Connecting with like-minded educators from around the world has been both a personally and professionally rewarding experience for me. It is easy to see when people are passionate about what they do. I first came across Nathan Weaver a few months ago in our PE network on Twitter. Nathan is serious about what he does and is active in educational chats not only in PE, but in other important areas of education and leadership as well. I was happy when Nathan accepted my invitation to do a Good Teaching is L.I.F.E reflection for my website. Thanks to Nathan for taking the time and energy to do this.
A Bit About Nathan Weaver
Nathan began teaching in 2003 and has worked in Catholic education his whole career. He has held various leadership roles since 2006 and is currently the PDHPE Leader of Learning at a co-ed Catholic school in Western Sydney, Australia.
Nathan values the strength of formal education and the opportunities it has provided him. He has two Bachelor degrees from the University of Western Sydney and a Master of Health and Physical Education degree from the University of Wollongong. As a life long learner Nathan continues to use the power of the Internet to deepen his knowledge and understanding of the world.
He is new to the community of teachers interacting online and has a passion for using technology to create learning environments that promote wellbeing and increase movement opportunities for students. He is known to use the line ‘show me in the syllabus where it says we have to sit kids down to learn that concept.’ Nathan hopes to one day see Math and English classes where students are encouraged to be physically active the same way students are currently encouraged to work on their literacy and numeracy skills in HPE classes.
In his time away from teaching and redesigning learning spaces, Nathan enjoys spending time with his wife and family, landscaping, watching movies, training for marathons, playing touch football and getting the most out of each day. He has created a YouTube channel with videos for his flipped HPE classroom. You can view the videos using the link: https://www.youtube.com/weaverteaches he has also started using Twitter and can be found as @weaverteaches
A learning moment when you least expect it
So, I am enjoying a pint this past Friday after school which was perfect timing because it had been an extra busy week. I had about an hour to relax and enjoy some quality time with my wife Neila Steele before the craziness would begin. At 5 pm, kids would start arriving for a sleepover to celebrate my son Tai's 9th birthday. Tai had requested that I make him and his friends my homemade pizzas and his favorite spicy sausage pasta for dinner. At about 4:15, Neila went home early to meet the kids. I squeezed one more pint in and did some writing in my journal.
Now, feeling the pressure, I had to bolt over to the imported store to get all of the necessary ingredients for the big dinner. My phone was ringing away as I was officially late for starting up dinner, but I was trying to remain calm. I rushed over to pick up my son's birthday cake at the German bakery around the corner from our house and made it just before they were closing up. We had ordered the cake the night before and sent the birthday message by iPhone to the bakery. Of course, the birthday message should have read, "Happy 9th Birthday Tai!!" However this was my reality when I checked the cake:
You can imagine my first reaction, "Nope, wrong! That can't be my cake!". But, I soon realized that it was indeed the cake and a colossal screw up had taken place. At that point, what could I do? Nothing. So, I paid for the cake, ran to the taxi that was waiting and went home having to deliver the news to my wife who was getting things under control back at the house.
My frustration soon faded while in the taxi and I had quite a good laugh about it. When I showed my wife, she too laughed. When we lit the candles, we didn't say anything to the kids and waited to see if they noticed. They did. I then told them the story about the birthday message by text being lost in translation and they all laughed and thought it was hilarious. All of the boys at the party have lived in China for some time and have all experienced distinct language difficulties at one point or another in the past.
We've all had moments in our teaching when things don't seem to be going as we would like. I had a moment this week in one of my classes when I thought that I had been very clear about what my students had to do. However, once I set them off to work, a few didn't seem that engaged, so I had to push them a bit. They still didn't seem to be on track and I quickly realized that they didn't know what to do. They were kind of aimlessly messing around when I stepped in to clarify if they understood the expectations in the activity. It became immediately clear to me that they didn't understand and they were native English speaking students. Imagine my students who are are not native English speaking!
