STEM in the Gym: Tips and Activity Ideas for Physical Education

In many schools around the country, administrators are encouraging teachers to evaluate their methods of teaching. Are we as effective as we could be at preparing our students? Administrators are encouraging teachers to find a better way to engage the students. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) has been one of many tools that has helped our teachers better prepare our students for their future. Our school believes that the jobs we are preparing our students for have not yet been created. Think about that! How are we to prepare our students for something that currently doesn’t exist? Our school has been implementing STEM lessons in the classroom for past four years. We just finished our third summer of summer STEM camps. We are into our second school year of being a Computer Science Immersion school with Code to the Future and it is has been my responsibility to include STEM in the Gym. Here is a quote from our schools’ website explaining the new initiative:

“In Kindergarten through grade two, students will balance the time they spend on computers by engaging in hands-on, high-interest lessons with manipulatives, such as Legos, in order to develop an understanding of patterns and sequences that will serve as a foundation for computer programming. Starting in grade three, students will participate in blindfolded chess to develop visual-spatial abilities that would contribute to their success as programmers. In grades four and five, students will start to learn Java, the most popular programming language in the world.” (Davis, 2018)

Three years ago, I was asked to help plan our schools first STEM camp. The plan was to have three classroom teachers teaching STEM activities in the classroom, myself teaching STEM in the Gym and our Technology Teacher engaging the students in the lab.Campers would rotate through all of us in 55-minute intervals.

The focus of my first year was Simple Machines, such as wedges, pulleys, and levers. We culminated by making a robot hand out of paper, string, and straws. The hand simulated the tendons, muscles, and bones in our hands that help us move our fingers to pick up a ball. The video for our 2016 STEM in the GYM can be found on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/CURhDLNrRqU

For our second year of STEM camp, we had a space theme throughout all parts of the camp. In the gym, our focus was how to beat gravity. We studied the weight, size, and density of PE equipment. We studied force and launch angles to give us the best way to beat gravity. Bottle flipping was just catching on, so we studied the science behind the bottle flip. Conclusion: Gravity always wins in PE. But we sure did have fun. The video for our 2017 STEM in the GYM can be found on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/hSYssy1m3Tg

For year three, we just received a grant for 15 Makey Makey boards. Makey Makey is an external circuit board that allows the students to turn everyday objects into touch pads and combine them with the internet to create fun inventive projects. I spent two months studying and researching how to implement Makey Makey into a Physical Education setting and found next to nothing. I was able to create four different stations for the first day of camp. With the campers and myself, we were able to launch ourselves into a whole new world we never expected. By the end of the second week of camp we had created 15 different stations using the Makey Makey boards.The video for our 2018 STEM in the GYM with Makey Makey can also be found on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/TSMPym-8NG8. Find 15 Physical Education activities to perform with Makey Makey here.

This school year starts my 23rd year of teaching physical education. As the number of years grows, so does my mental rolodex of teaching strategies for implementing any cross curricular content. As I mentioned before our school is in our second year of being a Computer Science Immersion school. My primary integration focus has been technology. Here are some of the ways I have been able to integrate technology into my program.

