How to Create a Learning Environment in PE!
What's on the walls in your gym?! Are they bare or maybe covered with sport stars and athletes?
Find out how to take your boring gym walls and turn them into a colorful learning environment that reinforces core content for your students!
When I started teaching 20 years ago, I was faced with the unique situation of having a brand new gym. Although the school was over 40 years old, they were in the middle of a massive renovation when I was hired. The back half of the school was under construction and part of the new edition of the school included a gym and a media center. Needless to say, I was very excited about the many possibilities that a new gym brought my way. For the first 4 months, I got to watch the construction and had to patiently wait my opportunity to get in the new “gymnatorium”. The walls were bright white, the floors were unscuffed hardwood, and there was a nice sized office and equipment closet. When I was finally able to get into the gym the students and I were so pumped to be in this wonderful space! It didn’t take long for me to realize that something wasn’t right. Once you got past the fact that the space was great, you realized that the walls were blank and boring. I decided to come up with a plan and do something about it, immediately.
I went to my principal at the end of that week and proposed some changes to the walls in the gym. I asked her if I could paint the walls. Her first questions was, “What exactly are you planning to paint, sports figures?” I immediately told her that I wanted the gym to be a place to reinforce learning for the students and I wanted to paint a huge United States map and on the opposite wall a giant map of the state of Virginia. I also wanted to paint a word wall near my office that I could use to reinforce vocabulary. Based on her reaction to my plan, she was a little bit surprised that I wanted to include academic content; but, she was very supportive and we made arrangements to purchase some paint. Later that month, during a teacher workday, I began my painting project. (It is important to note that I have no artistic talent whatsoever.) I found copies of the maps, printed them onto an overhead sheet and projected the maps on the wall and began tracing the lines. I traced using permanent markers then went over the lines with paint.
The new artwork had an instant effect and finally added some color and pop to the gym. I decided to continue coming up with content to add each year thereafter. You can see the results of this labor of love throughout Please note, after my second year, I had other PE teachers who helped with the painting (although I did spend most of the time on the 12 foot ladder when needed).
The purpose of this blog is to help PE teachers understand that all space in a school needs to maximize student learning potential. The gym or utility room that most PE teachers use is a classroom. Students come each day ready to move and learn. If paint is not an option, then utilize posters. Create bulletin boards that reinforce core academic content or health and physical education content. Use whiteboards, chalkboards, or chart paper to share information that students need to know. The more students see the material and use it as part of their activities, the better the chance of retention when it matters. Nothing makes me sadder as a PE teacher than to walk into a “boring” gym. I feel bad for the students who go into it and I feel bad for the teacher who has lost their pride in creating an exciting and engaging learning environment for those students.
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How To: Maximizing Participation in Physical Education
Maximizing participation in physical education sounds like a no-brainer to me!
But, what are some of the effective strategies that can make that objective a reality in your physical education?
Based on best-practice research, students in physical education classes should be doing moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) at least 50 percent of the time. Simply put, if you have a 30-minute class, students should be in MVPA at least 15 minutes. This sounds like an easy task but many unmodified physical education activities fall well-short of this goal. Elimination games are at the top of that list. Other common offenders are traditional relay activities and large group games (like sideline soccer). The good news is that there are various ways to modify these activities to help increase MVPA for all students.
Elimination games, often tag games, are easily modified to ensure that all students are engaged. First, provide students who are out with a way to get back into the activity. Typically, we chose a physical fitness activity that students can complete to “earn” their way back into the game. Smart teachers will target areas of weakness that have been previously identified in physical fitness testing (i.e. – if students have consistently scored poorly on abdominal strength and endurance fitness tests, I always chose a “curl-up” challenge for the students to earn their way back into the game). Another forward thinking concept is to tier/differentiate the activities that the students perform to “earn” their way back into the activity (i.e. – we used to have three levels for our students (green-easy, yellow-medium, and red-hard) the activities that students could choose were similar in nature but either required more repetitions or slightly more difficult technique).
