The leader in quality Physical Education, Athletics, and Fitness equipment for 75 years.

Embracing the STEAM Approach in Physical Education

STEAM in high school PEThe STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) movement is quickly gaining momentum. From specific courses to programs, academies, and entire schools, this approach is taking root in schools all over the world. As this wave swells, it is essential that physical education embrace the STEAM approach. As I said in a previous blog, this does not suggest that physical education exists to support another subject or subjects. But rather, we are perfectly positioned to lend our expertise to this movement.

As a means of illustrating my point, for this blog I have chosen to interview a high school physical education teacher who teaches at The STEAM Academy in Lexington, KY. Jordan Manley is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and has been teaching for three years. I have had the opportunity to see Jordan grow from student in his first pedagogy class to thriving colleague with a relentless desire to improve all for the betterment of students. I proposed some questions to Mr. Manley and this is our conversation.

PE and STEAM Interview with Mr. Manley

Beighle: From your perspective, what is the purpose of PE?

Manley: The purpose of Physical Education is to connect students with the necessary information, skills, and experiences that will empower them to live healthy and active lifestyles. This is accomplished through several pathways:

  • Meaningful relationships
  • Authentic learning experiences
  • Student voice and choice
  • High expectations

Beighle: I like the word “connect” here. Are these pathways specific to your school?

Manley: Not necessarily. Some of these themes are apparent in the STEAM Academy mission statement, but I’ve developed these specifically for my classroom from the Educator Competencies for Personalized and Learner-Centered Teaching.

These competencies discuss the why and the how behind the student-centric classroom. The next generation of learners in our world have needs that differ by degree and by kind compared to our needs as students when we were in school. All teachers know and understand that we have to adapt our practice as our student body evolves throughout the years.

I believe that secondary physical education plays a major role in the future of education. Students have so much access to information through their personal devices. As educators we must help them navigate the digital world to connect them with the appropriate resources that will help them be healthy and active for the rest of their lives.

What is STEAM?

Beighle: What does STEAM mean to you?

Manley: To me, STEAM goes beyond Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. STEAM is less in reference to WHAT we learn and more in reference to HOW we learn.

Beighle: I think so many times we hear STEAM and think subjects and content, as opposed to an approach to teaching and learning.

Manley: Our school places a lot of emphasis on deeper learning, specifically through Project Based Learning and inquiry. We are heavily involved with the process of gaining understanding through doing. We want our students to get as much authentic, hands-on experience as possible before their junior/senior year, which is when hopefully they are taking dual-credit classes and participating in half-day internships. We want our students to be college and career experienced before they walk across the graduation stage.

How does PE fit within STEAM?

Beighle: How does physical education fit into this approach?

Manley: Physical Education is not exempt from this expectation. Each semester students are tasked with answering complex questions in all of their classes, and I think that my Wellness classes have the most authentic questions to face out of all of the classes in my building.

Beighle: What types of questions are you referring to?

Manley: The complex questions that our world is currently facing.

What happens when our health care system collapses under the massive financial load that obesity and diabetes creates? Currently, 1 in every 3 American adults is overweight and 1 in every 8 American Adults is obese. This is authentic and interesting to students, and they are going to be the professionals in the field in 10-15 years. They need to start attacking this idea now.

In 2018, we have access to an incredible amount of information. Why do preventable, chronic diseases (Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Obesity) still plague our country and world?

These questions are complex and open-ended. There is so much research to be done here. These are the questions that I lose sleep over, and I think it is incredibly valuable to have students contemplating these issues as well.

Again, all of this goes back to meeting these students where they are. School must be engaging now more than ever. Students have 100 other things to spend their attention on every day. It is my goal to make my Physical Education class one of the things that they spend their attention on.

Beighle: Wow “Students have 100 other things to spend their attention on every day. It is my goal to make my Physical Education class one of the things that they spend their attention on.” What a mission statement for physical education.

Intertwining PE and STEAM

Beighle: How do you mesh PE and STEAM?

Manley: I mesh PE with the STEAM concept by integrating Project Based Learning and inquiry learning strategies into my classes. Students explore deep questions and create products that will eventually be a showcase of their learning in my class. Through the student-led development of open-ended questions, students take ownership of their learning and their products which are a showcase of their learning. Authenticity and student ownership of learning are two major components of a PE program that is going to help students live healthy and active lifestyles after their high school career.

