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Teach like Everyone is Watching

Posted 1 year ago - by Scott McDowell

As a physical education teacher in Lake Bluff, Illinois, I had the opportunity to teach in a one hundred year old facility that housed 250 K-2 students. 

This building was unique and carried with it maintenance issues and many structural needs.  However, it had character and everyone that walked through thought is was cute and cozy.  Most unique was the space that I was given to carry out my instruction each day.  Originally the space was the common area given to the community for local gatherings such as celebrations, meetings, dances, and plays.  The “gym” had a single basketball hoop at one end and a stage at the other.  The focal piece of the room was a huge fireplace on the East wall with a beautiful mural stretched to the ceiling. 

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The room posed many limitations and required me to be creative with my teaching.  This was largely due to the fact that five classrooms and the front office (main entrance) were directly attached to the room.  This meant a variety of things throughout the day, including whole classes walking through the gym to go to areas of the school such as library, lunch, music, art, or recess.  Classroom teachers had to deal with screaming children and my music during activities, and we couldn’t throw objects at the walls because they were lined with classroom bulletin boards. 

Above all else, the most unique part of this experience was that I was visible to everyone at all times during my instruction.  Visitors that came to East School had to go through the gym to get to any other destination after checking-in with the secretary.  Every teacher in the building had to walk to the office to check their mailbox or visit the office staff.  My principal had to walk through my class repeatedly throughout the day to get to any other room or location including the district offices that were upstairs.  It required confidence to teach in such an environment and it provided extra motivation to demonstrate effective teaching strategies and creative planning within the curriculum. 

For an example of the space and what our foot traffic looked like during class, check out this PE Universe Video

Teaching at East School shaped my instruction and love for being an educator because it positioned me as a focal point of the school.  Over the years I have had the opportunity to teach in facilities that had amazing indoor and outdoor spaces for my physical education classes.  I also taught for three years without an indoor space and had to come up with creative ideas to withstand the weather conditions of Montana.  But nothing shaped my teaching as much as my time at East School where I had the daily opportunity to showcase the program to families, staff, and community members.  

No matter your circumstances, have goals that include motivating all stakeholders in physical education experiences throughout the year.  Invite staff, parents, and community to participate in your program.  Be creative as you look at your facilities, equipment, and nearby resources to determine their hidden potential.  Seek out administrative support for your teaching and begin by providing highlights of the great work you do each week.  Invite administrators into your classroom rather than waiting for them to come in during the week.  And lastly, when that class of students comes into your amazing and unique instructional space take it as an opportunity to teach like everyone is watching.


Continue reading the Gopher PE Blog for more great tips, trends, and ideas!

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The Under Construction Mindset: Home is Where the Heart Is

Posted 2 years ago - by Jessica Shawley

A recent five-month delay in gymnasium renovations tested my level of grit, flexibility, and creativity, as our department was relocated and divided between several empty science labs and general classrooms.

From start to finish it would be over a full year of interruptions. I found out that packing and unpacking a gym is like moving into a new home and can be quite the process.

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In the end, I came away with a new appreciation that quality learning can take place in a non-traditional environment.  It’s not about the facility. Your teaching “home” is where your heart is, and it is really about what you do with what you have.


Whether or not you have a traditional facility, I believe every physical education teacher can relate to the phrase: “No Gym? No problem!” as our classrooms are regularly borrowed throughout a school year for picture day, special assemblies, book fairs, or even evening activities. Our ability to remain flexible in these situations is a badge of honor in the physical education world, and creative ways in which we handle these situations could be a blog of its own. Coping with temporary setbacks or lack of facilities is an important question of mindset.


Here are five takeaways from my year “under construction” that aims to help teachers gear up for a great year no matter their environment.


1. Keep Your Eye on the Prize - Resilience & Relationships

Students are resilient and will rise to the occasion when challenged. I was proud of the way my students adjusted to the challenge of our temporary relocation.


In turn, students also need a teacher to model for them how to handle adversity and exhibit resilience when things don’t go as planned. I had a choice to make each day: complain and pout that the gym wasn’t ready yet or push through the adversity and find a way to design lessons so student learning outcomes could be achieved within my small classroom space.  