Relays can be adapted to reduce wait time to maximize student participation levels. One strategy is to limit the number of students in each relay line. The more students in a line the longer the wait time (i.e. – if there are 4 students in a line, the participation rate is only 25% which is well below the minimum standard). By have only two students on a team, you get that number to a more reasonable 50%. Another interesting concept is having more than one student from a relay team “go” at the same time. For this concept, we used colored flags to designate the students that could move. If working with larger groups (5 or more), we always used flags for half of the group or more (i.e. – for a group of 5, we would provide 3 similarly colored flags for each team). This concept takes a little bit of practice if it has never been introduced but it really works well and can be adapted for collecting activities too. The last strategy is very simple but really ramps up activity levels. If students are waiting for a turn, they must be doing a designated physical activity (i.e. – jumping jacks, cross-crawls, crab kicks, etc.).
Large group games with limited amounts of equipment are another participation buster. One ball and twenty-five students is not a recipe for student engagement or success. The students with the skills needed for the game (approximately 15%) will dominate the activity, while the rest of the students never get a meaningful touch of the ball. It makes more sense to offer small-sided activities where the student-to-equipment ratio is much more conducive to “real” participation and skill building. If offering a large group activity, set game play up in stations to reduce the number of players on the court. Instead of two huge teams, break up the groups into 4-6 teams and have the teams rotate in and out of the game. While teams are not playing, they can be working in skill building or fitness stations that will keep them engaged while waiting for their game time.
The important thing is to think in terms of MVPA. You can always use an MVPA pedometer, such as the FITstep™ Pro Pedometers by Gopher, with your students to get a better picture of the level of activity that they are getting each day and then make adjustments to activities based on that feedback. Another option is selecting one student in a class and timing the amount of time on a stopwatch that they are engaged in physical activity. It is an eye opening assessment, I can assure you!! As physical education teachers we have to make sure that we keep the physical in physical education and provide appropriate games and activities that are designed to maximize not minimize student participation.
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Success-Driven PE: The New-School Approach to PE
Success-Driven Physical Education is one of my favorite topics to speak on when I have the chance to be in front a group of health and physical education teachers. To be honest, because of the traditional approach to teaching physical education, I think it is a critical concept that needs to be discussed as part of any staff development or teacher preparation program. I believe it is a great concept to frame one of the biggest challenges we face as health and physical education teachers; old school vs. new school teaching. I find it interesting that according to statistics, less than 15% of the students at any school are considered to be highly-skilled movers. Yet, the old school programs cater to that small percentage of students based on the teaching methodology being used and the types of games and activities being selected for students. There is no argument that health & physical education teachers teach 100% of the students that arrive in their classrooms and gyms. So, why do we still see archaic programs that punish and demean the weak and honor the highly skilled?
Fortunately, the new physical education does not subscribe to the elimination happy, exclusionary, winners vs. losers mentality. Success-driven physical education is all about designing and implementing a student-centered program where ALL students have a chance to develop skills and concepts that will help them be lifelong movers who make healthy choices. The nice thing is that we now realize that physical development is just like academic development (students learn in different ways and at different paces) and teachers are designing lessons that encourage participation by providing successful outcomes and proving appropriate challenges for everyone. In the education world, we call this “differentiation”. Quality health and physical educators have been differentiating lessons for years, but we seldom talk about the many ways we perform the task and hardly every say the actual word “differentiation”.
Let’s take some practical examples and see how quality HPE teachers can promote a success-driven PE model. My favorite topic during staff development presentations is push-ups. Why do we have all of our students do an activity that many cannot complete correctly? Sure, there are a portion of students who can do great push-ups, the athletes, but can everyone? The students who cannot do a correct push-up are cheating in any way possible to complete the task without being ostracized by their peers. What about a more developmental approach that focuses on building the strength and the skill needed to complete a proper push-up. Kevin Neeld states that the three most notable limitations that he sees on a regular basis are; 1) lack of anti-extension core strength, 2) lack of scapulothoracic control, and/or 3) lack of pressing strength. I find that information to be particularly interesting.
Let’s put this into different terms…would a teacher have every student bench press 100 pounds? The answer is an easy no, right? Then why do we torture students with this technical strength movement without building the strength and skill to complete it correctly? The purpose of the push-up is to build upper body strength (and core strength too) or demonstrate it. Could we do other exercises that all students can complete that still fulfill the same objective, like; planking exercises that focus on form, a plank shoulder tap that develops muscle stabilization, core strength, and balance, a crab kick (alternating leg kicks that go above waist level), or a negative push-up that focuses on good form? What if you gave the students a choice, plank shoulder taps or quality push-ups? The athletes might like the challenge (can everybody say “differentiation”). What about just getting the students down on their hands and feet and walk around like a bear for 30-seconds? There are lots of options that will accomplish the same goal as a push-up and provide students a chance to be successful. Now, I do realize that some teachers may be required to use a 90-degree push-up as a fitness assessment. I am not saying that we should shy away from push-ups all the time. My point is there are other more student-centered options to build upper body strength than the traditional push-up.
