9 Tips for Making Fitness Fun, Educational, and Meaningful
My favorite fitness quote is, “FITNESS? I’m talking about ‘fitness’ whole pizza in my mouth.” If you didn’t just laugh, go back and read; it’s funny.
What’s not so funny is how we have traditionally taught fitness in physical education. Primarily as a result of “The Report that Shocked the President,” – a 1955 study based on a 6-party test of muscular strength and flexibility that found U.S. youth were significantly less fit than youth in European countries– we adopted the approach that physical education was going to “get kids fit”. That philosophy had a strong foothold in the field and was rarely questioned in the literature for nearly 40 years.
In 1992, Corbin and Pangrazi suggested that maybe this isn’t the best approach, particularly fitness testing and holding ourselves accountable for the fitness levels of youth. The literature suggests that as a whole, we should teach fitness in physical education, if we implement fitness testing it should be educational and not an accountability tool, and we must consider the long-term impact of our practices on students’ beliefs about physical activity and fitness. Said another way, we need to teach them about fitness, make fitness fun, and provide them with meaningful fitness experiences in physical education, not get them “fit”.
Let me preface the remaining of this blog by saying I don’t think we will ever be able to get kids fit in physical education, but I think fitness should be a part of every physical education lesson. Below are strategies for making this happen and for making fitness as fun as possible.
- Use music. It can be a motivator…and it can be a distraction, so be careful. It can also be used as a tool to manage a class during fitness. See below for details.
- Aim for quality over quantity. All too often we instruct students to do “10 sit-ups or 15 squats” without even thinking about it. What if that quantity is too challenging, or too easy? For students, fun is associated with success. One way to foster success is to use timed intervals and focus on the quality of each activity or move. The teacher calls out a fitness activity and students perform the activity for a set amount of time. The best way to manage this is using interval music (ex: 30 seconds of music followed by 30 seconds of silence), or an App like Tabata. This also frees the teacher to move around and provide constructive feedback without having to watch a stopwatch to ensure equal intervals. Typically, intervals are 30-45 seconds for elementary students, and up to 1 minute for middle and high schoolers.
- Teach fitness concepts in every lesson. Once the children have gone through a few minutes of intervals, take a 30-second interval to briefly discuss the fitness concept of the day. This can be a fitness component at the elementary level (flexibility, muscle strength), or at the middle and high school level, a fitness term (overload, interval). You can repeat concepts throughout the year. This allows you to introduce, visit, and revisit the concept for more effective teaching.
- Use a variety of fitness activities and routines. After every 2 lessons, switch to a different fitness activity. This prevents boredom and allows you to spice up the fitness part of the lesson. Some students may not like traditional push-ups, but will do wall push-ups, elevated push-ups, or push-ups on a medicine ball.
- Provide lots of specific positive feedback. “Wow, you are working hard today, Pedro,” or “Y’all are amazing today, I’m seeing some hard workers,” or “Anesia, if you keep your toes pointed forward that will help. Your work today makes me proud.” Avoid questioning effort. Remember, especially in elementary levels, students tend to equate effort and skill. If you tell them you don’t think they are working hard, you are telling them they are not good at it. Kids have bad days too. Sometimes getting down to do a plank for a few seconds, a smile, a wink, and a, “I sure am glad you are here today,” is all it takes…and it’s free for teachers.
- Progress from easy to difficult. Early in the year use activities where you teach a variety of fitness skills. In doing this, I start with the easiest. For example, push-ups are a great activity, but we rarely teach progressions and always wonder why kids can’t perform them. Here is a list of progressions starting with the easiest to help students work toward success.
- Push-up position. Just being able to hold themselves up is a start.
i.Wave to a friend
ii.Wave a foot
iii.Wink and smile
iv.Wave a foot and a hand
v.Shake hands with a friend
vi.Scratch your knee
vii.Shake your booty
- Knee push-ups. Knees below the chest.
i.As it becomes comfortable, move knees backwards to add a challenge
- Flat tires. Start in push-up position and lower body to ground. Use knees to get back up and repeat.
- Wall push-ups. Move the feet farther away to increase difficulty.
- Regular push-up.
- Allow student choice. Once students have a variety of abdominal activities, push-up challenges, flexibility activities, cardiovascular activities, etc., in their bag of tricks, let them choose. Create fitness activities that provide them a chance to show the activities they prefer. The easiest way to do this is to say, “Show me your favorite push-up challenge while the music plays (see #2 above). This allows them to choose the workload and the activity.
- Let students create. At the middle and high school levels, after they have been exposed to a variety of activities and concepts, let the students create their own fitness routines. It serves as a great way for students to “relate” (See PRAISE blog) to a fitness activity, allows them to demonstrate they understand the concepts, and you will probably get an activity idea or two from them.
- Build relationships. Creating interval music allows you to get around and talk to students, help with technique, address issues, and just get to know your kids. If you are strapped to the boom box (if you are younger than 30 ask an old person what that is) because you have to start and stop the music, or are worried about the stopwatch, it’s hard to get to know your students.
Putting these ideas into a fitness activity within a lesson takes just a bit of planning. My next blog will discuss fun activites to teach students about fitness and provide meaningful experience in physical education.
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Five to Thrive: Tips for Physical Education Teachers
In my last blog I discussed the role small changes in perspective can have using my brother Trent’s story as an example. I ran out of space so I want to expand on the term “Thrive!”
