Teaching for Meaning in Physical Education

Why do I have to learn..?P2.1

As a kid, I asked this type of question in regards to math class (like, all. the. time.) and certainly about the study of Shakespeare in English class… My wonder is – do you ever hear this type of question from your #physed students?

Why are we doing basketball… AGAIN?

What possible purpose will the ‘beep test’ serve me after I leave high school (or this PE class…)?

Why do we have to learn how to waltz? Does anyone waltz anymore? (seriously, does anyone?)

When students ask these types of questions, I believe what they are really searching for is – meaning.

noun: meaning

  1. What is meant by a word, text, concept, or action.

1.1 Implied or explicit significance.

1.2 Important or worthwhile quality; purpose

 

The key definitions for the question above are 1.1 and 1.2 – in other words, what’s the point of physical education (or at minimum, certain activities done in PhysEd)?

I wrote a previous post for the crew over at Learning About Meaningful Physical Education (LAMPE – @meaningfulPE) back in March. Since then, I have been privileged to be involved with the team on a project studying meaning in PETE (Physical Education Teacher Education… are you tired of acronyms yet?). Go figure, the LAMPE team’s purpose is to focus “…on ways to prepare future physical education teachers and coaches to foster meaningful engagement in physical activity through PE and youth sport.” COOL!

As I was prepping for the project and my role in it, I read LAMPE’s recently published open-access article (Beni, Fletcher, & Ní Chróinín, 2016) that examined 50 studies about students’ experiences of meaning in physical education and youth sport. Their meta-analysis identified five features that young people identified as contributing to meaningful experiences in physical education. For the rest of this post, I want to look briefly at these features and begin to explore how PE teachers might create a program culture in which meaningful experiences (for students and teachers!) can flourish.

1) Social interaction: Students find meaning in the relationships created and sustained in PE. Take time to consider how your students interact with their peers – use your observations to create purposeful groupings. Take time to identify and meet the social needs of individual students. Might there be gender bias in your class? From you or your students? That type of bias inhibits relationships and can be damaging for lifelong physical activity choices (not to mention hurtful at the time). As a teacher, how do you sustain the social aspect? By all means, interact meaningfully with your students but also consider your own PE teacher social networks – who can you connect with?

2) Fun: Delight, joy, fun – all different (we don’t have the time to go into it here…) but the important thing to remember is that fun is an important motivator for us all. Learning (especially in PE!) should be fun! If you take time to observe the level of fun and enjoyment in your class, notice that learning often follows close behind. Think about your own levels of fun as you teach – are you enjoying yourself? If so, the kids probably are too! Pay attention to this feature for sure – but not at the expense of the other ones!

3) Challenge: Another important motivator that can be linked to autonomy and competence. Incidentally, the other key aspect of self determination theory is relatedness…  (http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/). Opportunities for students to set their own goals and work towards personal competence are motivational (and fun…). Observe the students in your class to ensure appropriate levels of challenge – modify tasks as needed to ensure flow. Don’t forget to challenge yourself! Teach something new – take a risk on a formative assessment – set a new teaching goal. Flow theory (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) suggests that when the challenge is slightly above our skill level we perform at our best.

4) Motor competence: Sometimes it seems like this part gets left out of PE… Remember, it’s pretty tough to find meaning in movement when you can’t even play the game! Create a culture of seeking personal competence where it is OK to try, fail and try again (hey look, there’s challenge again!). Consider the skill levels of ALL students, remember that each kid has their own story and prior relationship with physical activity (educative, mis-educative). When students feel ‘skilled’ they are more engaged and can find meaning in movement. When’s the last time you tried to learn a new physical activity? Your new physical activity journey has the potential to impact and influence the journey’s of your students (plus, it’s fun!).

5) Personally relevant learning: This feature at first glance seems like one of those ‘well d’uh’ moments. OF COURSE learning has to be personally relevant. As we dig a little deeper though, this can be a tough one. Try connecting the learning in physical education to the individual student. What do they bring to the table from their past experiences – good, bad and indifferent? Take some time to get to know your students both inside and outside of class. Not every single aspect of your class will be personally relevant to every single kid. However, connections of relevance in one area can transfer to another. As for you, what makes PE relevant for you? Each of our stories are unique – don’t be afraid to share!

I’ll wrap this up with one final thought. These five features do not exist in isolation.

“For example, although fun and social interaction were each identified separately as criteria that led to meaningful experiences in physical education settings, it was possible for one to either hinder or enhance the other” (p. 15).

