about the learner, not the teacher. If we can find ways for students to build positive relationships with physical activity and fitness, we can make the biggest impact.” 


This becomes even more critical at STEAM because the magnet school’s big-picture goal is to prepare students for college and beyond. The school is part of Fayette County Public Schools and is a cutting-edge dual credit program where many students take college courses by their junior year of high school. As a result, Jordan sees mostly 9th and 10th graders and wants to support their steps to lifelong fitness as they transition to college and adulthood. This is where meaningful physical education comes into play. 


What Is Meaningful Physical Education? 

Jordan has always been an innovator in the world of physical education. After reading the book Meaningful Physical Education, Jordan says his approach to delivering lesson plans and curriculum completely changed, 

“Meaningful physical education is about creating opportunities for students to reflect and connect with their class experiences. The book is a must-read for physical education teachers wanting to improve engagement and motivation in the PE classroom.” 

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Beyond student engagement and motivation, Jordan says that the six critical features of meaningful physical education also help him build a character sketch for each individual student. The six critical features of meaningful physical education are: 

  1. Fun 
  2. Motor Competency 
  3. Appropriate Challenge 
  4. Delight/Enjoyment 
  5. Social Interaction 
  6. Personal Relevance 

Within the six different critical features, students can start to see where they made a positive connection to the lesson, and teachers can mold and modify the curriculum to best serve students’ interests and needs. 

Features of Meaningful Physical Education graphic.
Features of Meaningful Physical Education graphic. Credit - PE Scholar

Technology’s Role In Meaningful Physical Education 


To help bring the concepts of meaningful physical education to life, Jordan taps into technology during physical education class. Through technology, Jordan says he can take the 6 critical features and create reflection and connection opportunities for students, 


“Through the miMove app, students can respond through a Likert scale and open response prompts. Instead of just journalling what they did for fitness in class or at home, they can start to build more meaningful connections through the 6 critical features.” 


With this reflection component, Jordan can start to change and adapt the different types of lesson plans he delivers to class. To support students with a wide range of curriculum options, Jordan utilizes PLT4M, 


“Once I see what types of programs motivate students, I can deliver programs through the PLT4M app. In addition, I can personalize it so that even students within the same class period can do different workouts and lessons that fit their needs.” 


For example, one class that STEAM Academy offers is a weight training class where the curriculum will vary based on the interests, 


“Some students want to try more functional fitness-type workouts, while others want to get into the basics of weightlifting. With PLT4M, I can tailor that to meet the needs of my different student groups.” 


Altogether, Jordan says that technology has helped play an integral role in changing the game of physical education, 


“Through some basic forms of technology, we can enhance the physical education experience that still centers around fitness and activity.” 

PLT4M displayed on Iphone featuring workout view.
Students can log workouts on any phone or device with PLT4M.

STEAM Academy’s Success Shows The Way 


STEAM Academy has seen the power of meaningful physical education. Students are building positive connections to the fitness and wellness world, and Jordan can measure the impact through student voice and data. 


And the power of this approach isn’t going unnoticed. Just last year, Jordan was awarded the Shape America National Teacher of the Year Award. When asked in a local article, he was quick to attribute the success of the program to the students who have embraced it, 


“My students deserve just as much recognition as I do for the way that they embrace an approach to PE rooted in inclusion, cooperation, and creativity.”


As teachers look to change the game for students, they should consider the power of a meaningful physical education approach like the one at STEAM Academy in Kentucky. 

Image of female lifter with data graph and laptop

Ready To Learn More?

Discover how PE teachers across the country are embracing Fitness and Technology to usher in a new age of Physical Education that inspires and motivates students toward positive outcomes. 

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