  • We are currently playing a game, inspired by Ben Pirillo, that is a spin-off of the board game Battleship. In this game players are using the floor markings and tile pieces to map out the opposing team’s battleship locations, then plan how to knock down their bowling pins. Students are mentally coding the sequence on how to move their Sprite in Scratch.
  • At the beginning of the school year, we played a game called Robot. In this game, the students work on spatial awareness. Divide students in to groups of three. One student is the robot programmer and the other two are the robots. Robots have a pretend sensor on their forehead that prevents them from walking into any harm. When danger presents itself, the robot stops and emits a beeping sound. The robot programmer must reprogram their robots to safety.
  • Last school year we warmed up with a Scratch coding activity. Students were in groups of three. Place two robots on one side of the gym and the programmer on the other side. In the middle was a plethora of noodles and rubber animal obstacles. Programmer had a poly spot with a directional arrow. Programmer had to direct his/her robot one at a time through the obstacles. Robots could only take one step at a time and only go in the programmed direction. If a robot hit an obstacle, the group’s robot “Glitched” and students had to perform five burpees.
  • Using the same directional arrow poly spots, students were divided into groups of eight and given a bunch of noodles. Groups created their own maze with the noodles. One programmer stood at the exit point of the maze while the rest of the group stood at the entrance point of the maze. The students pretended they were a Sphero Ball and the programmer had to guide their Sphero Ball through the maze by providing directional input one step at a time.
  • Showing the students how you can use technology in other avenues is also important. We have a projector on the stage that projects my iPad or laptop up on a big screen where we use various apps (Spinny Wheel, Fit Deck, vClone, BAM VideoDelay, YouTube, Switcher Studio, Go Noodle, Lazy Monster, Interval Timer, TeamShake, Plickers, Jump It, and Bowling Scorecard).
  • My students are very familiar with the phrase “There’s an app for that”. I have contacted two app developers with suggestion son how I could use their app in my class if they would change or add various parts. The app developers have been able to help me out. I shared these stories with the students on how collaboration within technology can be used.
  • We have a morning TV Show. I work with six fifth graders at a time for three weeks intervals to use WireCast software to create and broadcast our Morning TV Show to the school then we upload toYouTube for parents and grandparents.
  • We have a Camera Crew made up of fifth graders who walk around the school in the mornings with an iPad broadcasting using the Switcher Studio app what is going on in the classrooms around the school as students are getting ready for their day.
  • That same Camera Crew of fifth graders help me broadcast our school assemblies using Switcher Studio through Twitter Periscope for our families to also experience what our students are learning.
  • We have a deck of Technology vocabulary words that we put in a small kiddy pool in the center of the gym. Around the perimeter of the gym we have letters of the alphabet with exercises posted under the letters. Students partner up and travel around the gym spelling their Technology vocabulary words while exercising. We use this as a five-minute warmup before we get into our lesson.
    • Today in class I found myself pulling the student groups together and guiding them through a group strategy meeting and encouraging them to collaborate with one another. Integration is just part of what we do. It has become so natural within the flow of the lesson, that we don’t even realize what exciting things we are incorporating.

      Cross curricular integration and STEM is so much of what we are already doing as physical educators. My administrator loves it when I incorporate the same vocabulary being used in the classroom. They understand I still need to teach physical education, and for some lessons I won’t be able to incorporate cross curricular content. But when I can combine content with physical education, my administration goes crazy.

      My objective to STEM or any cross curricular content is to make sure I can keep activity time up. Regardless of what we are doing, activity time for the students must be the focus. When I’m able to keep activity time up and incorporate cross curricular content my students are very receptive. When activity time drops, the activity is a flop. They enjoy the lessons we come up with because they are engaging, active, and fun.

      My recommendation to you is to start small. Take tomorrow’s lesson and implement a STEM vocabulary word. Your students will notice, and they’ll get a kick out of it. Slowly, add more vocabulary. Next, your teachers are going to notice. Once you get comfortable, modify an activity. Now, your administrators are going to notice.Get a grant or make a request for new equipment from your PTA/PTO, and now your community is going to take notice.

      Thank you for your interest in STEM in the Gym. I hope, I was able to put you at ease and was able to give you the confidence to start implementing some cross curricular content.

      If you have any questions or if you want to chat about Elementary Physical Education, STEM in the Gym, or other cross curricular content.

      You can reach me at:

      Eric.Turrill@lcps.org; Round Hill Elementary; Round Hill, VA

      Twitter: @RHEPE1

      Website: RHEPE.com

      YouTube Channel: RHEPE


       [KL1]We do not sell these as of my proofing. Do we want to take this out?

      About the Presenter: Eric Turrill has been teaching Elementary Physical Education since 1996, and currently teaches at Round Hill Elementary in Round Hill, Virginia. He takes great pride in how his physical education program is continuously evolving. Eric believes that smiling is the international language, “Laughter is the Best Medicine, and “If you had fun, you won”. You can connect with him on his website www.RHEPE.com, Twitter @RHEPE1, or YouTube: RHEPE.

      1 COMMENT

      1. Great stuff! Some other great resources for STEM in the GYM, written by Cindy Jones, are: STEM in the Gym: Simple Machines, STEM in the GYM: Electricity & Magnetism, and STEM in Motion with Phonics.

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