To keep the momentum going, let’s talk about sport skills. As a physical education teacher, the goal is to teach students the skills and concepts that they need to be lifelong movers. I want children to love to move and sweat and have fun. My program was not about creating the next Peyton Manning, but creating a culture that encouraged and promoted being active. The problem is perspective, and when you go into some gyms around the country, you will see teachers playing inappropriate sports activities with students who have no skill and knowledge about the game. One ball and twenty-four students is certainly not a recipe for successful skill-building. The less skilled players never touch the ball, which means they are not gaining any skill. It would be like going into a math classroom and having only one piece of paper and a pencil for the whole class. You only get to practice the math skill when you get a turn with the paper…yikes! In my humble opinion, large group sports games are seldom appropriate for physical education. Small-sided games and activities make much more sense from a developmental and success-driven point of view. Students need chances to practice the basic skills in a variety of ways to develop the skills to play the game. They also need time to develop the basic strategies and tactics necessary to be successful. Too often, students are thrown into a large group games like sideline soccer and do not have the skills to participate effectively. This is physical education malpractice, as far as I am concerned. Not only is safety an issue but there is NO learning taking place.
Times have changed and so must our physical education programs. We must work in creative ways to encourage students to be active and enjoy moving. Now more than ever, we need to build programs that are student-centered and success-driven to engage all of our students and promote being active and fit for a lifetime.
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Looking for some ideas to spruce up your Dance Unit?
When I was in college, I took many classes to prepare me to be a physical education teacher. As part of the coursework, I took one dance class (ballroom/folk dance). Even though I had a lot of fun in the class, I did not learn much about “how” to teach dance. When I first started teaching, dance was certainly not one of my strengths. It is important to note that I loved to dance (always have) but I had no idea how to help my students develop an enjoyment for moving to music. I knew that dance needed to be part of the curriculum because, in Virginia, there is a rhythms/dance standard for every grade level. So, what did I do? I taught a one day dance unit that focused on copying rhythms and patterns using lummi sticks. I did this for several years always knowing that I needed to focus on dance more.
Things changed for me one summer when I was able to attend the Virginia Summer Health and Physical Activity Institute. I decided to focus on my glaring weakness as a physical education teacher and attend a few dance sessions. During the sessions, the presenters were demonstrating real-world approaches and lessons that I could incorporate into my teaching. After taking part in the conference and getting some fabulous new ideas, I decided that I was going to revamp my dance unit (which obviously needed lots of work!). I continued using the lummi stick lesson and refining the vocabulary terms that I would teach the students. Then I added several new components, changing levels and speeds based on different types of music, creating simple four-component dances, teaching basic square dance patterns, utilizing technology (Dance-Dance-Revolution). Things were really starting to come together and my dance began to span over a 3-week period (6 lessons). As I continued to gain confidence, I realized that I was really enjoying the unit and I wanted to continue to add to what I was sharing with my students. We started adding basic line dances to the mix (Cupid Shuffle, Cha Cha Slide, etc). We received a grant for GeoMotion Equipment. Things were really starting to “hop” at my school. Then things got even better…
In 2010 while at the Virginia Summer Health and Physical Activity Institute, I attended a session title, “Rock This Party – Everyone Dance”. The session was led by two gentlemen, JD Hughes and Chip Candy, and it was awesome! It was over an hour long and full of amazing creative dances to a wide range of music. I was hooked! When I got back to school at the end of the summer, I met with my teaching partner and discussed different ways we could add more dance to our program. She was on-board and we began teaching one dance a month to our students. To start, we used some of the dances that I learned from the conference. Later, we began picking popular music and creating our own dances. In addition to teaching the dances, we also videotaped ourselves teaching the dance and then performing them. We shared the videos with our classroom teachers and they began using them as Brain Breaks for their students. The most amazing part of expanding our dance instruction was the change of the culture at the school. The change did not occur over night but one year after sharing our monthly dances, it was clear that out students were more comfortable with their movements and really started to exhibit more confidence. Our students started asking; “What’s the next dance?” “Can we dance to that song by ____?” and “Can we do another dance for warm-up today?” It was AWESOME!
