The effects of non-semestered and semestered physical education programs on the physical activity levels and experiences of grade nine students
School physical education (PE) programs are often viewed as one of the best and most effective ways to encourage children and youth to be physically active as they provide an environment ideal for the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. Due to the potentially powerful role that PE can play in the health of youth, attention needs to be given to ensure that these programs are as effective as possible. In Canada, recommendations have been made for daily physical education for students from kindergarten through grade 12 yet most high schools are not meeting this goal. At the high school level, physical education is frequently provided for students through one of two scheduling systems: (a) semestered physical education (PE class every day for half of the school year), and (b) non-semestered physical education (PE class every second day for the entire school year). To date, no research exists that investigates the influence of the scheduling of PE on the physical activity levels, participation rates, and experiences of high school students. Using a mixed methods research design, the purpose of this study was to investigate the effect that the scheduling of PE programs has on the subsequent physical activity levels and experiences of the students involved. This study was conducted in two phases. In phase one, Grade 9 students enrolled in two schools (n = 245), with one school offering semestered PE and one school offering non-semestered PE, completed an activity recall questionnaire. This questionnaire was administered three times (October, February, and May) throughout the school year. At the baseline data collection in October, the students in the two schools had comparable total physical activity levels. The most notable difference could be seen in May where students enrolled in non-semestered PE had significantly higher physical activity levels than baseline (p>.05) while students enrolled in the semestered PE program showed a trend of decreasing physical activity levels. It was also found that students enrolled in the non-semestered PE program showed significantly higher levels of participation in structured physical activity (p>.05), activities that had to be signed up or registered for, at school and away from the school. In the second phase of the study, students were organized into focus groups based on their gender and activity level. The focus group discussions explored the experiences of students in both types of PE programs. Common themes from the focus groups included the role that non-semestered PE played in the promotion of physical activity throughout the year. It was found that the non-semestered schedule fostered a continued interest in PE but that it interfered with the scheduling of other academic classes. Semestered PE appealed to those students who preferred to get PE over with and/or appreciated the familiar routine of the one-term class. Key decision-makers were also interviewed with many of the same themes emanating. Non-semestered physical education was seen as advantageous for encouraging physical activity levels in students, but being logistically difficult to schedule. Students and key decision-makers agreed that while semestered PE was more convenient for administration, non-semestered PE would encourage PA levels, enrollment in elective PE, and participation in intramural activities and school sports teams. In conclusion, this study provides support for the investigation into the effects of PE scheduling on the physical activity levels of students. The non-semestered PE program appeared to encourage students to be more involved in structured physical activities and was supported by most students and key decision-makers with the chief objection being the logistical inconveniences. However, with youth inactivity still a major problem in Canada, and changes being desperately needed, mere inconveniences should not discourage the implementation of possible physical activity-improving initiatives like non-semestered physical education.
scheduling, semestered, activity levels, students, physical education
Master of Science (M.Sc.)
College of Kinesiology
College of Kinesiology