As educators, even though we feel that we have been explicitly clear when instructing our students what to do in an activity or assessment task, I wonder to what extend the students truly understand. How often might we have students who go through the motions but don't fully get what is going on? Those seemingly disengaged students often times don't have a clue what is happening. Although we address these situations in our teaching, the cake ordeal last Friday really made me think about how easily important ideas, instructions and expectations can often times be misunderstood by our students.
To extend upon this idea, what about our daily interaction and communication with our colleagues? People are not always going to understand things as we do. Even though the cake mess up on Friday was quite funny, there is something to be learned from this experience. How can we better assess the level of clarity in which we communicate with our students and colleagues? Just something to reflect on as we begin a new week at school. Have a good one!
Walk & talks keeps students moving and engaged
I wanted to devote today's blog post to explaining what a walk & talk is and how useful I have found this strategy to be in my PE classes. I started up the idea of walk & talks a couple of years back, but didn't really use it all of the time.
Nowadays, I use walk & talks consistently in my classes as it is a great way to keep kids moving while at the same time discussing and sharing answers that they have to the important questions that I ask in class. I usually have these types of questions planned ahead of time and know when I am going to ask them in class. These driving questions always connect to the student learning outcomes in the units being explored in PE.
The main idea behind the walk & talk sessions is that the students are never sitting on the floor in front of me to have a discussion. During the class, I will signal for them to come back to wherever I am in the gym. Most of the time, I will be standing in front of one of the visuals that I have created for the unit. I usually have the driving question posted on this visual. At this point, I tell them to partner up in small groups (usually 2 or 3). I allow students to use their own language when discussing and sharing their answers in their group. I have many different nationalities and cultures within my classes, so for example, I may have a small group of Germans or Koreans who want to team up to have a discussion. I have no problem whatsoever with this.
I send the groups off for their walk & talk which usually lasts between 3-4 minutes. Enough time to play one quick song while they circle around the gym talking. Once the time is up, the students will gather back and share their answers with the whole class. I encourage the students to build upon each other's ideas during these discussions. I always record their answers in my journal then use their thoughts, ideas, and answers to create a visual to show the students' learning.
Keeping kids moving, thinking, discussing, and sharing is a very important part of our learning journey together in my physical education program. If you have never done a walk & talk with your students, try it out. They are awesome!!!
What do we know about our body systems?
Whenever possible I try my best to make strong links to learning happening in the classroom. At the present moment, I am fully integrating with the unit of inquiry "Body Systems" that is taking place over the first 7 weeks of the school year in grade 3. This type of unit presents a perfect opportunity to integrate PE into the learning happening in the classroom as exercise has a tremendous impact on our body systems. In PE we are kick starting the year with a unit on health related fitness, a perfect fit!!
I began the first couple classes of the year discussing our hearts and how exercise impacts our circulatory systems. The students took part in a number of activities aimed to get them moving at different levels of intensity. We reviewed how to determine our heart rates three different ways (hands on chest and count the beats, find pulse on wrist and count, or find pulse in neck and count). To keep things simple, I am using a quick and easy formula to determine the number of beats per minute (how many beats in 6 seconds and add a zero giving rough number of beats in a minute). I know this is not a perfect formula, but for grade 3 it is perfect and integrates with math (place value).
As the classroom teachers are moving a bit deeper into their unit on Body Systems, my goal this week was to post the following key question, "What do we know about our body systems"? in PE. I had the students do a brisk walk & talk warm up discussing the question with a partner then giving me their answers. I've had two out of my three grade 3 classes answer the question so far. After the students walk & talk, I jotted down their ideas in my journal.
I will have the last grade 3 class discuss this question and give me their answers. I already created a visual with the answers from the other grade 3 classes and will have this posted at the beginning of class when my last class of grade 3s come in. We will look at the answers from the other students and have a short discussion. The challenge I am presenting to the last grade 3 class is to come up with some new answers to the question. I will then record their answers directly on the visual.