If dance is an area that is a challenge for you, don’t give up and let it continue to be a “hole” in your program. There are many great resources out there (including dance sessions at almost every PE conference in the country). You don’t have to know everything, just demonstrate a passion for something new and sell it to your students. I guarantee your students and your program will benefit from the new addition.
All of the dances we taught are posted on YouTube.
Check out these great Dance Resources from Gopher!
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Self-Evaluation in PE: The Key to Effective Instruction
One of the most valuable tips that I received during my teacher preparation years in college concerned self-evaluation. My professor shared that he had been using a system of self-evaluation which helped him grow professionally each year and focus on improving instruction. Each year, he kept a “journal” based on instructional practices and at the end of each semester, he reflected on what and how he taught during the term. Each time he did this, he noted one area of excellence which he would continue to maintain and one area of weakness which he would focus on improving.
At the time, I did not process the ultimate value to this best-practice concept. When I started teaching, I did little to no self-evaluation because I thought I was doing a “good job”. After several years of teaching, I began reflecting on my instructional practice by keeping a journal. I made a point to collect what I called the “needs improvement list” each semester. I tried to keep the list short so that I felt I could make changes to improve in my areas of weakness. The process was truly an eye opening experience that helped guide my future professional development choices. About a decade ago, I began making a concerted effort to concentrate on my areas of weakness by searching out professional development activities to bolster those areas. I truly believe that this had the largest impact on my ability to provide a quality program for my students that never got stagnant and continued to raise the bar.
As an educator, we focus a lot of our time on student achievement and tracking progress. Rarely do we, the teachers, take the time need to evaluate our instructional practices and their impact on student progress/achievement. Currently, most states have increased teacher accountability by increasing the standards for teacher evaluation. Unfortunately, the process is not improving instructional practice but rather creating stress and animosity. According to Pat Puleo (1993) in the California ASCD Newsletter, “studies show that evaluation is ineffective after five years” (Robbins & Alvy, 2003, p.104). It is my contention that if teachers spent more time performing effective self-evaluation/reflection, we would notice an increase in teacher effectiveness.
The 100 million dollar question is; what strategies should teachers use to focus on self-improvement? The process can be more or less formal based on your needs. In my experience, just keeping a personal journal has been extremely beneficial. Of course, there are more formal options that have checklists and focus on targeted goals (for a sample of more formal checklist and rubrics, click on the links below). Clearly, there are lots of options that can fit each educator’s needs. The key is to make self-evaluation part of your professional growth process.
Check out these links for excellent self-evaluation resources -
Robbins, Pamela M. & Alvy, Harvey B. (2003). The Principal’s Companion: Strategies and Hints to Make the Job Easier, California: Corwin.
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Crossing the Curriculum in Physical Education
It is amazing reflecting upon my college experience to recall the number of best practice concepts that were folded into our learning experiences. One of the big projects we completed in our elementary methods course was a cross curricular unit. Each student selected a topic and then created physical education lessons that met all of the state physical education standards and reinforced concepts related to the subject chosen. At the time, I chose Native Americans and created a unit that reinforced a wide variety of concepts related specifically to Native Americans but also reinforced language arts and math concepts. It was a lot of work and required a good amount of research but it really made me realize the impact a physical education program can have on academic achievement. As I began my teaching career, I took that experience with me and began to search out ways to integrate core content in my physical education program.
There are many opportunities to reinforce core content in physical education classes. This effort to support language arts, math, history, and science should not come at the expense of teaching physical education standards and content. The key is find creative ways to reinforce the core material while keeping true to the goal of teaching the skills and concepts related to developing lifelong movers. Below you will find some suggestions on ways to reinforce core content in PE.
MATH - Skill drills in physical education provide many opportunities for students to practice counting in multiples. Student can also be given points for completing different tasks. As the points add up, students will need to use basic math skills to compute their score. Another skill that is easy to incorporate is pattern building. This can be done as station work or as part of creative relay races. Money can be used as a reinforcement for completing tasks thereby giving students additional exposure to the look of various types of currency (coins vs. bills) and how to count it. There are also many opportunities to discuss math vocabulary that relate to physical education (i.e. – angle, measurement, perimeter, distance, etc.).
