Creating meaningful learning experiences in physical education must begin with engaging our students as quickly as possible in the unit. Regardless of the unit being taught, beginning with a rich and powerful provocation can help to create the emotional hooks necessary to inspire movement at a level that is just right for each of our students.
This is something we take very seriously in our physical education program at Gardens Elementary School. Taking the necessary time and energy to pre-plan is an essential part of the design process when it comes to the units that we teach. See the photo below of our poster-sized timeline for our unit.
Our ultimate aim is to help our young learners make powerful connections not only between the important concepts and skills in the unit itself, but also to understand that each person has their own entry point to learning that must be accessed as soon as possible in the unit.
We have been working very hard to unpack the 5 features of meaningful PE experiences with our students this year in order to help them know and understand how these features authentically apply in their own life and learning related to physical activity and movement.
To quickly summarize, the Learning About Meaningful Physical Education research team has done a tremendous amount of work related to better understanding how educators can inspire young people to find joy and delight through movement and to engage in physical activity as part of their every day life both in school and out of school.
The PE teachers at Gardens Elementary School and myself are making sense of the Meaningful PE framework in our own way, tweaking and adjusting our approaches, testing out different pedagogical strategies, and most importantly, reflecting on our teaching and student learning every step of the way in order to refine the way we deliver our program.
Today’s blog post will be the first in a series of blog posts dedicated to how we are unpacking the 5 features of the Meaningful PE framework (Fun, Motor Competence, Relevance, Challenge, and Social Integration) in our current Individual Pursuits unit that is focused on inspiring kids to be active through racket sports.
So, let’s get right into how we specifically kickstarted this unit in a way that zeroed in on the big ideas that we were hoping the students would grasp on to in the very first class of their individual pursuits unit.
The Power of Provocation
All learning must begin with a powerful provocation that creates the emotional hooks necessary to draw out the big ideas of the unit. Bearing this in mind, we started the unit off straight away by using an inspirational video of a world champion javelin thrower from Kenya. Our hope was simple — to get the kids to identify the important concepts of perseverance, social connection, challenge, and self-improvement.
You might ask yourself ‘Why would they use a video about a javelin thrower in a racket sports unit?’. The short answer to this question is that conceptual understanding is not subject or unit specific but transcends discipline/unit specific boundary lines. When drawing out the importance of the 4 concepts mentioned above, we wanted a powerful hook in order to do this, therefore we felt it wasn’t necessary to specifically use a racket sports video to do this, but instead to find the most powerful video we could to draw these ideas out.
All learning not only begins with a powerful provocation but also a driving question or questions to begin the unpacking process. The driving questions we introduced in the first 5 minutes of this unit related to the video that they were going to watch can be seen below.
Why was Julius Yego successful?
What challenges did Julius Yego face?
What did you like most about the Julius Yego story?
As the students watched the video, we asked them to think about the above three questions and to be ready to share some of their thoughts with their classmates and also be ready to write down their ideas on yellow sticky notes.
Investing of Time!
Many PE teachers say that they don’t have time to do things like this in PE because their job is to get students as physically active as possible during their PE lessons. I couldn’t agree more, however, getting the students to do some heavy cognitive lifting early in the unit helps to unpack the big ideas and identify what the overarching learning outcomes are in the unit. Being clear and explicit about these outcomes is the key to great teaching and, without question, reinforces and deepens their learning, therefore is hugely worth the investment of time.
A teacher directed approach that involves the teacher standing up in front of the class delivering a long monologue about what the unit is about, what they will learn, what they will need to do, and how they will be assessed not only disengages them, but also does not involve them in the co-constructing of learning.
Involving students in the co-construction of learning and involving them in the unpacking of the big ideas/outcomes gives them ownership and autonomy over the learning process which creates an environment that places them front and center in the units being taught.
As you can see from the photos below, the students not only shared their ideas about the Julius Yego video, they also recorded their thinking straight away in the unit.
The above process took less than 15 minutes and was time well invested. After they finished recording their ideas on yellow sticky notes, they immediately dove into an exploration of racket sports for the next 20-25 minutes of the lesson.
Simply sending them off to explore was not enough though. We had a 4th question that we wanted them to think about as they explored lots of different skills related to racket sports.
What challenges did you face today when exploring racket sports?
As you can see, our intention is to unpack the key feature of ‘Challenge’ in the Meaningful PE framework. To us, it is not enough to just think about the feature of ‘Challenge’ when planning PE experiences in the different units we teach. We our setting out to intentionally unpack what this means to students in order to allow them to ultimately find their own entry point to learning in each unit.
If we can get our students to understand that self-improvement in rackets sports is about finding ‘just right’ challenges that suit their level of skill, we are definitely starting the unit off on a winning foot.
At the end of the exploration, as an exit ticket, the students wrote down a few challenges that they had experienced while they were practicing different skills in this first class. We used their ideas about the challenges they faced to design further learning in this unit that is very much differentiated to suit each of our student's individual needs.
Prep Time Poster Creation
Evan Bryceland (the PE teacher I’m co-teaching this unit with) and I, used these yellow sticky notes to analyze and categorize the big ideas that the students came up with.
I then created a very large sized display that included many of their ideas while drawing out and emphasizing the 4 big ideas that we are focusing on in this unit (perseverance, social connection, challenge, and self-improvement).
We used this display at the beginning of the second class to get our students focused in on these big ideas in order to spark their learning further in this unit. We feel that the Julius Yego video was a perfect provocation to start the unit off and getting the students to do the heavy cognitive lifting early on was a great way to involve them in the unpacking process very early in this unit. I’ve included the inspiring video below for you to watch.
I’ll be doing another blog post soon to take you deeper into this unit and how we are working very hard to help every single one of our students find success at their own level. Thanks for reading folks.