Using small jpegs of the stars above, I emphasized which body systems we will be focusing on in our Health Related Fitness unit in PE. If you notice in the picture below, I have added 2 stars on the circulatory system as this will be our main focus on the unit. I am also going to touch upon the respiratory and muscular systems but not to the same depth as they will be doing in the classroom. As you can see, the students also mentioned digestive and skeletal systems. These systems I will not cover as the classroom teachers are going in-depth with them in class.
Lots of collaborative planning has gone into this unit to ensure that the classroom teachers and I provide the most well-rounded learning experiences possible when it comes to the Body Systems unit. When fully integrating with the classroom units of inquiry, true collaboration is the key to success. I have a great grade 3 team that I am working with here at NIS (Jesse Douma, Olivia Bratton, and Debbie Mills). I will be blogging in detail about this unit over the next 6 weeks.
I would love to hear experiences that you have with integrating health and body systems in PE. Please comment below to share what has worked for you.
The power of instilling a grow mindset in young people
For those of you familiar with my work and vision in physical education, you know that I am a big advocate of allowing for student voice and ownership in my program. I bring as much integrated learning as possible into my PE program by collaborating with classroom teachers and ensuring that I am aware of the student learning outcomes in all subject areas. This allows me to plan accordingly and to create a learning environment in PE that is very much transdisciplinary in nature. Creating authentic and genuine links to what is happening in the classroom is a must if we are to address the needs of the whole child.
I am super pumped about a new unit in grade 4 that I am embarking on in PE. The first cool thing is that it fully integrates with learning that it happening in the grade 4 classroom unit of inquiry. I have collaborated with the grade 4 classroom teachers and have been at all of their planning meetings to discuss PE's role in this unit. The driving theme or central idea of this unit is as follows:
The unit is entitled "Who We Are" and is aimed at learning about the self and what it means to be human. From day one, the students and teachers in grade 4 will be looking at the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. There will be several guest speakers who come in during the unit to discuss experiences that they have had in regards to skills and abilities that they have developed in life.
In PE, I told my own story about my experience playing high level football as a quarterback and a punter. I told them the obstacles I had to overcome, the frustrations that I had experienced while trying to improve upon my level of skill in the positions that I played. I told them about when I was 10 years old and trying to teach myself how to punt a football. I had nobody to teach me and spent hundreds and hundreds of hours practicing on my own. I was able to show them a record that I still hold in punting in university football. I rank 3rd all-time in career punting yardage back in my home province of Ontario, Canada. It was not easy to achieve this record and lots of hard work and endless hours went into it. It is important for the students to understand that practice and the right attitude can help them achieve success. It's not about becoming a professional, it's more about developing the right mindset and believing in themselves. That is the ultimate goal that I have for them during this 7-week unit.
I am allowing the students to select any goal that they want in PE. It cannot be something that they are already good at. They must be a total beginner or have limited experience in whatever skill that they want to work on. For the rest of the unit, all the students will work at becoming the best that they can be at their chosen skill. I will serve as a coach and facilitator offering them advice and to help guide them along.
There are 7 big concepts (see below) that the classroom is working on and that I will also be breaking down in PE as we progress through the unit. All of our discussions will be based around these concepts and getting the students to understand what success looks like. The driving questions that they will have to answer are simple, yet quite complex in nature. How will you know that you have made progress toward your goal? How will you know that you have improved? The students will identify their own success criteria that relates specifically to the skill that they are trying to improve upon. I have a feeling that this is going to be a very rewarding unit for the students and for me to teach. I'll be blogging about it as we move forward through the 7 weeks.
Social media is such a powerful tool to connect educators from across the globe. I consider myself lucky to be a part of so many great chats on Twitter and to be a part of such a meaningful professional learning network. I have recently taken on a new role as one of the moderators of #satchatoc which takes place every Saturday morning in the Asia-Pacific area. I came across the work of Greg Curran, an educator from Australia, during one of these chats. Greg is a highly reflective person and takes his role in education very seriously.
Although I had never met Greg, I asked if he would be willing to complete a Good Teaching is LIFE reflection for a series that I have set up on my website. Greg gladly accepted and took the time to write up a great LIFE reflection. I'd like to thank Greg for taking the time to do this.