LANGUAGE ARTS – When students enter the gym, a great way to reinforce language arts is to have the students read instructions for their warm-up. If doing this, keep the language simple and post three or fewer basic instructions. Physical educators can use spelling words in a variety of creative ways to help students (i.e. – jump rope spelling, word sort challenge, GeoMat spelling, etc.). PE teachers can also reinforce key vocabulary using a Word Wall.
SCIENCE – One of my favorite ways to support science was to perform experiments in physical education class. The practical use of experimentation vocabulary when learning about heart rate or burning calories is a great way to reinforce these important science concepts in physical education class. There are also many opportunities to highlight science related vocabulary that is used during PE classes (i.e. – speed, friction, angle of trajectory, fulcrum, lever, aerodynamics, etc.). There are other awesome activities that use student knowledge of science concepts (i.e. – Habitat Survivor (dodging and fleeing), Evaporation (tossing flying discs at a target), Rocket Launcher (striking and catching pool noodles), etc.).
SOCIAL STUDIES – Social Studies is made up of a variety of sub-disciplines like civics, economics, history, and geography. Each discipline has unique vocabulary that can be highlighted in physical education classes. If organizing students into squads or teams, using history vocabulary as team names is a simple way to reinforce the terms (i.e. – Presidents, important Native America tribes, important historical battles, famous Black Americans, etc.). There are also many opportunities using creative activities that are specific to social studies content (i.e. – anything that deals with the Olympics can be connected to Greece, Chinese jump rope has a natural connection to the history of China, etc.).
The key to crossing the curriculum is using the resources available to you at your school (other teacher and/or your administrators). For me, it has always been pretty simple because my wife is a 5th grade teacher. In many ways, her knowledge and expertise with the core content has helped me be a more effective physical education teacher. I realize that this may not be your situation but I also know that there are many teachers in your school that would be more than willing to provide ideas on ways that you can help their students be successful.
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Break the Ice! Team Building 101
When I was in college, I was part of an amazing Swimming and Diving team. My first year on the team, we won the university’s first conference title which was an impressive feat. After the team won the title, our head coach announced his retirement and my diving coach decided to move on as well. There were many questions about the future.
After meeting the new coaching staff, our concerns were quickly put to rest. They had a fresh approach to coaching and “building a team”. More time was focused on goal setting and working as a unit. We had meetings that focused on getting to know each other, team challenges, and goal setting (team and personal). We learned to trust and rely on our teammates and to value everyone’s contributions no matter how big or small. Most importantly, the change in approach fostered leadership and accountability for every team member. At the time, I didn’t realize the process or the end goal, but l can certainly remember the impact. We won our second conference title that year and broke the conference scoring record. Looking back on that experience, made me realize the true power and impact of effective team building.
Team building is one of the most under-utilized instructional strategies in our schools. Effective team building fosters a sense of trust and community and will have a positive impact on student academic performance and faculty/staff effectiveness. They say that there is no “I” in TEAM but there is “ME”. Too often, students and faculty members fall into the “ME” trap which negatively IMPACTS performance. The focus of quality team building is to turn that “ME” into “WE” and build a community where individuals value honesty, support, collaboration, communication, and trust. Through proper team building opportunities, participants learn to listen, praise & encourage others/self, communicate, make decisions, resolve conflicts, take appropriate risks, and challenge themselves.
Let’s take a look at effective team building strategies that can be employed to promote a sense of trust and community for the classroom, physical education, and faculty & staff. It is important to share the benefits of team building with the participants. The participants need to understand why team building is being used and how the activities will help them. Setting the stage prior to participation is often called the “briefing”. During this time, the leader sets the hard limits for the group, classroom management and safety rules. In addition, the leader also will provide the group with goal setting information, clarifications, and background information. When the activity begins, the leader can provide challenges, additional instructions/interventions, and/or general guidance. At the end of the activity/session, the leader should take some time for closure. In team building circles, this is known as a “debriefing”. During the debriefing, the leader asks questions to generate thought process that focuses on what the group did, what they accomplished, what lessons were learned, and how learning can be transferred to daily life. Leaders will often ask, “what, so what, and now what?” As the facilitator, it is always important to keep in mind that without trust, success will be limited; if there is no fun, there is no motivation; if there is no challenge, there is no opportunity for growth.