At the time of Trent’s passing I was working on a presentation for my final class for a course I teach for classroom teachers. The purpose of the class is to train future classroom teachers to integrate physical activity in their classrooms and promote lifelong physical activity in schools. I was looking for something to leave them with that was bigger than physical activity and frankly, bigger than education—something to go back to throughout their career. As I mentioned last time, Trent’s favorite song was “Thrive!” by Casting Crowns. I’ve always thought THRIVE is a strong word. So much so that I use it as my email signature as a reminder to myself with each email I send. It means: live with vigor or prosper. Some have said it is more than surviving or existing. At the conclusion of the course I was teaching, I had five things I wanted to leave the future teachers with. Being the genius of creativity that I am, I came up with “Five to Thrive” (just do a quick Google search and you’ll see lots of other folks have thought of it before me) as the ending piece to the presentation. The first part of the presentation is Trent’s story. Here are the concluding “Five to Thrive”.
1. Commit to making a positive difference and write it down
My guess is that most of us got into physical education because we care about youth and want to positively impact their lives. As we go through our careers many of us lose our zest or passion for what we do. Sometimes it’s just for a season and sometimes longer. To combat this I encourage educators (or anyone) to write down what a “commitment to making a positive difference” looks like. A personal mission statement of sorts.
For the final exam of the courses I teach, I have my students write themselves a letter titled, “The Teacher I Want to Be”. I encourage them to write it thinking of the teachers who impacted them. I also encourage everyone to re-read this letter yearly as a reminder of their heart and passion. This process serves two purposes. One, during difficult times, a personal letter with a personal mission statement can be invigorating or that little lift a person needs. Two, this statement helps shape one’s big picture (vision) career wise.
This big picture is made up of pieces— a puzzle if you will. Identifying the pieces of our puzzle allows us to stay targeted, relentless, and positive. It helps us eliminate minutiae in our lives. If something is not represented by a piece of the puzzle, don’t worry about it. In reality, as educators we are forced to give some things like standardized testing a small piece of the puzzle. Some things we have to deal with in order to be educators who get to make a positive difference. However, some things we don’t have to put in our puzzle. Negative chatter in the teacher’s lounge. Colleagues who focus on coaching and not teaching. Teachers who want to argue about dodgeball. Feeling unappreciated. These negative thoughts tend to suck the life out of our teaching and our joy. When this happens, it’s a great time to read your letter/statement and remind yourself of the puzzle pieces. Your own personal statement allows you to shape your puzzle and remember your commitment to making a positive difference.
2. Respect yourself and others
We have all heard the Golden Rule since we were young children, learning to play with others. But man, it’s hard to live. A student talks back. BAM! There goes the “teach this kid a lesson” mode. He needs to learn to respect me. Yes, you are right, but is this the time? What has this child gone through to get to the point that he will disrespect you? It could be something you did, or it could be something that happened outside of physical education. Although it is difficult at times, it is essential that we treat students, teachers, faculty, etc., like we want to be treated, regardless of how they treat us. Boy howdy I wish that were as easy to do as it is to type. It’s a daily struggle for me.
One way we can show this to students is to know their names. It’s free (and takes some work for some of us) but it shows a student we care enough to know their name. Similarly, get to know students as individuals. This takes work. It takes effective management to free yourself so you can ask students about their weekend. Ask them about their siblings or their weekend hiking trip. How do you know they went on a hiking trip? Because you got to know them beyond physical education. How do you know they sleep on the floor with 5 other siblings?
Think about what it would be like to be a student who goes through a day of school and no one asks them how they are doing…or cares how they are doing? No one says their name. No one acknowledges they exist. Some of you are saying, “That’s not my students.” I challenge you to prove me wrong by getting to know your students so that you can definitively say that. Email me if you do. Treat your students like you want your own kids treated. Every child deserves to have a teacher who thinks they matter; respect them enough to be that teacher.
3. Believe what you do matters
If you don’t believe what you do matters, find something else to do. I don’t say that to be crass, but to encourage you to find something that fulfills you and brings out your passion. It has been said that, “When you lose your why, you lose your passion.” Genius. I know of teachers who sit in a chair and watch students play in a gymnasium every day….and they have done it for 30 years. I have talked to these teachers; they have no life in them, no pizzaza. And they don’t think what they are doing matters. They have no “Why”. Apparently they have never been told all the benefits physical education can have.
Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Although I would say “career” as “job” has the connotation of an undesirable chore, but the statement is so true. It happens from time to time, but rarely do I dread Mondays….I am lucky. Something that has taken me some time to figure out is that none of my work is about me. I have had to get rid of the mirror and have chosen to serve others. My wife would argue that the mirror shows up from time to time and life becomes about me, but I am working on it. I can say that I feel the best when I focus on the fact that what I do matters and it helps others. How could life get any better?
4. Relationships precede learning, and well, everything
The students you teach are far more important than the content you teach. Teddy Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” In most fields or endeavors, the most successful people, or leaders, are those who can connect with people. A major part of connecting with someone is to show them you care.
For some, connecting and showing you care can be difficult. The easiest way I have found to connect with others is to ask them about themselves. I was recently at a hospital and the tech wheeling our friend to see her baby was far less than friendly. As we got on the elevator I asked, “So are you starting or ending your shift?” He responded with something about his school schedule, and off our conversation went. Ten minutes later he dropped us off at the nursery, smiled, asked if we needed anything else, and said, “Have a great night.” One question is all it took.
This holds true for students. Yes at times you will find out WAY more than you want, but ask questions, talk to them, and as I said before, get to know them. You cannot teach them if you do not know them. Connect.
5. Live with purpose
In some ways this circles back on much of what’s already been mentioned. To thrive and live with vigor I think we first have to ask, “Why do you do this?” This is your why and defines your passion. Marketers will tell you to identify the “why” of the product first. Ask then, “Why do you do what you do?” This will be identified and evident in your personal statement discussed above.
We are not here to just survive each day. I firmly believe we are all here to make a positive difference for others in some way. For most of us we have chosen to make a positive difference in the lives of youth through teaching. Think about how dependent our society is on education. More importantly, think about how dependent your students are on you. For many, you are a lifeline (possible the only lifeline) to a productive, healthy life.
