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?