A few months back Mark Williams and I began to engage in discussion within the #physed network set up on Twitter. It was easy to recognize in an instant Mark's passion and enthusiasm for our profession as evidenced by his weekly interactions with #pechat and daily contributions on Twitter.
Mark and I decided to meet on Skype and I shared with him the new approach that I was intending to use in my Athletics unit. It was all about student design in their own learning journey in Athletics and introducing all learning outcomes to them at the beginning of the unit.
The key to every successful PE department is having people with this same vision. Mark's colleague and fellow department member, Mike Gilmour, was also keen to try out something new and worked together at creating a very rich learning environment in their Adventure Challenge unit. I am pleased that Mark accepted my invitation to guest blog on PYP PE with Andy and thank Mike Gilmour for being involved as well.
A bit about Mark Williams and Mike Gilmour
Educated in the UK and briefly in Holland Mark has been involved in playing, coaching and teaching his whole working life. He was brought up in Wales, but moved to England to attend university and play rugby, on completing a BSC (Hons) degree in Sport Science. He travelled to New Zealand to continue his rugby and coaching development.
Once his career had finished he went back to university to complete a PGCE in Physical Education. He has been Head of PE in a number of schools and is currently team leader of an elementary PE department in Singapore. He will soon embark on his next challenge as Head of PE in his third international school in Singapore.
Mike Gilmour is currently a PE teacher at OFS elementary in Singapore. He is from Cape Town, South Africa and that is also where he graduated from university with a degree in Sports Science. Before going into teaching he worked as the National Director of a sports development business for 5 years. This position gave him invaluable experience which he combines with his teaching skill in an effort to make his lessons fun, informative and meaningful.
Mark and Mike's Guest Blog
So it’s the last unit of what has been a very long year at OFS (Overseas Family School), time to wind down, relax and let the students play games while, as teachers, we sit back and work on those sun tans before heading back to colder climates. Wrong! We still have a final unit to plan and implement. And not just any run of the mill unit!
Adventure Challenge is the unit that in many ways brings all those unseen Physical Education skills such as, communication, cooperation, problems solving, collaboration and critical-thinking together, and that is what we aimed to do.
Our personal CHALLENGE at OFS was to try and create a unit for our grade 4 and 5 students that brought all these skills together, but how do we do this while making the unit physical, interesting and keeping all students engaged and on task (not always easy for those students who want to just play games)? This really is a unit that can go either way; do we lose the normal physically active students who love playing competitive games or do we lose those students who will potentially benefit most from this unit? Those students who aren’t necessarily into the competitive/physical games but have great ideas, problem solving skills, communication skills and sometimes unbeknown to us are natural leaders when within their comfort zone?
We started by looking at the Student Learning Outcomes and consider what we want students to be able to do by the end of this unit. I had already looked at and discussed Andy’s SLO’s for his Athletics unit so what better place to start?
The Student Learning Outcomes For Our Adventure Challenge Unit
We created the above Learning Outcomes from the PYP PSPE Scope & Sequence document and began the process of creating Learning Experiences that would draw out all these skills (the above is for grades 4/5, but we also created a similar document for grade 1 and grades 2/3 showing a progression through the years (i.e. grade 1 only has 3 Learning Outcomes etc. I am happy to share these too).
We were keen to give students the chance to complete set teacher tasks while also being able to create their own challenges for other students in their own class, as well as other classes. While looking at this, we came up with ‘Can You?’ and ‘Can We’ challenges. The ‘Can You’ challenges were to be given by the teacher and designed for students to complete in groups. We created them with certain outcomes in mind; can they recognize that every member of their group has a skill that will aid the group; can they recognize that each challenge is different; can they work as a group to complete a task; can they make connections between these tasks and the Central Idea? The ‘Can We’ challenges were designed by the students using the original ‘Can You’ task as a model.
So lesson one, day one. I personally started my lesson by splitting the class into girls and boys and asking, “Can you pick a problem-solver to come out and complete the first challenge?". Both groups within 10 seconds sent out the sportiest boy and sportiest girl, the interesting point and the point I raised immediately was, “Why didn’t any of you ask what the challenge was?”. I highlighted this could have been maths, cooking, geography, anything, so why did they pick this student. They quickly set out to complete the ‘Reverse Pyramid’ task (having re-thought the need for a specific leader who was capable of completing the task).