In summary, I want to leave you with my take-home message for my students.
- Know what you do matters.
- Love students….all of them.
- Teach with passion.
- Lead with tenacity
- Live with purpose.
- Know your big picture
- Focus on the important pieces
Continue reading the Gopher PE Blog for more great tips, trends, and ideas!
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Changing the Way You Keep Score
“Why do you even keep score?” This is the most common question my mom asked every time my brothers and I would get in an argument over a game. In fact, other than, “straighten up and fly right,” it’s probably her most famous quote to us. Typically our arguments centered on scoring and were grounded in my middle brother changing the rules. I am the youngest of three boys, Dana, Trent, and me. To say my middle brother, Trent, was competitive would be a major understatement. He was so competitive that, “cheating,” was his thing. He would change the rules in the middle of the game and always to take advantage of the poor innocent baby of the family. If you ever played a game with Trent and he wasn’t cheating…well you were naïve, he was cheating. This drive and competitive spirit followed him to adulthood and some could argue it served him well. He worked full-time, went to school full-time, and raised a family. From there he built an engineering firm from the ground to a juggernaut in the industry with offices across the country. Words like tenacious, focused, and driven were perfect descriptors.
In August of 2004 during a meeting at work Trent had a seizure. After extensive testing it was determined that he had a brain tumor and a decision was made to remove it via surgery. After the surgery the surgeon revealed that he couldn’t get all the tumor, and radiation was prescribed. During this time, because of the seizure, Trent couldn’t drive and he couldn’t work. Up to this point in life two things defined Trent: work and family. And in his words, his priorities were “a little out of whack”. No work meant more time with his family, specifically his wife, Valerie, who served as chauffer. After months of radiation, great news, the tumor was not growing. Everyone was ecstatic, but for Valerie reality set in quickly. As they were driving home she told Trent she was worried things would get back to normal. Trent took the hint and “got it”. He was faced with the notion that all his life he kept score because he was competitive and now he needed to change how he kept score. No longer could Ws, bottom lines, profit margins, and getting the deal be his focus. He started to understand mom’s question, and now asked, “How do I keep score?”
And oh how he changed how he kept score. He started keeping score by the lives he touched. He didn’t lose his tenaciousness; he just turned it to mission work in Swaziland, construction work in New Orleans, playgrounds in Jamaica, and anywhere he found people at risk. I will never forget where I was on I-75 in Vandalia, OH, (we were coming back from getting BBQ for dinner) and he said, “I just changed how I keep score.” And he continued with something to the effect of that small change can change how you impact the world. Impact the world? I am not a big impact-type of thinker, but that was obviously in Trent’s wheelhouse.
As Trent was changing the world, in August of 2014, he had another setback, a stroke. As usual with a stroke he lost use of one side of his body and as you might expect, he started rehab immediately. And to no one’s surprise, he made huge progress in a short amount of time. He was driven. Until September 26th, 2014. Valerie called and said they were taking him to the hospital. A few hours later I get a text from my dad, “He’s gone.” Until that moment I’ve never understood when people say their knees buckled or they felt like they had been punched in the gut. Now I do.
I know this is a lengthy lead in but I share that because Trent’s message for the last years of his life was, “Do something, before IT happens”. His IT was a, “Tuma,” (his word not mine). It resulted in a complete change in perspective. His small changes in perspective changed the world for countless people. So what does this mean to physical educators? If you believe in the butterfly effect or the domino effect, what small tweaks can you make that will make a difference in the lives of youth?
To get your mind rolling, here are some adjustments I have considered, tried, and pondered in the last two years:
- How do I view students (or athletes)? As pawns in a little game of testing or a little game of (insert your sport here)? Or do you look at students (of all ages) as our future? Are behavior problems a disruption, or a chance to impact students? In most cases the root of misbehavior will break your heart. It’s the behavior you don’t like, not the child. As educators, students are our future. We get to impact students and the future. We must remember that the foundation of everything we do is relationships. Carl Buechner once said, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel…” Think about your favorite teachers. Chances are, they weren’t your favorite teacher because they taught you to conjugate a verb or divide a fraction or throw a ball. They were your favorite teacher because they made you feel good…or accomplished…or worthy…or that you mattered. Every student needs a teacher that makes them feel this way. Be that teacher. We have to believe the students we impact are far more important than the content we teach. Reaching students is our way to positively “impact the world.”
- How do I see education? Is it a job or a passion? Are you leading students to water? Making them thirsty? I recently read that the best part about education is that it matters and the worst part about education is it matters. That’s pressure. But a great pressure. Do your students know you love education? Physical education? Do you need to tell your face that you love physical education? SMILE more. Be respectful of the entire education experience students receive. Attend math nights, literacy events, plays, and concerts. For me this part requires a balance between family and career and I have to consciously balance it all. But it’s worth it. Education is our vehicle to positively “impact the world”.
- How do I look at physical education? “It’s a job for me,” or, “it’s the best career in the world”? If you are like me, you go back and forth on this one. My challenge is to get myself to keep looking back to “it’s the best career in the world”. The only thing constant in physical education is change. We have a history of changing foci (in theory) every 10 years. From gymnastics, to fitness, to perceptual motor programs, to movement education, back to fitness, academic integration…and now, “physical literacy”. And if I am honest, it’s a bit frustrating. As a field we must keep doing things better and we need to do better things. We need to really look at who we are, where we have been, and how that impacts the foothold we have in education. Do we really want to argue over dodgeball, whether students call us coach, and whether other teachers allow students to call it, “gym”? Or do we want to step back and say, “Why”, why do we do what we do? Because we care about the health of youth. Right? As you can see it’s hard for me to tease apart students, education, and physical education. Especially when I think of my “why”. Physical education is the path most of us have chosen to positively “impact the world.”
