Literacy and Numeracy Integration in Health and Physical Education

In the Australian Curriculum, the general capabilities encompass the knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that will assist students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century.

There are seven general capabilities:

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Information and communication technology capability
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Personal and social capability
  • Ethical understanding
  • Intercultural understanding

I have touched on many of these general capabilities throughout this website, however I haven’t focused specifically on that of literacy and numeracy integration into physical education and health education from years seven to 10, as well as Physical Education studies and Health studies.

I completely agree that literacy and numeracy are two general capabilities that are critical to the success of students in the future for work aspirations and basic life skills, however I do not believe that they should take preference over educating students about the importance of health and physical activity during the time periods allotted for the latter. I believe a health and physical education teacher should use as many methods and teaching strategies as possible to integrate literacy and numeracy where possible into their teaching and learning programs, but not to the detriment of health and physical education and physical activity.

Literacy in health and physical education

Put simply, literacy is the ability to read and write. At a young age students learn basic and critical thinking abilities in order to make healthy choices such as eating well, avoiding smoking and making good decisions about their emotional well-being. Making good choices isn’t like flicking on a switch, students learn how do it, which is why the foundation years of health and physical education are of the utmost importance for the students to then apply what they have continuously learnt over the years and put it into practice in secondary school. This learning is achieved via a number of stimulus materials including written, spoken and visual texts as well as learning through movement and physical activity.

Theory and the understanding of the subject matter in health and physical education is much like every other subject, in that we use the same mediums or processes to instil learning. For example, written texts which students are required to read and understand, spoken texts or instructions which students need to interpret as they listen and visual texts, such as videos, diagrams or charts. Students then have the ability to consolidate this learning with movement in physical activity settings, as performers and spectators where they can develop an understanding of the language of movement and movement sciences.

Literacy involves students being able to interpret and create a range of texts successfully, which enables them to communicate effectively for a variety of purposes to different audiences, express their own ideas and opinions, evaluate the viewpoints of others and express their emotions appropriately in a range of social and physical activity contexts.

Health and Physical Education from foundation year to year 10 assists in the development of literacy by introducing specific terminology used in health and physical activity contexts. Students understand the language used to describe health status, products, information and services. With the growth of technology and information, in conjunction with the always expanding and rapidly changing knowledge in health literature, it is important that students develop skills in critical literacy to enable them to access, interpret, analyse, challenge and evaluate this information. This will enable them to become intelligent consumers of health products and services in the future.

Due to the sometimes detailed and descriptive terminology in health and physical education studies, it is difficult for some students to grasp words or concepts. It is for this reason I ask students to take note and inform me of any words they are not familiar with, or have difficulty understanding to discuss at that moment, the end of the class or the following lesson as a group, depending on the situation. The words are written on the board and defined, as well as listed by me in excel spreadsheet for further revision. The specific scientific words involved in health and physical education studies, give students a firm base of scientific literacy and terminology. An example of a document I have used for Year 8 Drug education can be found below:

Drug Education Vocabulary List

I believe that Bloom’s taxonomy, which has now been revised to suit the digital age is an appropriate way to develop literacy in health and physical education.

This specific way of thinking and learning allows students to begin at a lower level of thinking when first learning a subject or skill and then progress to a higher level of thinking. For example beginning with terms and instructions including name, show and list and finally progressing to terms and instructions including analyse, evaluate, create and demonstrate. Individual instruction, assessment and reporting is important to gauge a student’s understanding and progress. Bloom’s taxonomy is an excellent way for students to learn a new sporting skill which is unfamiliar to them. As they learn the simple skills, they can progress to the harder skills and eventually a game situation.

Solo Taxonomy in PE

A helpful resource for Literacy in Physical Education can be found at:

Literacy in Physical Education

Numeracy in health and physical education

Numeracy is the ability to understand and work with numbers. Students learn numeracy to be able to effectively use the mathematics required to meet the general demands of life at home, at work and for participation in the community. Numeracy is a fundamental component of learning across all areas of the curriculum and there are several ways in which numeracy standards can be addressed with reference to health and physical education.

Health and physical education from foundation year to year 10 provides students with opportunities to recognise the mathematics that exists in health and physical education learning experiences. Students use numeracy skills to collect and make sense of information related to nutrition, fitness, navigation in the outdoors and various skill performances.

Numeracy related skills that students are exposed to:

  • Calculation
  • Measurements – E.g. Height, weight, body mass index
  • Speed
  • Distance
  • Capacity
  • Chance and data
  • Spatial reasoning
  • Rankings and score keeping
  • Percentages and statistics
  • Biomechanics – E.g. Angles, forces
  • Analysing performance data
  • Identifying patterns

Highlighting percentages and averages can be used in order to focus on individual student development. For example setting a task each week, in which students have an opportunity to record a score based on a skill or sport that they can improve on as the term continues (Free throw in basketball). Students would need to know the basics of averages and percentages to be able to relate their score back to the skill in question. This could also prove to be motivating for the students.

The following example is in relation to data entry, time recording and analysing performance results during sporting activities or events. A year 10 class in which the focus was on triathlons, it was important that students were aware of their times for the swim, bike and run legs of the event in order for future improvement. I would provide the students with all the recorded times, who would then have to enter the data in an excel spreadsheet in a format of their choosing to list the places (based on time) of each individual student for the swim, bike and run legs and also the overall times for each of the three legs combined.

Triathlon Recorder Example

Another example involved a year 10 fitness class studying the relationship between heart rate and exercise intensity. In pairs they were to design an experiment which measured their heart rates at rest, during a perceived rate of exertion at 25%, 50% and 85% during a cardiovascular exercise (E.g. Running). Exercise periods would last for one minute and the heart rates were recorded at 10 seconds after the cessation of exercise for each level of intensity, in order to give students time to reorient themselves. Students would use either the carotid or radial artery to locate the pulse and I would instruct the students when to start and stop counting and the beats per minute were recorded. Students were then to correlate this data in any way they desired explaining the relationship between heart rate and exercise intensity and how the body responds to exercise in relation to fuel sources.

Physical education studies in year 11 and 12 involves students learning biomechanics. No calculations are required, however students must understand the biomechanical analysis of movements, biomechanical movement principles, concepts and laws of motion. Again, students will use calculation, estimation and measurement to collate information related to trajectories, force creation and spatial awareness in relation to positioning and scoring systems. They will interpret and analyse physical activity information and make predictions to improve sports performance.

I believe the main focus of health and physical education should indeed be, just that, with emphasis on healthy life choices and physical activity in association with sports, however, the integration of literacy and numeracy into health and physical education, in conjunction with other subjects will enable students to live and work successfully in the 21st century. It is essential that students understand that literacy and numeracy is important and a part of everyday life and I believe health and physical education could be a great vessel to achieve this understanding, especially for students who consider health and physical activity and important part of their life.

This article relates to the following Professional standards:

  • 1.2
  • 2.5
  • 6.2
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