An Idea for Phys-Ed

I love phys-ed.

I love the enthusiasm (most) children exhibit in finally having the shackles of desks, chairs, pencils, and paper abandoned for movement and sweating. I revel in the way the gym makes you feel comfortable to shout to the high heavens and escape the silence we too often demand in our classrooms. Most of all, I admire the way we accept very progressive ideas about assessment, evaluation, and achievement; no other subject has been doing observational assessment and instant feedback as a rule rather than a novelty.

I hate phys-ed. class.

I hate the seemingly immovable paradigm of ‘gym’ class. I crouch over when I think about the subtle ways we marginalize physical education in the big picture. I dislike the omnipresent gender issues that creep up when boys play with girls. Finally, I dislike the way ‘sports’ in gym class alienates many kids and causes them to literally and figuratively drop-out of gym.

As a (small ‘g’) gym teacher, I always try my best to make our physical education program as active, relevant, engaging, and equitable as possible. I’m really the furthest thing you can get to an impassioned expert in this area (and most days I would be embarrassed about the mistakes I make as a teacher in that gym), but I try my best. Here’s an idea I came up with that has been a rousing success.

We call it The Obstacle Course. In partners, students design a course that is:

  • fun
  • tests a variety of fine and gross motor movement skills
  • includes everyone
  • has everyone moving at all times

It has been so wonderful to see everyone step up and take leadership in my classes. No stickers or raffle tickets needed. These kids are trying their best to make a course that impresses the most important evaluators: their peers. In terms of assessment and feedback, it has been phenomenal. Think about it:

  1. I design a game
  2. I talk to all of you about it
  3. You tell me how I think it could be improved
  4. We play the game
  5. As we play, I notice things that work, and things that should be changed
  6. We make changes as we play
  7. You learn from my game and make yours better

The play and outright exercise has been fantastic, but it has been perhaps more special to see the collaboration and constant feedback in the gym.

If you’re stuck for an idea, try this one out. Here is the organizer I gave kids in the planning stages. Let me know how it goes.