A Bit About Greg Curran
For over 25 years, Greg has roamed the intoxicating field of education. From Elementary education to Community Education to TAFE (Tertiary and Further Education) to University. Often in combination with each another.
From generalist teacher to English as a Second Language teacher to academic. He has been a manager too.
Greg's specialities include: Health and Well-being, Literacy, English as a Second Language, sexual diversity, marginality and student voice, activism, and workplace education.
Recently, he qualified as a Life Coach, building on his earlier counseling degree. Greg helps educators to Thrive - to be their most passionate, driven selves - through his coaching, training and writing - http://teacherremixed.com/
You can find his blog for educators at http://teacherremixed.com/blog whilst I tweet at https://twitter.com/Innov8rEduc8r.
Greg's LIFE Reflection
A few days ago I came across a tweet that was sent out by Dr. Amanda Stanec. Amanda is a very active part of the #physed network on Twitter and contributes a lot based on her experience in education over the years. In the tweet, Amanda included a quote that holds so much truth. It immediately got me thinking about the massive influence educators have over the learning of their students.
As a proud father of two boys (Eli and Tai), I know exactly what it is like to want the best for your children. My wife, Neila Steele, and I are so incredibly fortunate to work in the same international school. Our boys attend our school as well, so we go to school together in the morning and leave with them together at the end of the day. As educators, we know and understand the impact that teachers have on our students. But when we send Eli and Tai off to their classrooms each morning, we are handing them over to another teacher. We put hope and trust in that person to be the best teacher that they can be for our kids. We are so lucky to have great teachers at our school, Nanjing International School.
When reflecting on Amanda's quote above, there is no question that each and every student depends on teachers to provide a safe learning environment which allows them to thrive and to be their best. The main point of this blog post is to truly think about this for a moment. Next time you have your students in front of you, take a look into each one's eyes and remember that they are someone's everything and you must teach accordingly. You have the power to change their world forever. This is one of the main reasons why I love teaching. Here is one of my favorite photos of a grade 4 class in PE that I took last year . I include the photo in this blog post because it sums up exactly what Amanda's quote is all about. When I look at this photo, I see a class of students who depend on me and need me to guide them. I see a class full of wonderful kids who want to do the best they can.
The most special thing about being a single subject teacher is that we often times have the same students year to year in our programs. Therefore, the influence and impact we have on them is even greater as we teach them over the long haul. As one of my grade 5 classes entered the gym today, I pulled aside the students who were in the photo above and took a picture of them again. They are one year older now and I am lucky enough to be teaching them again. This will be my last year teaching these students before they move on to middle school. I've had these students for 4 years now and can only hope that their experience in my PE program has been a positive one and that they take with them lots of fond memories. Thanks to Amanda for the great quote and the important reminder about just how special each and every student is.
I'm using a new process for generating essential agreements in my physical education classes this year. Student voice is a very powerful force in advocating for physical education's rightful place in a school's curriculum. So, as a starting point last week I asked my students the following question:
For a few minutes I discussed with them what is happening with PE classes in some schools around the world. That PE time is being cut and in some drastic cases, cut from the curriculum entirely. Although our school, Nanjing International School, would never do this, I asked my students to imagine that PE was being cut in order for them to empathize with students around the world who are losing PE time.
I set them off on a 'walk & talk' and had them come up with strong reasons why PE should be an important part of their school experience. I had yellow sticky notes ready to go and they were then asked to write their ideas down and post them around the driving question in the visual that you see above.
After collecting all of their ideas and looking through them, I was able to nail down several key ideas about why PE is important. I then used these key ideas to create the following visual. All ideas came from the students. In some cases I had to clarify what the student was trying to say and help them re-write their ideas to help it make better sense.
I blogged last week about the process I am using to create essential agreements this year. Using the visual of student ideas related to why PE is important, I then asked the students to think about essential agreements that we will put into practice in PE for the rest of the school year. I set them off on a 'walk & talk' to discuss their ideas. One pair of students actually decided to park themselves in front of the visual to discuss their ideas which was great to see.
