Today’s physical education class bears no resemblance to the nightmare of dodge ball and rope climbing that you or your parents may remember. Determined to stop the epidemic of childhood obesity, Kinesiology Professor Emily Clapham is leading a fitness transformation and taking the “new” physical education to the next generation of PE teachers.

“We want to present physical education in the most fun and engaging way possible,” she said. “Children need to find a physical activity they love and want to do outside of school. We need students to say that they love their physical education class throughout their K-12 experience.”

Physical education is evolving. Present day PE classes include more technology—fitness apps on tablets and interdisciplinary lessons that reinforce what students are learning in math, science, world languages, and writing. Professor Clapham’s URI students have created electives, such as health, dance, and weight training that can be taken during the school day. They’ve offered yoga in elementary schools, adventure education in high schools, and jogging and walking clubs before and after school.

In her classes, Professor Clapham inspires her students to be the kind of physical education teachers that transform the “gym class” experience. For example, they use body mass index calculations to determine specific fitness goals for each K-12 child and teach their elementary students to use heart rate monitors and pedometers so that each student’s improvement is calculated and individual.

In the Adapted Physical Education Program that Professor Clapham coordinates, URI students can engage in experiential learning—teaching community members with disabilities adapted aquatics, fitness, and even surfing. In fact, her latest research exploring the benefits of ocean therapy with a summer surf program for children with disabilities is showing such significant results that she (and her students) are repeating the study again this year.