The real question for most teachers is how can I use this to positively impact my classroom, gym, or school? There are many simple ice breaker activities that can be used to help your students get to know each other (5-part Handshake, Gudag, Look, Olympic Rock-Paper-Scissors, etc.). It is recommended that teachers use these types of activities in the beginning of the school year to help build a community (this also works great for school faculties). Once students get to know each other, the teacher can then introduce small group or large group challenges (Flying Fish, Group Juggle, Beat the Bell, Knots) to develop a sense of teamwork and foster positive cooperation, collaboration, and communication among classmates. The challenges are excellent movement breaks for students that have a distinct purpose. It is important to have clear cut rules for participation in all of these activities (as mentioned previously).
There are other fun ways to engage students, parents, and faculty members. GeoCaching, which is essentially a GPS scavenger hunt, is a great activity to foster team building and communication. With access to smartphones, this activity is more accessible than ever. With a little time and patience, it is simple to create geocaches for groups to find on school grounds. Another concept that is very popular is the Amazing Race. During this activity, participants are given a list of tasks to complete (take pictures of certain objects, answer questions, collect objects, etc.) in order to “win” the race. Often, the tasks are ordered differently for each team to add to the challenge. The team that completes the task list first wins the challenge. Another option is to create a team obstacle race. These types of races have become more popular as the popularity of CrossFit has increased. Commercial races like the Mud Run, the Warrior Dash, and the Color Dash (available as a fundraiser for PE through Gopher) have capitalized on the popularity of these new obstacle/fitness style races. Schools can come up with creative ways to incorporate this concept to promote physical activity and team building. Have you done anything like this at your school?
There are lots of great materials and resources for team building activities and exercises. The list is actually too long to list without missing something impactful. I suggest searching the topic via the internet or visiting these three websites: www.pecentral.org, www.pa.org, and www.peuniverse.com.
SOURCE: Cowstails and Cobras II, A Guide to Games, Initatives, Ropes Courses, and Adventure Curriculum by Karl Rohnke
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Tips and ideas for finding & using grant resources for your PE program!
When I first started teaching almost two decades ago, I came into a school that had an established physical education budget. Each year, all of the Resource Staff (music, art, PE, media, and computer) turned in a “wish list” to our principal for approval. It was generally accepted that we each had $300-$500 to spend each year. If there was a need for a “big ticket item,” we could make a special request and it would be handled on a case by case basis. Over time, the money started to get a little tighter. Budgets grew smaller and we (the Resource Staff) were encouraged to find other ways to purchase equipment. In physical education, we supplemented some of our funding by hosting a Jump Rope for Heart event each year which helped.
About ten years ago, I decided to try my hand at grant funding and never had to look back. There are many grant opportunities that are available to health and physical educators. Sadly, many teachers do not take the time to apply for grant opportunities. Teachers give lots of reasons for not attempting to complete a grant application;
- I don’t know where to find the grants.
- I don’t have time to complete the grant.
- I have never done a grant before.
- Grant applications are too challenging to complete.
A wise teacher once told me, “You will not win every grant that you apply for, but you will certainly never win a grant if you never apply.” That philosophy has paid dividends over the years. I have definitely not won every grant but the equipment closet at my school has grown and my students have been the beneficiaries of the efforts.
Let’s focus on locations for finding grants. An internet search will help get you started. You can also visit some of the websites below to find health, physical education, and wellness grant opportunities. In many cases, grant applications have gotten more simplistic to encourage participation and competition for each grant. Many state AHPERDs are also trying to find ways to offer grant opportunities as a service to their membership.
As mentioned previously, grant applications have gotten more user friendly to encourage application submissions. That being said, it is very important to put in a little planning time prior to completing an application. Here are some specific things to consider when getting ready to apply for a grant. First, always read the entire grant application. There are many requirements that may influence your decision to move forward with the application (e.g. – matching requirements, non-profit status, certifications or endorsements that are needed, etc.). If your school or school division does not meet those requirements, you will be wasting your time moving forward. Second, once you have reviewed the application, check with your administrative team before continuing. Administrative support is critical when applying for grants. Administrators have a better understanding of school policy and finance. Their knowledge and input can increase your chance of success and ensure that they are on-board. Third, come up with a plan and share it with others. Many of the grants available today have multiple components. The components may include nutrition, physical activity, wellness, etc. If others in your building will be impacted by the grant, make sure you have the support you need to make the grant a success. It is important to remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Fourth, take advantage of “experts” in your building or school district. There may be other teachers in your school or district with previous grant writing experience that can serve as a mentor or help you with a grant proposal. Some districts have grant writers who are a wonderful resource that can provide insight and support. Remember that grant writing is not “easy” and that there are no guarantees to receiving funding, but if you focus on planning and collaboration your chances of success will increase.