Consider not only the features themselves, but also the interactions BETWEEN them. In other words, fun without learning can be less of a meaningful experience for students. Challenge with opportunities for social interaction may increase levels of meaning in your PE class.

Paying attention to meaning-making in purposeful (see what I did there?), intentional ways (pedagogy, content, assessment, etc.) will help to create a culture of learning and growth in your PE class. In this way,  your students AND you can foster meaningful experiences together.

Reference: Beni, S., Fletcher, T. & Ní Chróinín, D. (2016): Meaningful Experiences in Physical Education and Youth Sport: A Review of the Literature, Quest 69(3), 291-312. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2016.1224192

Track and Field Ramblings

trackshoes-smallI know.  My Canadian friends are thinking, “What the heck is he writing about Track and Field (T&F) in November for?”  Hey – it’s never to early to start planning your T&F or activity day for the Spring!  As well, my friend Mel (@mjhamada) and I recently had a wee Twitter flurry focused on alternate track and field events/days.  After our short exchange of ideas, we decided to collaborate on this blog post to highlight our perspectives and thoughts.  Take a read, tell us what you think and, most importantly, please contribute to the google doc we have started to share your ideas as well (link at the end of the article)!

Mel’s Ramblings! Recently I have heard a lot of comments online about how PE was very difficult and how rotten we are as a profession!  I have to say that in my High School life I adored running and so Track and Field was a joy to me as I could actually do well in something I really enjoyed.  Now, I know that PE and T&F aren’t everyone’s passion but I take from this that it is also important to respect that a T&F day should also be about allowing our athletic students a place to compete and see success. “What did you say Ms Hamada?”,  I hear you shout!

However, I also believe that we need to not exclude students who find T&F day (as well as other traditional sports days) a grind and who are ‘sick’ on these days to avoid having to participate. It is the participation and the fun that we want to ingrain in our students.  I love T&F days because they were fun for me! I will add here that I work in International schools and I haven’t had a school that has a zone or district carnival or T&F team, we just have our school carnival/day and no more.  This makes me think harder about the fun and participation of our students.

So it is important to find the middle ground.  Recently I have worked with different schools who have had varied philosophies on what should constitute these days and found that the winning formula should provide some time in the curriculum for learning about T&F concepts such as how to throw, jump and run and time to practice these with no pressure.    Maximum practice is the most important factor.  Try some of these ideas:

  • Long Jump – set up your students to jump across the pit on the side rather than the long end.  Set up stations, have 4-7 lines all jumping at the same time into the pit and then running around back to the line.  You get to see your students frequently and they get to jump a lot!  Set up tiered stations next – regular jump at one end of the pit and then add a cone 1.5m back from the sand; then add a small hurdle to promote the height of a jump (over length) then add the next line with a hurdle 1.5m back etc.  Students can then quickly get to their level and work at it and in a 60 min lesson you can have students jumping every 1 minute.  Set up student coaches to assist with visual feedback or use your fave app to assist you.

  • High Jump – use hurdles frequently in your HJ lessons to practice scissor jumps.  Set up hurdle stations and have students practice scissor jumps while waiting for the HJ bed.  Differentiate with mats, hurdles, HJ soft bars etc with lots of places for kids to practice and get maximum jumps.

  • Running – complete running drills for sprints with student pairs watching specific technique (eg. arm swing) so they can learn about correct technique and coach each other efficiently.  Set up mini relays or games for students that involve timing and sprinting for success, but limit competition.  Avoid too many block exercises or peers that can ‘watch’ or evaluate time or distance, make the emphasis fun!

Okay so coupled with these athletic pursuits, we have some fun activities thrown in for students who dislike T&F traditional events and who haven’t participated at all!  The T&F day schedule has been pretty full on with 4 sessions in the day and a lunch break.  Each Grade level had 4 sessions to complete the field activities offered: Long Jump and Shot put; Javelin; Discus;  High Jump.  The Track sessions had a separate schedule that ran all day and Field event participants went to the Track when required.  Our last school hosted: 100m, 200m, 400m, 1500m and 4 x 100m relays.  It was a struggle to get kids into the 1500m and I wondered if we were better off with 2 x 1500m, one for girls and one for boys to avoid the long waits!

I would love to see the alternative events in-between the field or during the field events.  We could then have the egg and spoon or water relay races on for Middle School while High School are completing another T&F activity and vice versa.  This would bring a nice blend to the day.  I am excited about implementing more of this at YIS this year and hope that our fun and participation values drive the day!  I am excited to hear of great alternative activities that we could do on our day to promote fun, friendly competition between Houses and generally improve this day for all concerned!