- How do I approach life? Am I just existing or am I thriving? Do I live with vigor? For me it depends on the day. While in the hospital Trent’s favorite song to listen to was “Thrive,” by Casting Crowns. The song speaks to the notion that we have to do more than survive in this life. At times we will need help thriving and at times we will provide the help to others. I remember when I was teaching there were days I just didn’t have it. But as soon as the 2nd graders came bounding down the steps into the gym with their endless energy (and it was endless), they helped me. I was fortunate to have two incredible educators and even better people as co-teachers who would also give me a kick in the pants at times as well. My point is that as a field and as educators we have to have each other’s backs to help everyone thrive. I am running out of space so I will expand more on thriving in my next blog.
In sum, we often make slight tweaks or modifications in how we keep score during our physical education lessons. What if we made small changes in how we keep score on our impact? Just what if….We can impact the world! Thanks Trent. THRIVE!
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Motivating Students? I'm not a Sport Psychologist
Motivation, and the fundamentals of motivating youth, is something we know is important, but I think it’s something we don’t fully grasp and fully optimize. In my experience, some of this disconnect has been that the nuggets of valuable, applicable information for teachers is buried under theory. While theory certainly has its place, weeding through theory can be confusing, frustrating, and at times futile (at least for me). Further, while most teacher preparation programs have a Psychology and Sociology of Sport class, covering the content of what could be at least two courses during one course doesn’t provide much time to dig deep into how to motivate students.
In my schooling, specifically my graduate work, I have had the opportunity to take three or four Sport/Exercise Psychology courses. I approached all of these courses knowing I wanted to work with youth. While I probably should have been listening more intently during classes, I was doodling ways to make the theories come to life for teachers. To this end, the following acronym was created. It combines parts of Achievement Goal Theory and Self-Determination Theory and attempts to make them applicable. To quality, I understand that some disagree with combining theories and borrowing pieces and parts, but in my experience this has worked for teachers and therefore I am sharing it here.
Perceived Competence –
In a nutshell, this is a student’s beliefs about her abilities. The key is that it is the student’s beliefs. So how do you make a student perceive herself as being competent? Provide her with successful experiences. Start with the easiest activity first and then invite students to try more difficult skills or activities. Ensure the number of repetitions they receive is maximized. How do you do that? See my previous management blogs, but in short, be efficient with management and instruction. Provide individual, meaningful feedback to allow students to refine their skills. Repetition and refinement are essential. Focus on the process…the product will follow (sometimes).
Encourage students to perform your cues. Most students can perform the cues to hitting a tennis forehand. They might not be able to hit a cross-court game winner, but focusing on the process provides the chance for success and learning. I am not an “everybody gets a trophy” advocate, but I am an “everybody gets a chance to be successful in physical education” advocate.
In brief, this means make a connection. This connection can be with you and the students, student to student, or student to activity. Build relationships with students. Focus on “getting to know” your students…more than you know your content. Sometimes we focus so much on outcomes, objectives, and our perfect lessons/activities and lose sight of building relationships with students.
Try to find something with which you can connect with each student. I used to get up and watch cartoons on Saturday morning because I knew my students watched “Recess”. I knew as much about T.J. Detweiler and the Ashley’s as they did. I also listened to music that made my ears bleed, but it was what middle schoolers listened to. And I wanted to make sure it was appropriate.
Provide time and activities that allow students to connect with each other. Cooperative activities early on and throughout the year lend themselves to this, but any small group or partner activity does as well. Let students invent games…and use some of them later. Using the game invented by a student you struggle to connect with just might be the key to getting him/her to connect with you and others.
This simply means to let students have some say in their learning experiences. For instance, provide an easy (catch the beanbag with one hand), and medium (catch the beanbag with two hands) or a difficult (catch the bean bag with the back of your hands) activity. Or simply teach by invitation and say, “If you like that activity, keep doing it. If you want something that might be a bit more difficult try this.”
During fitness activities use music to time an activity and let students choose the workload. “While the music is on, pick your favorite upper-body challenge and see how many times you can do it.” This lets students select the intensity.
Allow students to opt out of participating two times per semester or grading period. No excuse needed, they just don’t have to be active and it doesn’t impact their grade. Sometimes you don’t feel like being active; afford that opportunity to students. I use this with university students and it works well.
And please consider your dress out policy. This is a topic for a different blog or discussion, but I find it hard to believe that failing students because they don’t want to change clothes in a locker room full of their peers does much to motivate them. (Stepping off my soap box). Create tracks/sub-courses (e.g. Team Sports, Innovative, Individual, and Fitness) at the high school level and allow students to choose the track they want to take that grading period.
In full confession this isn’t a part of either of the theories I mentioned above. However, my acronym was PEARS before that….and that just didn’t work. This too involves getting to know your students. Treat them fairly. Meet them where they are, not where you are.
Emphasize that activity choices are individual. Physical education is exposing them to as many as possible, and they get to pick what they enjoy and what has meaning to them. Ask students what they like and don’t like. Treat students as individuals once you get to know them. I hope I am making it clear that I firmly believe the first step to motivating students is to get to know them as individuals.
Social Support –
Keep in mind the role peers play in student decisions. Involve family when possible. At the middle or high school levels this gets tough. This might be a good reason to ask students, “What kind of social support do you need to be active? Peers? Family? Significant others?” Physical activity clubs can also help create a culture of social support. Walking, hiking, intramurals (intramural does not mean just team sports), and orienteering clubs are all great ways for students to be active and connect with students who have similar interests.
Be a role model. Regardless of the age you teach, students watch you and emulate you. Be aware of your actions. Eye rolls, scowls, ignoring students, rude comments in a moment of frustration. They all leave an impact. Frankly, our students look up to us. Give them something good to look up to.