After a few minutes we came together for a whole group discussion about their thoughts and ideas related to the essential agreements. There was a little confusion at first, but once I clarified the task, they were firing ideas at me left and right. We decided to focus on big ideas. Each big idea can easily be broken down to mini-ideas. For example, showing respect can mean many things. Better to have 5 or 6 big ideas rather than 10-12 smaller ideas. My students came up with what they feel to be 5 worthy essential agreements and here they are. It was a cool start to the year using this new format for generating essential agreements in PE. I will repeat the process with each grade level. Each grade level will have their own list of agreements. These visuals are great to hang up on the walls of the gym, especially when it comes to managing students.
Should a student do something questionable that breaks one of the essential agreements, all that is needed to be done is send them over to the visual to reflect on their behavior. In most cases, they will immediately understand which essential agreement was broken and it is easy to have a discussion with them about it. A very non-intrusive and non-threatening student management approach that is done in a respectful way.
Change is an ever present force around us
This blog post is devoted to thinking about just how powerful a force change can be for both educators and for students. Change is ever present, affecting our day-to-day lives as educators as well as the lives of our students.
Within the PYP framework 'Change' is one of the 8 key concepts that drive the learning that takes place in the classroom and single subjects. Here is a definition of change and the rationale for the concept of change taken from the 'Making the PYP Happen' handbook.
I believe that when looking at the above definition and rationale for change, it is very much from a macro level perspective. Although it is critical to look at change from this larger, more global perspective, the focus of this blog post is to think about change from more of a micro-level in our own teaching and learning and in the learning of our students.
When considering our own students, they must understand that change is very much a part of their learning journeys. As their physical, mental, emotional, social and cognitive states change, so too does their learning. They need to understand that even subtle changes in these states has great impact on their learning. They need to be aware that learning naturally ebbs and flows as a result of change.
One day they may be on a roll sucking up knowledge all around them and improving upon their skills in the classroom and in the single subjects while the next day they are not. What has changed and why has it changed? These questions are critical for our students to reflect on in order to ease tensions that may arise as a result of hitting the wall at times in their learning and skill development.
As for our own teaching, we must also be aware of little changes that impact our practice. It is natural that we won't always be on a roll with our teaching, but reflecting on the impact of change is always a good place to start when things may not be going as smoothly as we like. In the photo at the top of this blog post, I placed changed all around the student with an arrow pointing in both directions to show that as change takes place, the student is impacted. The student is both the initiator and receiver of change. As teachers, we are no different. Change impacts us all on both a macro and micro level.
Being more aware of our teacher talk time
As educators, we are all aware of just how important it is to keep teacher talk time to a minimum and let our students get on with their learning. However, it's easier said than done.
There have been times in the past that I have tried to monitor my own teacher talk time by having a student who is sitting out of PE due to being sick or injured use a stop watch to time my whole group discussions in class. Although I think that I am pretty decent at keeping my teacher talk time short and sweet, I know for a fact that there is room for improvement. Simply put, I know I can get better in this area.
I am setting myself a challenge that I sincerely hope I can follow through with. Starting this Monday, I want to monitor my own teacher talk time all week, Monday to Friday. My plan is that for each class, I will use a stop watch to record the total time that I talk during my whole group discussions. It certainly won't hurt learning and will put pressure on me to be more succinct and precise with what it is I want to say during my instruction time. Not only will it be important to think about the actual time spent talking, but also to reflect on how I can better say what it is I think I have to say.
Teachers are known for unnecessarily repeating things over and over, especially when it comes time to giving instructions to our students. The tendency at times is to just give our instructions differently multiple times before setting them off to work. This not only wastes our own time, but also the precious time of our students. How about joining me in this one-week challenge? This is not meant to be competitive in any way, but more to get us all thinking about just how much time we spend talking in our group discussions in class. What better time to do this than at the start of the school year? For those teachers in the southern hemisphere, a great time to do it as you finish off the second half of your school year! If any teachers try this out, let me know how it goes for you. I'll be blogging about my own results next weekend.