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Field Day Fun!
When I first started teaching 18 years ago, one of the biggest challenges was planning for my first Field Day. Five years of college (changing your major your junior year will often extend your stay at a college) did nothing to prepare me for the planning and logistics of putting on a field day at my school. Fortunately, my predecessor had left me some information for Field Day so that I could continue the tradition that she had started. I inherited a competitive Field Day. There were 10 stations and each student competed in 3-4 stations and tried to score points for their class. Some activities were individual while others were team challenges/ relay races. About three weeks prior to the Field Day, students would practice the events and then select their top choices. After two years of dealing with poor sportsmanship (mostly by teachers and parents) and wasting instructional time to prepare for the events, I decided to scrap the Field Day plan that I had been using and re-think my approach to organizing and planning a Field Day.
I decided that a cooperative field day that focused on student participation and teamwork made more sense to me and better fit my philosophy as an educator. As I began organizing this new plan, my biggest concern was how it would be received. After completing a successful “new” Field Day, my concerns were put to rest because everyone loved the new approach especially my administration. As the school expanded over the years, we split our field day into a two day event to reduce the number of students on the field. Although the original plan has changed some from year to year, the all-inclusive, team concept has remained.
Below, you will find some tips that might give you some new ideas how to improve the logistics of your field day.
1. Volunteers are a critical consideration. Fortunately for my school, we are adjacent to our feeder high school. Originally, I reached out to a friend who was the ROTC instructor at the school but a better fit for getting student volunteers turned out to be the lead guidance counselor at the high school. She has been able to identify students with excellent academic standing who now serve as our primary volunteers. It is important to note that in my state, Virginia, all students must now meet a volunteer requirement to graduate which makes using the students a win-win. Another great source for volunteers over the years has been the military. If you live near a military instillation, many of the personnel are encouraged to serve in the community as volunteers. Working a field day is a great way to demonstrate leadership and a commitment to serve the community. If these two options are not available, you can always use your parents (PTA/O) or reach out to local businesses in your area. As a side note, it is always nice if you can provide your volunteers with cold water, a snack, or even lunch if your budget allows. It is a real simple way to say thank you for making you look good by running all of your stations.
2. Scheduling your date and time is very important. Most field days take place at the very end of the year (many during the last week of school). Getting your dates on the calendar as soon as possible is a good start. Planning your schedule for the actual date(s) is important too. Will all of the students be out at the same time or will you split up your groups? How long will each group participate (1 hour, 3 hours, all day)? We always scheduled at least 3 hours for our field day so that students would have plenty of time at each of our 10-12 stations. Will your students travel independently or will they be grouped (by class)? We always have our classes stay with their classroom teacher during field day. We are able to track down student much easier because all the groups follow a station schedule throughout the field day.
3. Activities that are selected can impact the success of your field day. Some schools have a Field Day theme each year which I think is a fun and engaging idea (Pirate Day, Survivor Challenges, Wipeout, the Field Day Olympics, Field Day Rodeo, etc.). If planning for a theme, make sure you connect each activity with your theme to create a cohesive field day. Below are some additional tips to use as a guide when thinking about your activities.
- Be Creative - There are lots of ways to use equipment to mimic an activity so that the station connects with the theme. If you need station ideas, use websites like www.pecentral.com or ask faculty members for their input.
- Keep It Simple - Due to time constraints, the station leaders may not have a lot of time to explain each station. Keeping the activities simple will allow for maximum participation and fun.
- Collaborative vs. Competitive – If you volunteers are judging performances, you are putting them in an awkward position especially if they need to make judgment calls. Avoid this issue by involving all students and focusing on teamwork and collaboration rather than winning or losing.
- Safety Comes First – Safety should be the primary consideration when planning station activities. I have been to field days where students were riding tricycles but were not wearing helmets or were wearing them incorrectly. Protect yourself and your school from legal issues by thinking through your station activities. If you are not sure about an idea, double check with your administrators.