Essentially this means busy, happy, good. I am teasing. Just making sure you are paying attention. “FUN” is not the only thing we are about in physical education. We have content to teach and we are about education/learning. However, “FUN” should be a major part of everything we do, just as physical activity should be a major part of what we do. The challenge is to provide learning experiences to teach our content that are active and are fun.
One way to make lessons fun is to make students successful, which goes back to Perceived Competence. In her book, No Sweat, Dr. Michelle Segar provides an anecdote of a client who reports she has never had a fun experience being active. Never. Wow! Think about that. Did she have physical education? If she did, what does that say about her experiences? Eek. Creating a safe (physically and emotionally) environment through effective management increases the chances students will have fun. Using a variety of activities in a balanced curriculum also helps ensure students will experience fun activities in physical education.
In summary, in our efforts to promote physical activity for all youth, I think we are wise to borrow from the exercise/sport psychology literature to seek ways to motivate students. Above are just a few ideas. My intent is for teachers, as they teach, prepare lessons, or reflect to think “…did I include any elements of P.R.A.I.S.E? Could I include more?” I think the answer will be, “Yes” to both. And your students will be better for it. Give it a shot and see if it helps. Thanks for being teachers and THRIVE!
Continue reading the Gopher PE Blog for more great ideas, trends and tips!
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STEAM and Physical Education: Meeting the Curve
Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) programs are popping up in high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools across the country. (Note: Some use the acronym STEM and some include Arts in the acronym.)
To better prepare students in the fields of STEAM, the federal government has prioritized the development of programs, academies, and schools emphasizing these areas. This push, as well as data suggesting STEM jobs make up 20%, or 26 million, of US jobs (From stemedcoalition.org) leave me thinking that STEAM education is here to stay.
As most of you would agree, in STEAM education, physical education is essential for all the reasons we support. However, as with any school, it is important that the physical education program “fit” into the school philosophy. I am not suggesting that physical education should exist in these schools simply as a support class for STEAM courses. In fact, I would suggest that physical education be a part of these programs because it would be the only course in which they learn the skills, knowledge and attitudes requisite for a lifetime of physical activity.
STEAM typically focuses on an integrated curriculum where multiple content areas are blended during learning experiences. Problem based learning (PBL), discovery, and exploratory learning are emphasized. Students are typically actively engaged in the learning experience looking for solutions. In my mind, this is where the excitement for a physical educator begins. How can we take those educational tenants, which are not unique to STEAM, and infuse them into a physical education program that maintains the goal of preparing physically literate students? Frankly, I think we do much of this already; we just need to let other educators know and highlight what we do.
Like most of you, STEAM is new to me, but I can’t help but wonder what STEAM physical education can look like. In the elementary ages, guided discovery could be used to initiate student problem solving. Cooperative, adventure education type activities could be used to further their decision making, problem solving skills with groups. This is an excellent strategy for teaching students about group dynamics, what leaders do, how to disagree, how to learn to cooperate and communicate. All are strategies many of us use but would lend themselves to PBL and exploration. Allowing students to invent games given a set of equipment. Exploring equipment uses. Physical education teachers could collaborate with science teachers to generate learning experience in both spaces, based on friction, momentum, force, etc. When learning about Internet searches in computer sciences, students could search for physical activity videos to do in the classroom, in physical education, or at home. Pedometers in physical education lend themselves to mathematics lessons with real data to calculate averages and generate graphs. Teachers could collaborate to infuse dance and music in an arts program.
In middle and high schools, the opportunities are endless as well, particularly if we provide students with a strong content foundation to build on. For instance, one approach might be to provide a lab/lecture/activity based course that on the surface resembles a traditional health and physical education class. This course, taught using PBL and exploration, would provide fundamental knowledge such as why physical activity is important, basic nutrition, stress management, the FITT principle, lifelong physical activity skills, etc. Once students have this knowledge, then the real fun would begin. For instance, in a computer engineering course students might be faced with the problem, “When students enter middle and high school their physical activity levels drop. Using app development skills and computer engineering skills, generate a strategy to get students more active.” Is that possible? I don’t know but is fascinating. In physics students might learn about viscosity and friction and be able to link that information to arteries, cholesterol, and heart disease that the learned about in the foundations course. And that is just a start of what could be accomplished. Letting young technologically savvy, physically literate students develop strategies to improve health is exciting and promising.
In sum, STEAM education is here to stay. From my perspective, physical education has a tremendous amount of upside in this approach to education. With some thoughtful preparation and creativity the possibilities are truly endless. As I said, this is not to say physical education is a primer for other course work; this is to say our existing content can be strengthened to fit perfectly in a STEAM approach and strengthen the learning experiences as well. Given the push for STEAM programs, I think it is essential that physical education begin considering how what we already do can lend itself to these programs.
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Twitter is Dumb!
This was my quote about two years ago. My guess is that some of you read that quote and thought, “Finally someone who will agree with me that Twitter is not all that.”
Unfortunately I am probably going to disappoint you, but please keep reading.
I am going to share my hesitant, maybe even reluctant, journey into Twitter, my experiences as a relative newbie, what I have found to be the benefits, and one concern I have based on my experiences. My hope is that this can be shared with the Twitter naysayers as a way of getting them to at least look into Twitter because I think there are many benefits. My perspectives are fluid, so I welcome discussion.
Twitter has been around since March 21st, 2006 (I looked it up). While many educators have been involved and were forward thinking enough to see the utility of Twitter since the early days, it seems that the use of Twitter by physical educators for professional development, learning, sharing, and interacting with a Professional Learning Network (PLN) has really ramped up in the last 3-4 years. The potential for Twitter is immense and many are starting to see this. I, on the other hand, am one of those slow uptake people.