Beighle: Can you provide some examples of how this meshing takes place in your classes?

Manley: This meshing plays out in a few different ways. Some days classes are dedicated to exploring the science behind exercise. These lessons include topics from biomechanics, exercise physiology, sports nutrition, and modern-day fitness technology. We do activities where students calculate acceleration, speed, and power. Our students create seminars about how to fuel the body for exercise. These are more standalone lessons than units for me.

An example of a unit that I lead to integrate Project Based Learning into PE would be the CYO Game Unit. Throughout the semester we learned the skills, rules, and strategies for a variety of games (Kanjam, Spikeball, Badminton, etc.). Instead of giving a final exam for PE, I have created an alternative, project-based assessment. Students are tasked with creating their own game using only three criteria. The game must be innovative, inclusive, and inexpensive.

Beighle: Why these criteria?

Manley: Because physical activity does not have to be expensive, it should not be exclusive, and it should always be fun. Students need to just play. At home, at the park, and in the pool students must remember that physical activity is for everybody. I want innovation, because it is very easy for students to make a different version of the basketball game ‘HORSE.’ That can be done in five minutes. The real question is, can you take the elements of game that we have highlighted throughout the semester to create something new? Eventually, I’d like to think I have enough student-created content to publish a book about Personalized, Student-Centered learning in Secondary Physical Education.

Beighle: Personalized, Student-Centered learning in Secondary Physical Education. What a great resource that would be.

Manley: Through this experience students must learn about the elements that make games ‘good.’ Students select equipment, create rules and scoring criteria, and students test the game extensively with other classmates to give and receive feedback. Within a week, we usually have five new games that are exciting and new.

Beighle: I highlighted one of these games, Five Passes, in a previous blog. It’s pretty powerful when students see their peers play the game they created.

Beighle: Can you sum up the relationship between STEAM and physical education… in three words?

Manley: Vital, Authentic, and Innovative

Jordan can be reached at: or @STEAMWellness on Twitter


  • Aaron Beighle

    Aaron is a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion at the University of Kentucky. He is a trainer for physical education faculty, after-school staff, early child care staff and youth sport coaches and has co-authored several national documents including CDC's Physical Education Curriculum Analysis Tool and NASPE's Comprehensive School Physical Activity Promotion: A Position Statement. Beighle is the co-author of four books; Promoting Physical Activity and Health in the Classroom, Pedometer Power, Pedometer Power 2nd ed., Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children. He's also served on the National Physical Activity Plan Education Sector Committee and the NASPE Task Force.

5 Responses

  1. Thank you for the question. As Jordan said in the interview, I think the key is to focus on how students are learning, specifically problem solving and asking questions. In a previous blog I gave the idea of students creating their own games to solve a specific “problem” or meet given criteria. I have done this with 4th and 5th graders and they love it. Provide specific equipment or specific concepts (e.g. the activity must include different speeds or a hockey stick used in some way other than hockey). This allows students to apply concepts and skills to solve a problem while being creative. Work with other teachers who are teaching math concepts or science concepts. Friction can be tied to physical education in many ways. Force is also present in most activities. I hope this helps.

  2. What a neat way to integrate STEM/STEAM with PE! My kindergarten through fifth grade students would be extremely excited to invent new games and/or activities and see their peers participating and enjoying the game or activity they created. Also, I think all the students would be involved.

    1. Thanks for reading Lesley! It is amazing how creative students can get and think of things we would have never dreamed of without their help. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The leader in quality Physical Education, Athletics, and Fitness equipment.

Featured Resources


5 Ways Small Sided Games Make a BIG Impact

Author: Jessica Shawley

A Brand New Tool for PE You Didn’t Know You Needed!

Author: Brett Fuller

5 Skill-Based Floor Hockey Games

Author: Michael Beringer

16 Parachute Team Building Activities

Author: Tim Mueller

We're Social!


Motivating Unmotivated Students​

Author: Dr. Robert Pangrazi, Jessica Shawley, and Tim Mueller

Promoting Activity and Success Through Adapted PE

Author: Dr. Robert Pangrazi, Marci Pope and Maria Corte

Bin Ball

Author: Randy Spring



Sign up to receive the latest physical education resources, activities, and more from educational professionals like you straight to your inbox!