Relationships are also critical here. Success stems from our positive attitudes as teachers and our ability to build relationships with students. My relationships come first. The learning happens as a result of those relationships. The adversity the construction process threw at my program reminded me that I must never forget the importance of building strong relationships with students and colleagues. We spent a lot of time in close quarters doing active lessons, and this required a special setup and uniquely designed environment.


2. Keep It Simple – The K.I.S.S. Principle Is King

As a department, we pledged to continue to have high expectations for student learning yet remember to embrace the “keep it simple” philosophy as our temporary relocation was a new frontier for our department. I couldn’t get frustrated with myself if things weren’t as they used to be...I was in a new situation. I had to remember to be flexible and have some grace with my new reality.


3. Be In Tune With Technology

Technology and accountability are prime motivators for students. Thankfully, we use Gopher FitStep Pro downloadable pedometers. Our students continued to wear them daily, and we set realistic activity time goals all students could achieve. This helped students gauge their level of participation, and we were able to use their data for feedback of our teaching overall.


We used the computer lab for cognitive quizzes, Fuel Up to Play 60 activity and nutrition logs, and goal-setting lessons based upon Fitnessgram results. A small set of iPad Minis allowed students to use video analysis apps to learn the biomechanics of movements, record workouts, and try out fitness apps. We found online websites such as HOPSports that provided free workouts and activity breaks.


4. Be Family Friendly

Remember that you are a part of a larger community, and one goal of a quality physical education program is to help students connect what they are learning in class with the rest of the world. I called upon community partners to help me showcase to my students the opportunities available in our community and surrounding area. Students learned about local classes offered by our Parks & Recreation department and how to sign-up. The Parent Support Team helped with our physical education fun run, and I collaborated with my technology and math colleagues, which may have not happened had it not been for my relocation. I also depended upon the support of my incredible colleagues, my district department, and I began participating more in my extended social media family by joining Voxer support groups, searching Twitter, and reading SHAPE America journal articles for new ideas. Overall, this experience gave me an even stronger appreciation for my value in the larger school community and my professional learning family network both local and through social media. 


5. Be A Risk Taker – Try New Things

I knew it would be a crazy year, so I thought why not try out some new things? Little project challenges kept me going, and I embraced doing the things I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time for previously. I took on one project at a time, my colleagues also joined in on the challenge, and before we knew it, we had implemented new lessons and even new units. We found new ways to use existing technology and enjoyed the challenges our new technology brought us (iPads through grant money). We added things we could do in a small space such as juggling, balance boards, activity breaks and fitness trampolines to our curriculum. We used iPads for video analysis and fitness app reviews. I was proud of the way we found new ways to reach our student learning objectives.


Despite this being one of the more unique and challenging years in my teaching career, it was also one of the most rewarding. It is one that truly helped me see the value of having a growth mindset, a positive attitude, and an incredible professional family. I want to encourage others to look to these five tips as a foundation for embracing these types of challenges in our profession and also wish them luck!


Continue the Conversation: What “under construction” situations have you faced, and how did you handle the adversity? What went well? What could you have done to make it better? What tips do you have that can help others in similar situations?


Continue reading the Gopher PE Blog for more great tips, trends, and ideas!

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Maintaining an Outdoor Classroom

Posted 3 years ago - by Suzanne Hunter Serafin

Check out this video blog for ways to organize your Outdoor Classroom!

Suzanne uses the Mangus™ Recess Rack available Only From Gopher for her outdoor classroom!  

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Continue reading the Gopher PE Blog for more great ideas, trends and tips!

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No Gym, No Field, No Problem!

Posted 3 years ago - by Shannon Jarvis Irwin

Don't have access to your gym or field for class today?
Here are a few great activity ideas for the days where the gym and field at your school are being used by other classes or departments!


School HallwayLet’s face it; the gym is a popular place to host events other than our Physical Education classes. I cannot count the number of times our PE classes have been uprooted because of another event needing the space. Whether, it’s an assembly, a dress rehearsal for the school drama club, or Music class needing the stage, I always greet this problem outwardly with a smile and the willingness to be flexible. After all, we are all one school, right? There is no need to be upset or frustrated because it’s not going to change the fact that someone else needs the space. Internally however, I may be a little freaked out.

