Physical Education is unique in that the skills we teach and assess are demonstrated in class and not written, drawn or produced.
For assessment, this means that a PE teacher cannot take home a students' workbook to mark and reread. Unfortunately, once a skill has been performed it is done and gone.
That is why I capture visuals, either photo or video, of my students performing skills and store them in the iDoceo iPad app.
I then have a reference which I can re-watch over and over as I make calculated judgments on a students' performance.
These resources are also handy for moderation with other teachers and for sharing at parent-teacher-student interviews to help paint a picture of progress and ability.
In the recent episode of TeachTechPlay I shared how I capture and store these visuals. Other panel members on the show also shared how to record video demonstrations, how to use rubrics in idoceo, how to use plickers and QR codes. You can watch a replay of the show here:
In the research article Learning in action sports (2016), Ellmer and Rynne discuss the ways in which athletes learn and improve in alternative sports, as opposed to the development and training structures of more traditional sports. Examples are given in snowboarding and parkour and a case study is presented from the experience of Janine, a Mountain Bike Trials rider.
Ellmer and Rynne cite CSIRO (2013) in suggesting that the availability of online resources may result in more rapid growth of skills in alternative sports. This is typical of so many areas of learning today. I can instantly recall many occasions where, perhaps sitting around a table in a restaurant or bar, a question has arisen and only moments later someone has produced an answer by “Googling It” on their smartphone.
I make a direct connection with an alternative sport that I train in - parkour. I attend weekly lessons, run by a qualified coach - an approach that sounds very much traditional. On many occasions however, I decide not to wait an entire week for another lesson. Instead of waiting for professional guidance on how to take my vaulting technique to the next level, I’ll grab whichever device happens to be within arms reach and just “YouTube It”.
This typifies my experience with my current physical education students and the way they learn. I often tell the story of the time I first taught Ultimate Frisbee to Year 5’s:
Lesson 1 in my unit was a great success. Students were engaged in the content and as many of them had not played the sport before, it was new and exciting and as the teacher, I felt relevant and enthused. I had taught basic game concepts and skills and was looking forward to Lesson 2 where I planned to teach the supercool backhand throw.
Walking through the schoolyard midweek, I was pretty chuffed to see the game had caught on. The year 5’s were playing it in their lunch break. As I got closer I noticed them performing what I was calling the supercool backhand throw.
That was supposed to be next week’s lesson! Now what would I teach?
“Wow” I said, “Where did you learn to do that?”
“We just YouTubed It”... of course.
That was the moment when I realised that the traditional method of teaching was off. Students will no longer sit around and wait for their teacher to supply them with the knowledge they want. Half the time we are teaching to our own agenda anyway and not theirs.
This is why I regularly record my own physical education videos and upload them for my students. I practice Flipped Learning, where the traditional learning structure is flipped around and students take control over the content.
Extreme athletes must take a greater role in their own learning, and “rely on more informal means to learn” (Ellmer & Rynne 2016). If there is a downside to the alternative method, then this is it. If in fact the current crop of adventure sports do not revolve around a structure of organisations and regulated training programs, athletes MUST be self-motivated, autonomous learners. Or at least those who are will be the ones who rise to the top of their sports at a much higher rate.
It will be interesting to watch the evolution of these two different approaches to learning, and exciting as a progressive teacher to be a part of that evolution. If I were to make a prediction here, it would be that we see a meeting point, perhaps at the halfway mark between the approaches. Traditional sports becoming more athlete-centred, harnessing current trends and technologies for a change in approach to learning. And on the other side, alternative sports growing to a point where they solidify their importance in sport culture and thereby spawn structures and organisations which will develop more regulated training programs and defined development paths.
Ellmer, E. & Rynne, S., (2016). Learning in action and adventure sports, Asia-Pacific Journal Of Health, Sport And Physical Education Vol. 7 , Iss. 2,2016, Pg.107-119, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/18377122.2016.1196111
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. (2013). From extreme to mainstream in the future of Australian sport. Canberra: Australian Sports Commission.
This week I revived a game which I put up on my website about a year ago. Pirate’s Treasure is a super simple throwing and catching activity where students work together to transport treasure from island to island to eventually store it in their pirate ship.