Doug’s Ramblings! I started teaching PE at a school that followed a very traditional program and T&F was run as a school wide meet.  When I took over as the male PE teacher there was actually a “passing of the starter gun” at the former PE teacher’s last meet (crazy eh!).  I started to keep stats on the T&F day the next year and realized that many kids skipped the day and many did minimal events (format was 2T and 1 F required or 2F and 1 T) or nothing at all.  Lots of sitting around, minimal activity etc.  Over my five years at that school, I slowly made a few changes but was still not really happy with how the day met student’s needs (or the PE curriculum).

When I moved to a new school I was again asked to take charge of the T&F day (which had been very traditional).  I decided to do something completely different and ran an activities based day in which the kids (grades 5-9) were mixed up into multi-grade level groups and moved throughout the day as a team to a variety of active living themed stations.  We did not do any traditional T&F events on that day although we did do them in PE class and invited anyone to join the inter-school team.  Over all I thought the day was successful but…

The next year, I taught a grade nine leadership class with a group of students that had now had a traditional TF day as well as my crazy new format.  I asked them (nuts, I know) what kind of day they would like.  They met and discussed things, I put in my two cents and objectives (essentially to have fun, learning, LOTS of activity) and we came up with a plan.  The students wanted to be able to move with their friends and choose from a variety of active living activities as well as traditional events.  But the TF “events” were not to be used to determine who went to Zone meets – that would happen separately, after school.

With the students taking the lead, our eventual T&F day looked like this: student’s chose from a menu of track, field and active living sessions (AL). Each student needed to get a stamp on their “passport” for a minimum numbers of events – no limit on how many you could choose.  My leadership students invented and ran the active living sessions, teachers ran the TF events and students were free to roam around with their friends and complete their passports in any order they wanted.  In the morning each student had to do a required 3/6 T events, 2/4 F events and 3/6 AL events. In the afternoon it was 2/4 T, 1/3 F and 2/4 AL.

The day was AWESOME! Lots of choice, lots of activity and lots of fun for all involved.  Very few behaviour issues due to the high level of autonomy and almost no absences that day.  Most importantly, the feedback from the students was amazing.  Those who wanted the athletic challenge could compete against themselves and their friends, those who wanted to take a more relaxed approach could do that all well – but all were active!

YOUR TURN! Please share what you have done for T&F days (or just activity days!) at your school.  These can be event descriptions, key resources, day overviews – whatever you like!

Click the link to share!

https://docs.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/document/d/1q5Cz881tMSDZGYsnH6fbXcODSVse9eW7rGnHhH9VpHM/edit?usp=sharing

Manly, yes?

Sometimes I wonder about things – things we take for granted and perhaps just accept.  Sometimes I dig deeper into those things – this is one of those times.  A while back, I encountered two articles in the local paper that made me wonder – today’s blog is the preliminary result of my digging.

The first article was a feature piece about how post-secondary education, and particularly more “male-dominated” fields such as engineering and medicine, is an area of huge growth for female students.  The article went on to say how wonderful this was/is (I agree!) and that the gender gap is not only reduced but, in some cases (medicine) reversed.  The author went on about how important it is to have women in these fields and listed the many benefits (I tried to find the article but it does not seem to be in cyberspace…).

The very next week, in a “back to school” feature, that elusive creature – the male elementary teacher – was profiled.  One teacher was interviewed about being a male in a female dominated field. He shared his perspective and why he was in that profession.  Then, a number of “experts” (if I could use more quotes, I would…) were consulted.  To a person, each expert said that the gender gap in elementary education was not worrisome at all – a good teacher is just a good teacher! No cause for alarm here, go about your business.

Hmmm…  This is where my wondering began. Why in some fields (medicine) is it important to have gender equity and in others (elementary education) it does not matter?   As a place to start my excavation, I thought I would check the stats for Canada.

Year                                                              1998                                                            2008

Male Education Grads                               26%                                                              24%

Male Physical and Life                               47%                                                              43%            Science Technology Grads

Male Full Time Teachers                            33%                                                              29%

By the way, the ratio in overall degree programs is now (2008) 60-40 in favour of women.  As interesting and telling (alarming!) as the stats on males in education are, it gets worse.  I could not find any stats breaking out those who teach elementary (K-6).  So, I went to my own Department and asked for the male/female percentages for students currently enrolled in our undergraduate BEd (Elementary) program.