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Why, you ask? Because going outside is not as easy as stated. I love how everybody thinks so: “Ah, just take the kids outside and let’em run around!” Sure. It might work out sometimes, but weather is unpredictable…and plan B sometimes just doesn’t work out. Bring on plan C: “No Gym, No Field, No Problem!”  

At times, when uprooted from our gym space, I find us in the cafeteria, classroom, or hallway. Each having its own set of issues we have to plan around. So, if you find your PE classes in a similar situation, here is a list of activities for you to consider.


Stuck in the Hallway?

Hallway Foosball: Two teams of students are seated in a straight line facing opposite ways from each other. Using a ball of your choice: gator/foam, beach ball, soccer ball…I prefer a playground ball. The students try to score by only using their inside hand, and moving the ball forward in the direction their line is sitting. After a few rounds, have the students rotate in their spot switching the direction of play and hand.

Hula Hoop Chain: Two teams of students holding hands and facing each other forming two parallel human chains. Start a hula-hoop on one end of each chain. On the word “go,” students climb through the hoop maintaining their chain allowing the hoop to travel down the line to each student. The first team to get their hoop all the way through their line wins!  

Hop in a Hoop! Scatter hula-hoops around the hallway; give the students a locomotor skill, way of travel, or an exercise they need to perform. On the word “go,” students travel thru the hallway not touching any hoops performing the given movement. Call out a number and the students have to stop and find a hoop, filling the hoop with the number called. No more, no less. Once the hoop has the right number of students, students raise their hoop to their waist to prevent anyone else from entering into their hoop.  

Fitness lines: Set up 1 piece of fitness equipment or given exercise in a straight line all the way down the hall. For example in one long straight line I may have the following spaced out appropriately: Aerobic step, jump jacks, bicep curls (dumbbells), calve raises, sit-ups, push-ups, lunges, water break, jog back to start, rest 30secs. Depending on the width of your hallway determines how many fitness lines you can have. Students rotate through the fitness line moving one spot up on the signal, once students finish their way through the line they walk/jog/sprint back to the begin, rest a rotation, and then start again.  

Reaction Games: place a beanbag in the middle of partners and call out a way for the students to react. Example: Grab with Right hand, place beanbag on left knee OR have students in small groups and place a beanbag in the center. Call out different things like touch your ears, right hand on top of your head, hop up and down, students perform what is called and on the word “GO” students try to be the first to grab the beanbag.


Do you have tables in your way?

Try doing a rhythm activity using the popular cup song. This is my usual “we’re in the cafeteria today” activity. It’s simple, fun, and all you need is a cup per student. If you are unfamiliar with the cup song, YouTube would be a great resource for you. There are many different versions, it would be easier learned watching then me trying to explain it here. This activity can be done on the floor as well and afterwards, our students like to try and make up their own patterns.

Add It Together: This game is played like “rock, paper, scissor,” but it’s a game to practice math! To start have the students pair up together and sit down (if using desks, one stands and the other sits in the desk). Partners first need to determine which one will be even and which one will be odd. To begin play the students will say, “Add it together” and put up any number of fingers 1-5, then the two students add up their fingers and determine if it’s an odd number or an even number. The winner gets up and finds a new partner who is sitting down. Have older students? Change the game to Mul-ti-ply same game but students multiply the number together.

Speedstack Stations: this is another one of my go to activities when we have tables in the way. Set up a various stations and have students rotate through.


Access to technology?

I love it when I am able to incorporate technology into my PE classes. A PE in the classroom lifesaver is YouTube. There are tons of popular dance games from gaming systems where the students can follow a long. The Sid Shuffle is one of our favorites. Search for it. 

So the next time you find your PE class displaced from your gym, and weather doesn’t cooperate, smile and know you have a plan C. No Gym, No Field, No Problem!


Continue reading the Gopher PE Blog for more great ideas, trends and tips!

View more Blogs by Shannon!

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