One reason for my apprehension is my hesitancy to jump on the bandwagon of the next fad in physical education, and we have our share. Some of my apprehension is that I am a people person. I like face-to-face interaction. I think this interaction is the foundation of relationships. In workshops, gymnasiums, and classrooms, personal interactions provide energy, context, and opens doors for communications. While I present and listen to webinars, podcasts, etc., I thrive on face-to-face interaction with others. I like people (most of them). For these reasons, reading a tweet such as “Be sure to attend the #physed twitter chat 2nite@gophersport “ was not initially attractive to me. Please know, there is much more to Twitter than the simple posts you read; this was just my perspective early on.
So how did I get started? I started by following sports talk radio folks and some artists my daughters liked so I could find out if they were in concert near us. Over the next two years I listened to workshop presenters, colleagues, students, and teachers talk about their PLN. I saw them meet people at conferences who they knew from Twitter but had never met face-to-face. From there I started following some physical education folks. I was still against social media as a professional resource. It’s called “SOCIAL” media right? LinkedIn was for professional interactions. I was and still am a Facebook stalker. I rarely post other than to say, “Thanks for the birthday wishes” and to post the obligatory first day of school pictures for our four girls. Face-to-face I can do. I love presenting. Talking to physical educator teachers, hearing and seeing their passion is what I love. Typing to people I may or may not know just doesn’t feel right. I know this is a bit contradictory considering I am writing this blog and do my share of writing books and articles.
In the last 1.5 months I have ramped up my own involvement via tweeting, reading Twitter chats, even occasionally making comments (WHOA) AND I LIKE IT. I am guessing I like it for the reasons many others like it. It allows instantaneous interactions. I can see a teacher from Australia’s ideas instantly. While email would serve the same purpose, the teacher from Australia can share her work simultaneously to hundreds or thousands.
Twitter provides physical educators with a support network/PLN. Considering many of us are literally on an island (our teaching space) and might have limited chances for interactions with other #physed teachers, this is a great benefit. PLNs are also significant given the trend for decreased professional development (PD) dollars and thus PD opportunities. Twitter also provides a national and global perspective. Posts and interactions with teachers from around the world has great potential for improving teaching and the field. While not as official sounding, Twitter is simply fun. Like Facebook, with Twitter you feel you know some of the folks you follow or are following you, but you may have never met them in person or haven’t seen them in 20 years. A bit weird, but fun. This list is limited and I am sure readers can come up with more reasons they love Twitter. My point is to let those riding the Twitter fence see that there are upsides and it’s worth looking into.
My only real concern about Twitter is the lack of accountability for posts. (Please know that I know that many forms of electronic media have similar issues, I am just focusing on Twitter.) There is no vetting or refereeing process associated with Twitter posts. This means anyone can post anything at any time. If you think about that it’s both scary and exciting. I understand that it is up to the reader to decipher the content and make judgments as the utility of a post. However, what if the reader is not as educated or up to speed on what #QPE is? What if the post is a video of poor teaching practices? Or inaccurately quoted research? I know reporters do this ALL the time, but at least they have the excuse that they are “outside the field”. With Twitter, it’s our own posting content that lacks evidence or contradicts what is generally accepted as best practice. I am not sure of an answer for this, but I believe it is worth discussing in the Twitter chat world.
I hope this blog will push #physed teachers and other professionals to look into using Twitter. The benefits outweigh the negatives, particularly if Twitter is used without accepting everything for face value. Yes, some folks are out to promote themselves and will use shameless self-marketing and some will post a quote that in no way reflects the research article it claims to quote; however, in a very short amount of time, I have learned to filter those posts (that means I don’t get bent out of shape over them) and focus on the positives associated with Twitter. If you have never used Twitter, I hope you give it a try. If you use Twitter, I hope you use it with a filter that helps you maximize its potential.
Follow me @AaronBeighle
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Make Every Minute Count... Including the First One!
Do you make every minute with your students count?
Even the first one?
Continue reading for three simple and quick ways to get your students instantly active!
It’s a cool fall day (we can all dream, can’t we?) and Ms. Pitsburg’s 3rd grade class enters the gymnasium and reports to their individual jet logo painted on the floor.
They immediately sit on their spot, criss-cross. As Ms. Pitsburg has a brief conversation with the classroom teacher, the students peer around the room trying to determine the activities for the day by the equipment around the room. As the students begin to get fidgety, Ms. Pitsburg turns her focus to the class with “Wow! You all are sitting so quietly. Well done!”
Okay, okay, anyone cringing at this scenario yet? In full disclosure, for the first 2-3 months of my teaching career, this is how I taught. Students entered the gym and immediately sat in the squad lines (and I won’t even start on how long it took to get them to remember their spots).
Around Christmas of my first year of teaching, I discovered the wonders of Introductory Activities (some refer to them as Instant Activities or Warm ups), and oh, how they changed my life.
As a field we are beginning to see ourselves as physical activity promoters, and engaging students in physical activity at least 50% of each lesson is accepted as a goal in physical education.
In my experience as a teacher and teacher educator, I have found that the first few minutes of any lesson set the tone for the rest of the class. In fact, I would argue that first minute is the most important. For this reason, I think introductory activities are pivotal for every lesson. An Introductory Activity (Intro) is the very first physical activity students engage in immediately upon entering the gymnasium.
Often, teachers do other administrative tasks while students wait for instruction on lines or in squad spots, and then they get to the activity. For example, I have worked with teachers who meet the class at the door, allow the class to enter to sit on spots, explain the day’s lesson, ask for questions, in some cases, take attendance, and then they move to the Intro. This is not truly an Intro.
The process I described can take anywhere from 2-5 minutes. In a 30 minute lesson, 5 minutes is 17% of the lesson. Thus, teachers striving to get students moving for at least 50% have an uphill battle for the next 25 minutes of a lesson. If you do have to take attendance, there are lots of strategies for doing this while students are active. While beyond the scope of this blog, if you need some attendance strategies please contact me.
Intros take place within 30 seconds of the teacher receiving the class from their classroom teacher.
