Next-Generation Physical Education: Introducing the Bouldering Wall at Malletts Bay School

For those of you out there who remember physical education as being a time for mostly running around and yelling a lot, this article is particularly for you.

Why? Because physical education (PE) really isn’t that way anymore—or at least not at Colchester School District.

At Malletts Bay School, for example, there is a great new feature that is literally taking PE to new heights.

Ladies and gentlemen, may we present … the bouldering wall!

The bouldering wall was conceptualized more than ten years ago, and it has been a long-term project for MBS physical educator Brian Hunt. Mr. Hunt, a thirty-five-year veteran of CSD, conducted extensive research and attended regional and national workshops as part of the wall’s development. What he designed is a highly adaptable, age-appropriate bouldering wall as part of the overall goal to encourage lifelong learners and movers.

What makes the bouldering wall—and the overall shift in twenty-first-century physical education in general—so important is that it consists of highly integrative activities incorporating physical, social/emotional, and academic components. Students benefit from muscle strengthening while building endurance and increasing flexibility not only by climbing the wall but also through resistance training stations and pre-made programs built into it.

Using the wall also helps teach about team building through the skills of communication, cooperation, problem solving, trust building, persisting, and dealing with frustration. And there is also a fantastic academic integration component—including mathematics and literacy—built into the wall, as well. For example, students can reduce fractions, identify numeric sequences, and discern the answers to other math-related logic puzzles while working with the bouldering wall.

They can study parts of speech, create and complete sentences, and work with other literacy-related pieces, as well.

And of course there are elements of climbing to learn; students study and experiment with various climbing techniques, including holds, crimps, and pinches. And all of this is done in a way that reinforces the school’s rules stressing safety, respect, and responsibility.

The wall was constructed to simulate bouldering, which is a type of climbing involving short vertical or horizontal distances with no technical equipment (other than the safety pads beneath). It includes a “safety line” over which students’ feet should not pass—and a number of obstacles for students to traverse over, under, and through are built into it to enhance its challenge. In addition, the various holds on the wall can be manipulated to adjust the level of challenge for the climbers, and the holds themselves are color coded to indicate their level of challenge.

Climbers must demonstrate their understanding of the safety rules around the bouldering wall before they may use it, and as an added safety measure, locking safety mats are secured in place when the wall is not in use.

The funds for the project came from part of many years’ worth of Colchester Ski and Skate Sale proceeds. (The countless faculty, staff, student, and community volunteers have helped to make the Colchester Ski and Skate Sale so successful, so many thanks to all of them!) Everlast Climbing Industries installed the wall at MBS in August 2011.

In addition to its increasing academic integration, PE curriculum is steadily evolving into that which is health based and designed to instill a love for physical activity and to encourage healthy lifestyles. By incorporating such activities as cross-country skiing, tennis, and snowshoeing (among others), MBS’s PE curriculum aims to demonstrate how exercise can be a fun way to be proactive about health and wellness for an entire lifetime. MBS’s PE curriculum is also designed in accordance with the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) standards. For more information, please e-mail Brian Hunt.

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