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Thomas L. McKenzie, James F. Sallis, Paul Rosengard and Kymm Ballard

SPARK [Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids], in its current form, is a brand that represents a collection of exemplary, research-based, physical education and physical activity programs that emphasize a highly active curriculum, on-site staff development, and follow-up support. Given its complexity (e.g., multiple school levels, inclusion of both physical education and self-management curricula), SPARK features both diverse instructional and diverse curricular models. SPARK programs were initially funded by the NIH as two separate elementary and middle school intervention studies, and the curriculum and instructional models used in them embody the HOPE (Health Optimizing Physical Education) model. This paper reviews background information and studies from both the initial grants (1989–2000) and the dissemination (1994-present) phases of SPARK, identifies program evolution, and describes dissemination efforts and outcomes. Procedures used in SPARK may serve as models for others interested in researching and disseminating evidence-based physical education and physical activity programs.

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Thomas L. McKenzie, James F. Sallis and Philip R. Nader

This paper describes SOFIT (System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time), an observation instrument designed to assess variables associated with students’ activity levels and opportunities to become physically fit in physical education. SOFIT involves the direct observation of classes while simultaneously recording student physical activity levels, curriculum context variables, and teacher behavior. The paper reports the reliability, validity, and feasibility of using the instrument, as well as data from using SOFIT to assess 88 third- and fourth-grade classes.

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Nell Faucette, Thomas L. McKenzie and James F. Sallis

A primary purpose of this study was to describe differences between self-contained and team teaching approaches when two groups of fourth- and fifth-grade classroom teachers attempted to implement a physical education curriculum during a 4-month in-service program. One school featured team teaching in pairs during physical education classes; the other used a self-contained teaching approach. The program required a minimum of three 30-min physical education classes weekly. All teachers participated in an extensive in-service training program that included weekly on-site assistance. Data collection included teachers’ lesson-completion forms, specialist’s reports, SOFIT PE class observations, teacher-completed Stages of Concern questionnaires, and teachers’ formal interviews. Results indicated that classroom teachers who used the self-contained model more consistently implemented the curriculum and more frequently expressed positive responses. Participants who used the team model for the physical education curriculum frequently strayed from the assigned pedagogical approach, ignored major portions of the program, and experienced extreme management concerns.

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Thomas L. McKenzie, John E. Alcaraz and James F. Sallis

Few studies have examined students’ liking for physical education activities and factors that influence students’ evaluations despite the importance these have for continued engagement in physical activity. This study examined 16,032 ratings of “liking” of 648 physical education lessons reported by students in eight coeducational fourth- and fifth-grade classes during an 8-month period. Mean ratings on activity units ranged from 3.15 to 3.62 on a 4-point scale, indicating that the children liked the activities. However, they liked some units more than others (p < .001), and they preferred skill-related over health-related activities (p < .001). Day of week (p < .53), child’s grade (p < .69), and school (p < .56) were not associated with the children’s liking scores. Ratings of activities did not change significantly as students gained more experience with a specific instructional unit. Future research is recommended on how students’ needs and preferences relate to developing positive attitudes toward physical activities.

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Susan K. Aufderheide, Thomas L. McKenzie and Claudia Jane Knowles

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Nell Faucette, Peg Nugent, James F. Sallis and Thomas L. McKenzie

Classroom teachers’ responses to a 2-year professional development program are presented. Sixteen 4th- and 5th-grade teachers involved in Project SPARK completed structured interviews, questionnaires, and written evaluations of program sessions. Although in Year 1 more than half of the teachers expressed concerns about schedules and equipment management, results indicated that the program helped increase their self-confidence when teaching physical education. Participants believed that students benefitted from their enhanced knowledge and instructional behaviors. Program components most appreciated included: the input received and responsiveness of the design team; opportunities to collaborate, discuss concerns, and problem-solve with each other and the facilitators; and having on-site and large-group-session modeling. Results indicated that the teachers were less enthusiastic about a self-management curriculum due to its behavioral emphasis, yet supported the assertion that an ongoing, supportive professional development program can substantially improve classroom teachers’ physical education programs.

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Bik C. Chow, Thomas L. McKenzie and Lobo Louie

Physical activity (PA) during physical education is important for health purposes and for developing physical fitness and movement skills. To examine PA levels and how PA was influenced by environmental and instructor-related characteristics, we assessed children’s activity during 368 lessons taught by 105 physical education specialists in 42 randomly selected schools in Hong Kong. Trained observers used SOFIT in randomly selected classes, grades 4–6, during three climatic seasons. Results indicated children’s PA levels met the U.S. Healthy People 2010 objective of 50% engagement time and were higher than comparable U.S. populations. Multiple regression analyses revealed that temperature, teacher behavior, and two lesson characteristics (subject matter and mode of delivery) were significantly associated with the PA levels. Most of these factors are modifiable, and changes could improve the quantity and intensity of children’s PA.

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Bik C. Chow, Thomas L. McKenzie and Lobo Louie

Physical activity engagement during physical education is important for many reasons, including developing physical fitness and movement skills and promoting health. Much more is known about physical activity in elementary than secondary schools. We examined physical activity and how it was influenced by instructor-related and environmental characteristics during 238 lessons taught by 65 physical education specialists in 30 randomly selected secondary schools in Hong Kong. Trained observers used SOFIT (System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time) in randomly selected grade 7–12 classes over a 6-month period. Results showed students engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) about 35% of lesson time, a level similar to that found in U.S. elementary schools and short of the U.S. Healthy People 2010 objective of 50% engagement time. Multiple regression analyses found that six potentially modifiable variables contributed to 35% of the variability in lesson MVPA percent.

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Julie A. Sarkin, Thomas L. McKenzie and James F. Sallis

Boys are typically more physically active than girls, but schools have the potential to promote health-related physical activity for all children. This study investigated gender differences in children’s physical activity levels during physical education (PE) classes and unstructured recess periods. The activity levels of 91 fifth-grade children were assessed by accelerometer (Caltrac) on 3 days. Results indicated that children’s activity levels were low to moderately stable from day to day in both environments. Boys and girls had similar activity levels during PE, t(89) = 1.49, p = .140, but boys were significantly more active than girls during recess, t(89) = 3.27, p = .002. Girls were significantly more active during PE than they were at recess, t(51) = 2.08, p = .043. The results suggest that structured PE classes may provide similar amounts of physical activity for both genders.

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Nicola D. Ridgers, Gareth Stratton and Thomas L. McKenzie


Children frequently engage in diverse activities that are broadly defined as play, but little research has documented children’s activity levels during play and how they are influenced by social contexts. Assessing potentially modifiable conditions that influence play behavior is needed to design optimal physical activity interventions.


System for Observing Children’s Activity and Relationships during Play (SOCARP) was developed to simultaneously assess children’s physical activity, social group sizes, activity type, and social behavior during play. One hundred and fourteen children (48 boys, 66 girls; 42% overweight) from 8 elementary schools were observed during recess over 24 days, with 12 days videotaped for reliability purposes. Ninety-nine children wore a uni-axial accelerometer during their observation period.


Estimated energy expenditure rates from SOCARP observations and mean accelerometer counts were significantly correlated (r = .67; P < .01), and interobserver reliabilities (ie, percentage agreement) for activity level (89%), group size (88%), activity type (90%) and interactions (88%) met acceptable criteria. Both physical activity and social interactions were influenced by group size, activity type, and child gender and body weight status.


SOCARP is a valid and reliable observation system for assessing physical activity and play behavior in a recess context.