Greeting a class might look something like this, “Good morning 3rd grade. I love those smiles. I have lots of fun Frisbee activities for us today and some great tunes. Let’s hit the floor jogging today. Go!” Students then jog in general space within the teaching area. After all the students have entered the space, the class is frozen on command such as “FREEZE” or a whistle, and the active lesson continues.
Beyond providing immediate physical activity, introductory activities allow the teachers to set the tone for classroom management. For instance, moving and freezing students three times assists in establishing effective management that will enhance lesson efficiency. The Intro also gets the students ready for an active lesson.
For me, Intros typically involve limited instruction. Complex rules or instructions yield decreased activity. Also, most of the Intros I use are designed for 2-4 minutes. Beyond that, students will lose interest. Besides, I have other activities for the lesson. I am just using the Intro to engage in activity, get them ready for physical activity, and establish management. To do this, below are some simple, but effective Intro samples.
Move and Freeze:
Students move using a teacher-instructed locomotor movement. On signal, students freeze in the pre-determined “freeze” position. I usually use hands on knees with elementary and hands on waist for middle or high. While simple, this activity works great at the beginning of the school year when establishing management protocol is the focus.
Students are instructed to enter the gym and walk on the perimeter. I use this sparingly because it reminds me of the ole “take a lap”. However, it can be fun for students and is an active way to start the lesson. Some teachers use the walking trail while students enter and then quickly move to another introductory activity after the first “freeze”.
This is my all-time favorite because it allows for integration and students love it. Students move in general space. When the teacher says, “High Fives” students give as many high fives as possible until the instructor calls out another locomotor movement. This process continues for 2-3 rounds. Modifications include counting by fives, “High Two”, behind the back fives, and my favorite, low fives and they only count if your feet are off the ground and your hand is below your knee. This one is great fun to watch!
These are just a few. I encourage you to dig around and look for more. Intros or Instant Activities or Warm Ups can be found in lots of resources. The key is to truly use them instantly in a lesson. This will help maximize activity, prepare students for the lesson, and establish management procedures. Plus, students will “get their wiggles out” and be more willing to listen to your brief instructions following the Intro.
Give it a shot and make every minute count, including the first one.
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Integrate Brain Breaks at Your School with Technology!
As the evidence supporting the integration of physical activity grows, movements such as Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs (CSPAPs) are becoming mainstream. With this, the role of the physical education teacher is expanding and many physical educators are capitalizing on this chance to promote physical activity during the school day.
In the last ten years, ideas for integrating physical activity or brain breaks in the school day have exploded. There are books, programs, websites, products, curricula, and countless other strategies geared towards getting students moving.
One strategy that is cost-effective, fun, and easy to implement is the good ole fashion homemade video. While technological advances mean you don’t have to get out the camcorder (if you are younger than 30 ask an old person what a camcorder is), you can use your phone to record a video and BAM, your students can be moving to it in less than 10 minutes.
The best strategy I have seen are videos such as those on the YouTube channel, Mr. Noble’s Fitness World. Billy Noble is a physical education teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary in Lexington, KY. During his 10+ year teaching career, he has generated countless videos such as the ones posted online. He even has his student teachers create their own characters as a part of the student teaching experience.
There are two reasons I like this approach:
The videos are cost-effective, or cheap. They don’t cost a dime. Well maybe if you need the knee high socks and some Chuck Taylor’s, you might have to spend a few bucks.
They can be made quickly. Just turn on the music, move to the music and hit stop. No editing, no rehearsing.
The videos you see took Billy less than 10 minutes to make. Just a bit of creativity to come up with the characters. Thematic (Halloween, School festival, etc.) videos can also be easily created. Videos highlighting upcoming physical education lessons or reviewing previous lessons can be made. The possibilities are endless.
Once the videos are made, they can be used in several ways:
Morning Movement Time:
The first way is for a morning, school-wide movement time. Most schools have morning announcements. These videos can be a part of the announcements and used to get the days started actively.
Activity or Brain Breaks:
Even if school announcements are not used, the videos can be made available to teachers through a video system or DVD. If the teachers have access to the videos at any time, classroom breaks can include the teacher clicking on the link to YouTube and letting the video play. Ideally, the teacher will engage in the activity with the students, but if he/she won’t, a video is still a great strategy. That is, some teachers might want to integrate physical activity in the school day because they don’t want to lead an activity. However, they will let their students be active if they have a video to turn on.
Activity with Content:
Another idea might be working with the classroom teacher to make videos that are active reviews of academic content learned in the classroom. The idea of working with classroom teachers brings me to my final idea...
Get students in the videos:
Students can work together to create their own video. While this might not be feasible during physical education time, I have worked in afterschool programs that allowed groups of students to choreograph and perform a dance for their video. This dance was then used during the morning announcements. I have also worked with a PE teacher who used the video as a behavior incentive. Essentially students who were having behavior issues were given behavior goals. Their reward for meeting these goals was getting to appear in the videos. They became stars in the school….for positive reasons.
Homemade videos add a local, personal touch to classroom physical activity time. They are cost effective and fun ways of integrating physical activity and brain breaks into the school day. Give it a shot.
For additional ways to get your students moving during the school day, check out Moving Minds by Gopher!
Continue reading the Gopher PE Blog for more great ideas, trends, and tips!
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Dynamic PE: What is It and How Does It Work?
Last month I blogged about physical education curriculum (check it out). In that blog the components and development of a curriculum were presented. Towards the end I mentioned a curriculum I co-author, Dynamic Physical Education (DPE) for Elementary School Children (18e) and how a group of teachers in Lexington, KY are implementing the curriculum.
With its beginnings in the 1960’s, this curriculum is widely used and respected throughout the field. It is evidence-based in that it combines the evidence from fields such as exercise science, classroom pedagogy, motor learning, exercise psychology and epidemiology to create student-centered, standards-based physical education lessons.
