Adventure Curriculum for Physical Education: Middle School

Adventure Curriculum for Physical Education: Middle School

O’Steen, Billy

Adventure Curriculum for Physical Education: Middle School Panicucci, Jane. (2002). Adventure Curriculum for Physical Education: Middle School. Beverly, MA: Project Adventure, Inc. 175 pages. ISBN 0-934387-25-7

Recent trends within society and education have converged to create a “Perfect Storm” for young dolescents to battle their way through. Just as “baby fat has morphed into a national health crisis with nearly 15 percent of kids between 12 and 19 being overweight – up from 5 percent in the late 1970s” (Levin, 2003, p. 46), an emphasis on physical education has decreased. Passage of the No Child Left Behind legislation is leading many states to increase their emphasis on standardized tests and, consequently, cut “extras” such as art, music, and physical education. A 2001 report by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education found that many school districts had cut time once allotted for physical education in order to focus more heavily on academics (Silberman 2003). Perhaps more tellingly, this is supported by the Chairman of the North Carolina Board of Education’s statement that, “Yes, physical education has been de-emphasized. One purpose of the ABCs [North Carolina’s accountability program] is to devote more attention to the basics” (Silberman, 2003).

Therefore, with forces already aligned against “traditional” physical education-an assortment of competitive sports with little explicit transfer toward creating lifelong “physically educated individuals” (Panicucci 2002)-a more multi-faceted approach is needed. Fortunately, Project Adventure helps to fulfill this need by bringing its years of experience in developing physical education curricula to bear in Adventure Curriculum for Physical Education: Middle School. From the extremely clear introduction, (which includes an overview of adventure programming and experiential education theory, such as Kolb’s Learning Theory Model, which is helpful to both novice and veteran physical and/or experiential educators), to the actual lessons, the authors have crafted an active, comprehensive, and relevant curriculum for middle school students.

This blend of theory and application is particularly critical for educators operating within the context of mandated academic and character education standards, in that the Project Adventure activities are not just isolated “games,” but have relevance beyond the gym. The relevance and transferability of the activities in this text are grounded in the core Project Adventure concepts of Full Value Contract, Challenge by Choice, and the Experiential Learning Cycle. With these as a foundation, the lessons within each grade level of the middle school curriculum are categorized under five thematic sections: (a) Creating Community, (b) Establishing Full Value Norms, (c) Problem Solving, (d) Building Trust, and (e) Experiences Using Low Elements.

Both the individual lessons and the larger sections appear to complement accepted beliefs about young adolescents, notably Scales’ (1991) seven developmental needs of: (a) positive social interaction with adults and peers; (b) structure and clear limits; (c) physical activity; (d) creative expression; (e) competence and achievement; (f) meaningful participation in families, schools, and communities; and (g) opportunities for self-definition. For example, when framed within the Project Adventure curriculum as a lesson in the Establishing Full Value Norms category, the highly aerobic activity of “Asteroids” becomes much more than just a game. It serves as a developmentally appropriate way for middle school educators to address Scales’ needs 1-3 while also providing students with an opportunity to learn through experience that “honesty is crucial for a safe environment that allows members to take risks” (Panicucci, 2002, p. 32). For physical education to retain its relevance and survival, policymakers must see the possibility that it can serve these additional purposes.

Along with presenting this multi-faceted approach to physical education, the author goes far in assisting educators working amidst the current fervor toward accountability with her very usable Assessment section. By providing a variety of suggestions about assessment including rubrics, journal ideas, self-assessment questions, projects, and specific tools designed for this curriculum, the author advocates for a pedagogy that uses multiple forms of assessment. The sentiment of this section alone could be particularly helpful to all educators (and policymakers) regardless of content area.

As both teachers and students feel the increased pressure to “teach to the test” at the exclusion of everything else, there will be a growing need for physical education programs like the Project Adventure model presented in Adventure Curriculum for Physical Education: Middle School. This approach to physical education through activities that seek to build community, increase self-awareness, and teach transferable interpersonal skills is especially critical for young adolescents attempting to find meaning in a society that may appear to be fractured, daunting, and impersonal.


Levin, S. (2003, February 5). Getting physical. Newsweek, 46-47.

Scales, P. (1991). A portrait of young adolescents in the 1990s: Implications for promoting healthy growth and development. Carrboro, NC: Center for Early Adolescence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Silberman, T. (2003, January 9). Proposals push more time in gym. The News and Observer, 1B.

Billy O’Steen is Assistant Professor of Education at North Carolina State University. He can be reached at College of Education, NCSU, Box 7801, Raleigh, NC 27695 USA; or e-mail at:

Copyright Association for Experiential Education Fall 2003

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