The game got some great feedback from students, as it did with a different group of students last year. As well as putting their throwing and catching skills to the test, students also ended up in constructive debate about how to improve strategically in the game, as well as how to be a fair team player.
While there are options to play this as a competitive game, with two teams racing to collect the most treasure, where this game really comes into it’s own is the whole-class version.
In this version of the game, there is no opponent. The entire class make tactical decisions on where to place their hoop (island) then work together to transport as much treasure as possible without losing it to the bottom of the sea. As the game progresses, treasure is lost forever, mistakes are made and the stockpile of treasure available slowly decreases. The tension starts to rise and motivation to make good tactical decisions, rises with it.
I think part of the reason students come back to Phys Ed begging to play the game again, is the intangible feeling they get from working together toward a shared goal. They all have a part to play in the challenge and must support each other if they want to be successful.
This way of thinking, this way of working I believe is a more transferrable life skill. We allow plenty of opportunities for friendly competition and that too is important in driving us to be better individuals. Teaching this game though, I am made aware of how open to learning and improvement students can be when working collaboratively.
Now I am on the hunt for more activities like this. What other challenges will motivate students to work together toward a common goal? Please share your ideas!
One of the things that excites me most about my Phys. Ed. program, and the programs of other teachers that I admire are the elements of inquiry and deep thinking. Physical Education is a unique subject in that students are able to learn through movement so inquiry often involves students experimenting with concepts in active ways. On the other hand, some of these powerful lessons require discussion and questioning - things that are best done when the body is passive.
What I want to explore here is the role of physical education and whether it is best undertaken as a physically active or passive endeavour.
In a changing world where so many of our daily activities are sedentary ones, it is of course necessary to dedicate and mandate blocks of time in the school week for students to be active. Most students are in a situation where their school provides them with 1 session of physical education per week, say 60 minutes. Is this enough active time? Of course not. We should be advocating for more time with our students but in the meantime, what we have direct control over is how we use that 60 minutes.
I see teachers doing some fantastic things to maximise movement time in their PE classes. Some teachers have music or videos playing while their students walk into the class so that students get into the habit of coming in and beginning their own exercise without waiting for instruction from the teacher. Others leave a container of balls and equipment for students to begin playing with while they wait for their teacher and classmates to all be present and ready to begin the lesson.
There is also the Walk’n’Talk where the teacher delivers their instruction or discussions while the whole class walks around in a group. I have tried this with class discussions but I do find I lose a certain level of engagement in the discussion as I haven’t done it regularly enough to remove the novelty and distraction factors.
So when my class comes together and enters a conceptual discussion such as game tactics or voicing their thinking on a driving question, they become physically passive for a period time. This reduces that 60 minutes to an even smaller number. What impact does that have? How negative is the effect of this on my students? Or, as we are engaging our brains instead of bodies, does it in fact have a positive impact?
I believe it depends on your teaching philosophy and what you believe the fundamental purpose for physical education is.
For me, physical education is the education students need to be lifelong physically active. To say they need to be moving for this current 60 minute period would be a short-term view.
If my students get into a routine where they rely on me to initiate and run activities for them to be active in, then I have not been successful as a teacher. I am therefore willing to dedicate some of my 60 minutes to provoking deeper learning, getting the brain active while the body is passive. My hope is that by spending 5 or 10 minutes discussing better running patterns for attackers in a game of ultimate frisbee, I am enabling students to be more successful in gameplay, allowing for greater enjoyment and uptake of games. Students will then be more likely to transfer this knowledge into other games they play at lunchtime, after school and on weekends. Increased success in those games will mean a higher chance of students taking them up regularly or continuing them into later life. And most importantly regular successes will increase a person's likelihood to take up and try new forms of physical activity throughout their life.
So exactly what percentage of a lesson should be active, and what percentage passive?
The magic number I am sure lies somewhere between the number of students in a class, the needs of those students, the space available, the specific learning intention for a lesson, the context of the school, the other activities students have participated in that day, the mood of the class on a given day…
I could go on, but I think my point is clear that it becomes a complex equation.