- Water or No Water – Our field day is a three plus hour adventure that starts in the early morning. Because of the time of year, it often starts out relatively cool but starts to warm-up considerably by 10 A.M. Thankfully large sections of our field day area has some cover from the sun but having a few water activity stations helps cool our students off and refresh them throughout the 3-hour session. We remind all students that they must wear tennis shoes the entire time (no flip-flops, no bare feet). We also encourage students to bring towels with their names on them. Before deciding to include water, make sure you consult your administrators and have some basic rules in place to make the activities fun and safe for all.
4. Breaks are an important consideration on Field Day especially if you are planning to have all students active at each station. In our master schedule, we include at least two water breaks for every class. These breaks can be used to stop by our water station (drinking only) and snack breaks. Some schools also sell snack and treat items during the break times as a way to fuel the students and make a little money to offset field day expenses. Again, this is another discussion that should be held with your administrators prior to planning snack sales.
5. Organization is the true key to success. Plan your date early and make sure it gets on the calendar. Plan your activities early to ensure that you will have the equipment you will need. Set your schedule and make sure that it works. There is nothing worse on field day than have three classes at the same station at the same time. If volunteers are running your stations, activity task sheets with instructions will be very helpful. If planning snack sales, coordinate with the individuals who will be selling early so that they will understand the plan. Make sure you plan the “menu” and advertise it to the students early. Prepare your field day letter for parents in advance and make sure it is reviewed by your administrative team. Send the parent letter and schedule out in plenty of time for parents to plan to attend and watch their children.
Check out these Field Day supplies to get started!
Continuing the Conversation:
What are your favorite field day activities to get kids moving?
What are your biggest challenges with field day?
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It's a New Year... How about a S.M.A.R.T start for your students?
It’s a New Year…How About a S.M.A.R.T. start for your students?
This is my inaugural blog so I thought I would focus on a timely topic as we begin 2014…New Year’s Resolutions. We all know and understand the basic concept behind a New Year’s Resolution…come up with something that you can do, or stop doing to improve you in the New Year. On principle, I really like the idea but the realities of the success of this “magical self-improvement effort” are tenuous. This whole concept all boils down to goal setting. For years, like many people, my quest to complete a New Year’s Resolution ended in failure. In 2001, I decided to try something different, can you say S.M.A.R.T. goal? I wanted to exercise more and lose a few pounds so I decided to train for my first ever “road race”. In early January I signed up for a local 8K (5 mile) race. I did some research for this New Year’s Resolution and found an 8K training program that would get me ready in the 3 months I had to prepare. I printed out a calendar and kept track of my progress until race day. Over the 3-month span, I lost over ten pounds and felt the best I had in years. I was hooked! I continued to up the distances until I completed my first marathon in October. For the first time, my New Year’s Resolution was a success because of the way I set my goal and kept track of my own progress.
After my own personal success, I started using the concept of the New Year’s Resolution to teach goal setting using the S.M.A.R.T. goal concept each January. With primary age students, I keep the concepts simple. We talk about things that their parents have mentioned (they are going to exercise more, stop smoking, stop drinking sodas, etc.). We discuss how to turn those open-ended goals into S.M.A.R.T. goals (see the S.M.A.R.T goal sample). We also discussed practical ways to set measurable goals to increase the chance of success. Having students write down a personal goal (with help) and share it with parents is a great way to reinforce this important concept.
With the older students (4th and 5th graders), we focused on fitness. We pulled out the fall fitness test scores and talked to the students (once again) about the importance of fitness and living an active lifestyle. Based on the fitness data, we decided to focus on improvement using the PACER test (FITNESSGRAM®). Using a 4x6 index card, we created a simple form so that students could track their progress and set goals as they perform the Pacer test each month until they took the final test in May. Each month, the students set a new goal and try to improve or maintain their previous score.
Goal setting is a critical concept to teach students. Not only is it a foundational skill for improving personal fitness, it also is a great lifetime skill that can be used in many different areas. Physical education teachers have many opportunities to teach concepts and skills (like goal setting) that will have a positive impact on student development.
So, the question is…What is your New Year’s Resolution and how can you help your students learn about this important goal setting opportunity?
Effective goal setting starts by being S.M.A.R.T.
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable/Achievable
R – Realistic/Relevant
T – Timely
Check out the Gopher PE Blog more tips, ideas and trends!
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