The DPE curriculum is divided into four parts. The lesson begins with an introductory activity. As with all components of DPE, this is an activity-based learning experience as soon as the students arrive (not sitting for us). This sets the management tone for the class and provides instant activity for students. The introductory activity typically lasts 2-3 minutes in a 30-minute lesson. Next, is the fitness component of the lesson. The purpose of this part is to teach them about physical fitness and expose them to a variety of fun fitness related activities. Emphasis is placed on personal best and enjoyment with small bouts of instruction associated with fitness concepts. This component typically lasts 7-8 minutes. Following fitness is the lesson focus. This component lasts 15-20 minutes and is designed to teach students physical skills. Emphasis is placed on repetition and refinement of skill with instruction focused on the process of movement (e.g. appropriate skill technique), not the product (e.g. how many baskets a student can make). The focus of the lesson is success-oriented and provides students with skills necessary to engage in physical activity for a lifetime. Finally, the lesson ends with a game, or closing activity. This is a time for students to apply skills learned during the lesson focus. The game also allows students to end the physical education lesson with a positive fun experience.
The structure of a four-part lesson ensures students engage in activity immediately upon entering the teaching area, experience vigorous physical activity, learn skills, and have the opportunity to apply those skills in success-oriented games. To some, on the surface, this structure appears restricting. However, our experience has found that a major strength of the curriculum is its flexibility. A structured curriculum guide with detailed instruction for lesson implementation works well for new teachers and teachers with limited experience teaching an activity. As teachers gain experience with the curriculum they find that it is very malleable. For example, if a teacher finds a new fitness activity, they can easily replace the activity in the guide with their own activity and see how it works. If it works well, we encourage teachers to document the new activity and use it other times throughout the year. Teachers also make note of the activity in the Curriculum Guide so they remember to use this activity the following year.
DPE is also flexible in that a variety of teaching models can be implemented simultaneously. For instance, at the secondary level, teachers have used Sport Education for an entire lesson or just during the lesson focus. The curriculum is also flexible because it can work in virtually any physical education environment. Lessons can be modified to fit 30-minute lessons or 60-minute lessons. Activities can be adapted to large or small classes. The curriculum can be used in schools that have gymnasiums, multi-purpose rooms, or no gym at all. The DPE textbook includes assessment templates which can be modified to meet teacher and programmatic needs. And as stated above, the curriculum can be used by novice teachers or implemented and modified by seasoned veterans.
As I mentioned in my last blog, there is a need for systematically developed curriculum in physical education. However, the development of a curriculum is labor and time intensive. Fortunately, DPE allows teachers to tailor an existing curriculum to fit their needs. If you get a chance, take a peek at DPE. I did, and it changed my career.
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Do you have a Curriculum? Are you sure?
For several years I provided numerous trainings for the Centers for Disease Control Physical Education Curriculum Analysis Tool. As I conducted these trainings, I became keenly aware of the confusion surrounding “just what is a physical education curriculum?” What I found was that most physical education teachers, at least those attending the trainings, did not have a curriculum. Some had a yearly plan (a week-by-week list of activities, games, and skills), some had it “right up here” (pointing to their head), and some had nothing. Very few, if any, had a true curriculum. For this reason, I think it is important as physical educators to examine our written curriculum to ensure students are receiving a quality program.
From my perspective, a curriculum has three components: background information (frequency of meetings, class size, PE philosophy, etc.), lesson plans, and assessments. Others in the field may disagree, but in general, these are the meat of a curriculum. The following is a brief list of those steps:
1.Write a philosophy
2.Write a series of statements to define the curriculums (e.g., The curriculum is appropriate for all children; Activities allow students to meet national standards)
3.Document environmental factors (e.g. gym size, number of days per week students have physical education)
4.Develop content standards and student objectives. (Fortunately SHAPE America has done this for us)
5.Choose child-centered activities
6.Organize the activities into a yearly plan, and lesson plans.
7.Evaluate and modify the curriculum
This final phase is especially important. A quality physical education curriculum is a living document. I was told a long time ago that I should teach 20 years, not one year twenty times. Constantly evaluating curricula and lessons helps avoid this.
A quality physical education curriculum, among others, is standards based, physical activity based, inclusive, prepares students for a lifetime of activity, and process-based. In addition, the curriculum must be flexible. It must be malleable to the ever changing environment, either at the school, district, state, or national level. That is, if a standard changes, or the number of minutes you have your students per week (humor me…that could happen right?), you shouldn’t have to change your entire curriculum. Likewise, if you attend a professional development workshop and find a new activity that fits within your physical education philosophy, you should be able to integrate that into your curriculum.
I am fortunate to co-author such a curriculum, Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children (there is also Dynamic Physical Education for Secondary School Students by Darst, Pangrazi, Brusseau, and Erwin). This curriculum guide is accompanied by a textbook describing more activities not included in the guide. I am currently working with a Professional Learning Community in Fayette County Schools in Lexington, KY. For the first year, the curriculum was used as written in the Curriculum Guide. That is, the teachers followed the week by week lessons described in the book. During this process they took notes and modifications were made to the curriculum. For example, our curriculum uses a four part lesson. The lesson begins with an introductory activity, next is a fitness activity, afterwards the lesson focus is implemented, and finally, a game or closing activity is taught to wrap up the lesson. Teachers decided they liked some of the introductory activities with some of the fitness activities so they switched them. Also, they decided they liked specific lesson foci at different times of the year so they switched that too. Also, individual teachers learned some new activities at a workshop and they implemented those where appropriate. Every two-to-three months these teachers meet to discuss previous lessons and upcoming lessons are presented in an active professional development. Modeled after work being done in Mesa, AZ, this creates a true Professional Learning Community built around a common language via a common curriculum.
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