My message here is to highlight the importance of having your finger on the pulse as a teacher. Having the flexibility to read the situation as well as being very clear on your teaching philosophy, whether you choose to dedicate your 60 minutes to getting your students physically active, or spending it giving them the tools to be lifelong physically active. As always, the truth lies on the middle path drawing from both sides when the situation requires.
How do you juggle these 2 schools of thinking? What tools have you got in your kit to combine or balance them?
In an effort to constantly engage and surprise my students I try as often as possible to tap into their seemingly endless source of imagination.
When a student spends all day, every day at school, it is inevitable that at times things will begin to drag. Repetition and the demands of everyday school life can make classes seem to blend together and the risk here is that content begins to drift by without being absorbed.
So how then, to wake students up, snap them out of it? It is my hope that students can find surprises when they arrive at the gym, something to generate excitement or intrigue.
I have a lot of fun with my Preps and Year 1's in Phys Ed when we go on an imagination walk. This is the ultimate locomotor activity in my mind as it can be done with little or no equipment and because it is limited only by imagination, no two classes are ever the same.
First I begin my lesson by explaining which skills they will need if they are to come on this adventure with me.
"Hey James, show me your best jump, 2 feet together, swing your arms... Wow, what a great jump! You can definitely come on this adventure with me. Here put on your spacesuit and get in the rocket, careful, the last step is missing so you'll have to jump up and in the door."
Sometimes we go to space, sometimes underwater. Wherever we go, we line up and move around the gym in single file, tackling each obstacle as it comes across our path.
Last week we went on a bear hunt. That involved balancing on a very narrow path through the woods (a line on the ground), jumping over fallen trees (pool noodles), crawling on our bellies through a cave (under a row of chairs), hopping across a field of stones (spot markers), and marching over a bridge (skill step ladder). When we got to the bear cave (the storeroom), we peeked inside and the bear roared. When we heard this we ran all the way back to where we came from, performing each action as we crossed back over the obstacle.
Upon returning to the middle of the gym, and the real world, the students were huffing and puffing and begging "again, again!"
After an activity like this, I often leave the equipment there and use them as stations, or just give the students a couple of minutes to go and practise their favourite skill or obstacle.
The beauty of this is that it never gets old because the story is different every time. Next week could be an adventure in the wild west or rafting down a river or even... [shiver]... to the south pole.
If you ever get stuck for ideas mid-adventure, just ask the students, you can bet they'll be overflowing with possibilities.
Imagine you were to take 2 minutes to look back on your day of teaching and find one small aspect that you could improve on for tomorrow. Do this each day for the week and you’d have made 5 small improvements.
At the end of the Term you’d be better in 50 small ways and at the end of the year you would be a more effective teacher in 200 different ways. That’s pretty huge. That’s the power of reflection.
Aussie Phys Ed hosted a recent webinar titled 'Teaching PE For The First Time' which was filled with tips and tricks for those starting out in the profession. My little contribution was to expound the virtues of reflection.
It is important to begin here with the mindset that it is OK to make mistakes. Our students learn from their mistakes and so should we. By practising regular reflection, we can be sure that those mistakes are moving us FORWARD, NOT BACKWARD.
What should we reflect on?
Sports day organisation. These days, whether they are swimming carnivals, athletics carnivals or inter-school sport days, involve so many organisational details. Chances are, it will be twelve months before you run the next event too. Some of my most handy improvements have come from reflections written directly after the event. By the next day, the finer details are forgotten. But written down, they become a great cheat sheet to pull out when that time rolls around 1 year later.
Lesson Success/Failure. If you, like me, get to teach multiple classes of the same age level, it means you have multiple opportunities to perfect a lesson. Once you’ve perfected it, don’t lose it! Write down the details and store it - Your future students will benefit!
Strategies for individual students. I’ve had a student who has struggled to engage positively with Phys Ed. I reflected for weeks on failed strategies until finally, Boom! I nailed one lesson with him and thanks to my reflections I have a map of exactly how he learns.
How can we reflect?
Evernote. My favourite organisational tool. Create a notebook called reflections, then write notes from any of your devices. It’s cloud based so you can begin reflecting in your office, add more detail on your iPad, then add an afterthought from your smartphone when it pops into your head on the train home. These reflections are only for you, so write freely!
