PE: More than playing games

On the same wavelength stemming from my last blog post “Where I stand: Team Sports in PE“, I was concerned when I read an article by Sean Powers entitled “Weighing P.E. Amid Education Funding Shortfalls“.  As with many locations in the United States (and Canada), schools are being forced to make the hard decisions concerning hiring physical education specialists in elementary school vs. getting elementary school generalist teachers teach PE in addition to the rest of their course load due to lack of funding.

One teacher was quoted in the article as saying:

“P.E. is sort of you go into a big room, and you have to use a larger voice usually, and you’re trying to organize a game, which is a different thing than trying to organize a lesson,” she said. “And so that mindset has to change, and that juggling is difficult to learn. That’s one of the reasons we pair up.”

I have no problems with teachers teaching multiple content areas as long as they have a foundation in understanding the different subjects, understand underlying pedagogy, methodology and management needed to accompany teaching various subjects.

Physical education isn’t about “organizing games”, “(using) a larger voice”, and “(going) into a big room”. Just about anybody can do that.  Physical education is about providing students with skills they need to become happy, healthy, physically active, fit, well, socially competent, responsible and respectful people who have had experiences in a wide variety of physical activities, venues and social settings.  Not just anybody can provide students with all of that while carefully selecting developmentally appropriate activities that support the PE curriculum.

There are many of us PE teachers out there who work our butts off planning, organizing, and creating valuable, worthwhile units and lessons (not just games) to support the growth, learning and development of our students in meaningful ways.  Although games do have an important role to play as they can help students achieve lesson and unit goals if carefully selected to meet standards and benchmarks.

That is not to say that there aren’t amazing generalists out there, I know there are.  With solid foundations in a multitude of content areas, the right person can do an amazing job. So I don’t want to sell these people short or minimize generalists.  They can do more than I can. I only hope that if school boards decide to have generalists teach physical education, that they are supported with PD help in the foundations of PE.

It maddens me when content areas like art, music and physical education get the short end of the stick and are cut from schools.  These subject areas are so vital and important  to a student’s growth and development in so many ways. Although I am not an accountant and do understand that cuts are often necessary to be able to continue to provide any type of education. It also maddens me when people think that PE is just playing games and running around without purpose.

So for all those hard working phys-ed teachers out there, I’ve got your back. We’re not dumb jocks. We care about our students.  We are passionate about our content area. We teach with purpose and with a plan.

We do more than just play games.

Ultimate Frisbee Golf. Photo by Liz Halina CC-BY-ND-NC

Ultimate Frisbee Golf. Photo by Liz Halina CC-BY-ND-NC

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Where I stand: Team Sports in PE

I  love social media.  I use Facebook to keep in touch with my family and friends, Google+ to connect with a variety of people on multiple interests, and Twitter to connect with other PE teachers, especially those of us who are self-proclaimed “PE Geeks”.  Social media has been a great way to expand ideas and share accomplishments and viewpoints.

Today, while flipping through my Twitter feed, I came across a retweet about an article posted on Slate entitled “Dodgeball Should Not Be Part of Any Curriculum. Making kids play team sports in PE is neither healthy nor educational“, by Jessica Olien.

I don’t usually get upset over articles, nor do I get involved in the long winded back and forth bickering from the general public, but this article, and many of the comments that followed, got me stewing.

Physical Education has changed so much since I was in school over twenty years ago.  I agree it has changed a lot in the last five years, as Matt Head (OneOldKid) indicated.

My educational philosophy for my physical education classes encourages life-long physical activity, physical and emotional safety, teamwork and leadership skill development, collaboration, risk-taking, personal growth and responsibility, wellness and fun.

What types of activities do I use in my classroom?

Fitness based activities based on the four components of fitness (cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength and flexibility) such as pushups and jogging are included.  Physical fitness is an important part of being a healthy, happy individual.  The focus of these activities is not on how many you can do, or how far you can go, or how fast you can do it, but setting personal goals, creating individual growth plans, analyzing that growth, and re-evaluating goals and this can be done in a remarkably diverse way. Fitness activities are also snuck into warm up games to make them fun.  Not many 12 year olds (or adults for that matter) enjoy doing push ups just for the sake of doing pushups.