Their ‘Can You' task was to complete the ‘Popsicle Challenge’ in groups of four. Basically can they make a shape with four students starting in the push up position with no feet touching the floor? This took a lesson to complete (we have to travel by bus to the school’s second field for these lessons so only 30 minutes for class) and then we introduced the ‘Can We’ challenge. For this challenge we used the same principals of the Popsicle Push Up, and asked students to create their own challenges that they could present to other groups. The rules were very similar, can they create a challenge that starts with a Push Up Position using minimum points of contact. We had lots of examples and two are below:
This first picture shows Grade 5 Girls practicing their challenge, ‘Can you make a 6-sided star with 24 points of contact?’ This challenge was well designed and quite physically demanding!
The second shows the boys from the same class completing their challenge, “Can you complete a peace sign with 28 points of contact?’ Again well thought out and physically challenging.
Both these challenges showed that the students were really communicating, cooperating and thinking. What as teachers we gained from this was that smaller groups of 5/6 might have been the better option as it was a slightly lengthy process due to numbers and it made it a little difficult for those people who were ‘Leaders’ to take control and lead in the way they may have wanted to.
Initial challenges complete, we set about ‘Reflecting’ on what we still needed to build from our SLO’s in order for students to be able to complete the summative task. Step in Andy, he had a great idea to build on teamwork and communication by using the ‘Human Square’ challenge. We knew that getting students to use ‘appropriate’ language when giving instructions and developing ideas was paramount in this unit and this activity hit that head on. Can they make a square as a class with their eyes closed/blindfolded? The answer on many occasions is NO! A seemingly simple task was not so simple and once again highlighted the need for specific instructions and commands.
So where are we going from here? For our summative task, I have found a challenge that builds on the ‘Popsicle Push Up’ but introduces motion/movement. The ‘Can We' task will be to create a ‘HUMAN MACHINE’ using 5 or 6 students that can move a distance of 15 meters with minimum points of contact with the floor (and without collapsing). This builds on the previous task but will also get them thinking about how they keep the shape together? Who are the right people for certain positions within the machine? How do we reduce points of contact? The added twist that we created for this challenge is that once a team makes the 15 meters they are allowed to ‘Patent’ part of their design so that no other group can use it (i.e. if they have students in a wheelbarrow but with legs around another students waist, they can stop others using it. This we hope will keep groups thinking and creating more innovative ways to connect.)
Throughout the planning process we have really focussed on which Learner Profiles (LP) we will be highlighting as students collaborate together to reach their goals. Certain LP’s raise themselves in so many tasks, being Principled, Inquirers, Thinkers, Communicators, Reflective and being Risk-Takers. These LP’s were highlighted by teachers during conversations, observations and during Think-Turn-Talk sessions on the bus on the way back to school.
If we look at the value of a unit and consider how conceptually students can link their actions and others' actions to other Physical Education units, this unit for me tops them all. The transdisciplinary skills developed, highlighted and considered can be used and applied in every facet of Physical Education and Sport:
Social Skills - Respecting others, Cooperating, Group Decision making, Adopting a variety of group roles.
Communication Skills - Listening, Speaking, Presenting, Non-Verbal communication.
Thinking Skills - Application, Evaluation.
Research Skills - Formulating questions, Observing, Planning.
When reflecting on units, we often find it difficult to highlight ‘student-initiated inquiry’ and opportunities for students to ‘engage in inquiries’. I think with this unit we have allowed for both by leading the students into discovering where skills need to be applied and how they can be applied during the ‘Can We’ tasks but also giving them the freedom to express and EXPLORE their own ideas during the ‘Can We’ tasks. On completing these tasks students had to question:
NOTE: Other Learning Experiences such as River Crossing, Tank Commander, Blindfold Tag, Shepherd and Sheep were added during the ‘Can You’ phase as needed to highlight the need for each Learning Outcome to be developed.