Blogging. Whether your blog develops a huge following or any audience whatsover is beside the point. When you write with an audience in mind, it clarifies for you which details are worth writing down and passing on. Try using a blog as your reflection tool. There’s weebly wordpress, blogger and millions more.
Recorded conversations with peers. Again, if they are recorded, you are encouraged to put more thought into your reflection and flesh out the most important details. Try a skype or google hangout. Voxer is great for group conversations with like-minded professionals. voxerpe.com is a great resource for finding those groups.
Find out what tips the other Aussie Phys-Ed-ers gave in this comprehensive webinar for first time PE teachers: https://youtu.be/yqftyjIUFLo
As part of the Aussie Phys Ed professional learning team, Sean De morton, Arron Gardiner, Andy Hair and myself sat down for a chat on Values Education. We discussed:
- What is Values Education?
- Why are values an important part of Physical Education?
- What are the different ways we are teaching values in our own schools?
- How can we assess students in new and more meaningful ways?
You can watch the chat right here, then leave your own input in the comments below:
These are my favourite apps for PE.They are tried and tested and would be a very important inclusion for any PE teacher's toolkit.
To see more app lists from the team at Aussie Phys Ed, head to the PE RESOURCES page.
3 Take Away Lessons from the Taylors Hill-Greythorn Primary skype team teaching session
I recently connected with Taylors Hill PE teacher Christina Polatajko in order to conduct a team-teaching lesson on cricket. Having not met before, Christina asked the question on twitter:
Never wanting to let an opportunity slip by, I got in touch and we used Voxer voice messaging to put together a plan. We began by finding a shared time that would fit into both of our timetables then by finding a shared learning intention that would compliment our Phys Ed curriculum planners. We came up with a Monday timeslot where Taylors Hill Year 3 students were beginning a unit on cricket and where Greythorn Year 4 students were finishing their unit on cricket.
I think the key to arranging a Skype team-teaching lesson is to be flexible in your choice of class. Christina and I could have quite easily hit a dead end when we realised that we didn’t have our Year 3 classes at the same time. Or we may have given up when we found out that my cricket unit was about to end, when hers was just beginning. Even if we were not teaching the same sport, it is worth noting that a shared learning intention could be taught in many different forms. For example, a class learning Softball and a class learning European Handball, could combine to develop their throwing skills.
With so many variables, my first take-away lesson for setting up a skype team-teach is to be flexible in your curriculum.
TAKE-AWAY NUMBER 1: BE FLEXIBLE
The next step was to prepare for our lesson. After throwing around a few ideas, it was decided that we wanted to take a student-centred approach and have the Taylors Hill students teach a new warm-up game to the Greythorn students, then have the Greythorn students teach Taylors Hill students how to bowl. To put these skills into practice, both classes finished with a bowling game where they could compare their scores with each other. We then set about putting together a lesson plan so that the curriculum and learning intentions were very clear. Students from both schools took home a permission form for participating in the program so that parents could clearly understand the purpose and importance of the lesson. This included stipulations about photos being taken but no faces or names being published.
In all, the lesson ran very smoothly. There was the expected technology hiccup where the image wasn’t showing for a while but that only took a minute before it was set right again. More than anything I put this smooth-running completely down to preparation. Time spent conferring with school leadership, obtaining parental permission, testing technology and planning the lesson all meant time saved in the long run.
TAKE-AWAY NUMBER 2: BE PREPARED
I went into this lesson quite prepared for it to fail.Not fail in the negative sense, but fail in the sense of building a foundation of experience on which to build. There is a feeling that this type of teaching will be beneficial, if not essential in the future. However, in getting to that point it is inevitable that the “how” and the “why” will evolve along the way. We need to be scientific in our discovery of the these. We need to hypothesize how the technology might be used. We need to develop theories in the form of professional conversations. We need to test these theories by putting them into practise and reflecting on their effectiveness.
TAKE-AWAY NUMBER 3: BE EXPERIMENTAL
So, those are my 3 take-away lessons from the experience. But what did the students learn?
As well as the explicit learning intention, students developed a broadened worldview, understanding that facilities, people and teachers can be quite different but learning is still the same. There was certainly a connection and mutual respect between the 2 sets of students.
They understood that they can be both teachers and learners when skills are passed on from one set of peers to another.