Individual activities I include are yoga, cycling, swimming, hiking, gymnastics, cross country skiing and orienteering.  Trying a variety of activities that students are likely to do as an adult is an important part of figuring out who they are as individuals.

Team activities can encompass horseshoes, bacci ball, wall climbing, dance, canoeing and golf.

Team sports certainly have a place in physical education.  Net games, such as badminton, tennis, and volleyball, teach teams (or pairs) how to work together to achieve a goal (work together to keep the ball up for example) and encompasses communication skills, gross motor skills, and camaraderie.  Invasion games, like basketball, water polo, hockey, netball, and ultimate frisbee, teach a wide variety of skills including those that are physical (passing, catching, creating space, movement on a field, running, changing direction, shooting, etc.), but also communication, listening, collaboration, inclusion, goal setting, strategic planning and leadership skills. It’s not about scoring the most goals with the ball or puck to beat the other team.  That should be left to the athletics team.

Students at all levels need the opportunity to have free time to choose activities and interact with each other with little direction from the teacher to allow for “real” social interactions to occur, with the exception of instances where personal physical or emotional safety are in question.

The key is to create a non-competitive, supportive, inclusive, cooperative classroom.  And it’s really, really hard to do.  It takes training, patience, love, strength, and more patience.

I am upset by some of the comments made by people in response to the article (like those from RejectPEandAbuse) for two main reasons: the unfair opinion towards PE teachers by those basing their opinions on experiences that may have happened decades ago, and by the vast numbers of people who have been bullied in PE class.  Let me address the last point first.

Bullying, in any form, in any venue, should not be tolerated.  Teachers and schools need to have clear, upheld policies and procedures for handling bullying.  Students need to be taught how to handle bullying if they are on the receiving end of it, or if they witness it happening.  I truly feel for anyone who has been bullied and hope that we are all doing our part to help prevent it.  As for being picked last, I create teams or groups that are heterogeneous, that way no one is left out feeling bad and you get a great mix of students with each having something to contribute to the group.

Now for the first point. I try to make my PE classes as active as possible to help students lead happy, healthy lives, while also teaching important interpersonal skills, personal responsibility and respect alongside fun.  Providing a wide variety of activities, including sports, allows for students to develop a range of physical skills while exploring different interests.  Not everyone will enjoy everything, but my expectation is that you give it a fair go, set a personal goal within that unit, and reflect on your growth and experience at the end.  Do I expect all my students to go on to play professional sports, or even college level athletics?  No way.  I just hope that the majority find some sort of life-long physical activity that helps them stay well.

When teaching skills that are required to complete an activity, such as serving for badminton, I take time to work with each student to gain competency in those skills so they can enjoy the activity.  For those students with more experience or who gain physical skills more quickly, more advanced skills are taught.

I use video analysis to help those students who are having the most difficulty learning physical skills as this helps them take ownership of their learning and growth using self-analysis and evaluation. Technology integration is a fantastic tool for gaining understanding of student thinking and reflection in PE. (I have a lot to say about this in my technology blog www.coetail.com/lhalina)

There needs to be a balance, just as everything in life should be in balance.  Theory and practice, individual and team, freedom and responsibility. Team sports in PE are a part of that balance.

There are some PE teachers who still do things “old school”, just as there are math, English, social studies, and science teachers teaching the same way that things have been done since forever.  But there is an enormous growing number of us teaching new things in new ways, with passion and enthusiasm for our students happiness, well being and learning.

So for those who hated PE, and for those who do not know those of us providing students with an amazing education who are passionate about what we do, I invite you to come visit our gyms, studios, courts, fields, walls, pools, and outdoor spaces and get to know the new leaders and faces of PE.

That’s were I stand.

Photo owned by Liz Halina CC-BY-ND-NC

Photo owned by Liz Halina CC-BY-ND-NC