                                                                 Program                                                    My last 3 classes

Male                                                        9%                                                                6%

The numbers above very closely mirror the numbers for female physicians (7.6%)                       IN 1970!!!!!!!!!

So why the difference?  How come our society worked very hard; successfully and rightly, to get more women into male dominated fields but never the other way around?  I don’t know, but I DO think it is time to do something about it.  So, rather than whine and complain (been there done that), I thought I would highlight a successful male elementary teacher who was one of the 6-9% in our BEd program. Since I don’t think a huge government program to boost male presence in elementary is on the horizon anytime soon, I will lift Andrew up as a role model for other males to consider elementary education as a rewarding and viable career.  The following is a piece I asked Andrew to write about his experience as a male elementary teacher.

TwinsBefore I started at U of A in elementary education I finished a diploma in Police Studies at Grant MacEwan.  Going into policing I knew that I would need a lot of volunteer experience, and seeing as I always loved kids I volunteered as a Big Brother for a year.   I fell in love with the impact that I had on that child, it was such a rewarding experience.  After I finished at Grant MacEwan I sat down and thought to myself about the positives and negatives of policing and decided to pursue a different path.  As any teacher will tell you, the feeling of making a positive impact on a child’s life is simply incredible.  The thought of being able to do that on a daily basis and getting paid for it just seemed to click.    

 When I first graduated from University, the thought of getting a full time job as a teacher was terrifying.  Not because of the job itself, but because there was such an oversaturation of teachers looking for the same thing.  I had a couple friends of mine say that jobs that were posted at their schools were receiving anywhere from 250-400 applicants, for one position!  This is where I found my first huge break being a male in elementary education.  I was given many interviews simply because I was male, something that is lacking in almost all elementary schools.  I was lucky enough to be offered a full time continuing position after my first year. 

I can’t rave enough about being a male in elementary.  Without trying to sound arrogant the kid’s just love me because I am a guy, and they have never had that experience before (I am the only male elementary teacher in my school).  For me, through my first couple years, I think the biggest thing that I have been told from parents, other teachers, and students is that I am seen as a role model to the boys.  It is hard for young boys with “problems” to come to a female teacher so them having me as that outlet has been really beneficial for them.  When you look at the stats, what I just said makes sense, most families with single parent households consist of the mom, and the children.  This shows that they are obviously lacking that male presence in the children’s life.  Being able to provide that influence at school, where they spend most of their time, is very rewarding.  What I notice is that for the boys especially, who want to be outside playing and goofing around all the time having a male be in charge and showing them that it can be fun at school changes their perspective on things that they once didn’t like. 

I had a student in my first year who had always said he hated school; he was acting out and generally just didn’t put forth an effort to allow himself to be successful.  Right away I was able to form that bond with him on things that he enjoyed such as hockey, hunting, cars, traditionally male dominated topics.   I then made tests that involved sports or related new concepts to cars in any way that I could to draw in his attention and engage him in what we were learning.  By the end of the year he was crying because he didn’t want to leave.  That is and probably will be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.   

One challenge that I have had, yet has also turned out to be a lot of fun is being a new male teacher there is a certain expectation that I will be coaching different teams in the school.  The school that I teach at is a K-9 school and not only am I doing junior high basketball and volleyball but also help with cross country and journal games which is more elementary focused.   It is such a great experience, even though it consists of lots of extra time.  It is a way to see the kids outside of the school in a different setting and also for them to see that I don’t in fact sleep at the school.   

Another challenge that I have faced is that I am given the students who seem to have the worst behaviour.  It makes my day-to-day teaching a lot more…interesting? Especially as a new teacher with a new curriculum to learn, and trying to find new exciting ways to deliver that curriculum, it adds up to a lot of long nights.  A lot of my energy from the day is put into a few specific students because they need the male role model in their lives.    

I want to leave you with one of the best parts about being, not so much a male in elementary, but just an elementary teacher in general.  Kids say absolutely everything that is on their mind, no filter.  They are so excited about being able to answer a question they don’t care what comes out of their mouths.  For example, when I asked my grade three class the very question of why they like to have a male as a teacher here are three of the top responses:

“just because there needs to be a man in the house”

“you are stronger in case someone attacks the school”, and my favourite,

“you are more sarcastic”.

 I wouldn’t trade my job for any other.

Thanks man.

We need more Andrews.