For many students, the Spartathlon (a triathlon) is the highlight of their Grade 5 year (10-11 year olds). In this years rendition, students had the opportunity to kayak, bike and run around our school campus. When it comes to traditionally competitive events such as this, I believe there are often conflicting narratives between what teacher's tell students is important, and what we show them is important through our actions (or at least there has been such a conflict in my practice).
One on one hand, a teacher may emphasize the importance of the process. Teachers may tell students that the event is an opportunity to challenge themselves and may insist they set goals of a finish time they would like to achieve. They may encourage students on the importance of doing their personal best and not comparing themselves to others. Through these discussions, teacher's aim to help students understand the value of being persistent towards their goals, celebrate the process and define success for themselves. However, when it comes time to conclude the event, what we often see celebrated is not the process, and not individual success (despite advocating for its importance in the lessons leading up to the event). Instead, what we often see celebrated is elite performance, where results from first to last are posted and students who finish in the top 3 of their gender are awarded medals, while those who may have put forth just as much effort (or even more) to achieve their goals, receive limited recognition.
For the 10th annual Spartathlon, we wanted to (or were at least willing to) experiment with a way to negotiate these seemingly conflicting narratives and ensure that what we value about Physical Education is evidenced in both ours words and actions. Below I will attempt to articulate how we aimed to apply the Meaningful Physical Education framework to this end.
PROVOCATION: The provocation for the event was the story of Team Hoyt, a father-son duo who have completed a number of Ironman Triathlons together. Rick (the son), was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth and unable to walk on his own, but that didn't stop them. After watching this video as a class we had a number of discussions related to personal definitions of success, approaches to challenges, motivations that are bigger than winning or losing, the limits (or lack there of) of human determination etc. Credit to Andy Vasily for this one way back in 2014 APPEC in Hong Kong.
LESSON STRUCTURE: Our unit leading up to the event lasted about 5 weeks (18 lessons) with the lessons divided into 3 broad categories.
In recognizing that our students have a wide range of abilities and experiences we wanted to be able to provide students with the opportunity to create an experience that was going to be meaningful to them. After students had practiced each of the disciplines about ½ way through the unit, we provided students with two primary choices listed below. I believe these represent the choices that individuals often make (formally or informally) when signing up for any sort of race event outside of school.
Distance Choice (Challenge) - Students had the option to complete a ‘single’ (400m Kayak, 1km Run, 2km Bike) or a ‘double’ where students would complete two laps / double the distance of each discipline. We were clear with students that there would be no special recognition for completing a double, and encouraged them to think about which format would be a just-right challenge for them.
Partnership Choice (Social Interaction) - Students had the option of completing either the double or single event with a partner. As a partnership they were required to start each discipline together and cross the finish line together. We had a great discussion on how having a partner may influence participation in the event. Some students gravitated towards a partnership and recognized the positive influence having a partner can have on motivation. There were a couple pairings who weren’t necessarily friends before the event, that chose to work together for that reason. However, there were also students who preferred not to have the responsibility of encouraging someone else, and preferred to work towards their goals on their own.
PERSONAL RELEVANCE (GOAL ORIENTATION)
After students had made choices, they set individual goals (or a goal with their partner). We didn’t insist that they needed to be time-based but rather asked students simply what success would look like for them. Some students' goals were related to a single discipline, such as 'kayaking with confidence', while other students wanted to focus on maintaining a consistent pace by not stopping. Some wanted to spend as little time as possible in the transitions, while others did set a time frame (e.g. between 40-60 minutes) of when they would like to finish the event. As a connection to the Team Hoyt provocation, some students dedicated their run to family members.
Students had the last couple of weeks leading up to the event to train in the discipline they chose. As teachers we supported students with technical feedback (e.g. gear shifting on hills) and for many, how to pace themselves on the run. On the day of the event, students wore a race bib that had their goal displayed on the bottom. At the concluding ceremony, the students name and their goal were announced to the parents and other students in attendance before they were presented with a medal and then took a picture on the finishers podium.
A few days following the event, students were asked to reflect on their experience. We asked them what emotions they associated with the event, and how they felt about their performance. The large majority of students had a positive association with the experience, words such as ‘pride’ and ‘good’ were often used to describe performance. Some students felt that they didn’t do as good as they could have, but nonetheless had fun along the way. Others expressed they felt very tired but were satisfied that they did their best. When asked how we might improve the Spartathlon next year, only one student asked for the event to return to its competitive ranking format.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RESULTS…
While the priority of both our words and actions was celebrating achievement of individual goals. We acknowledge that some students may be motivated by the rank and order of competition and for them, the emotions of winning and losing may contribute to a meaningful experience. With that in mind, after sharing their feelings of pride and exhaustion, we discussed with them how (if at all) the results of the event would change that? Students then received their certificate which included their times in each discipline (not a ranking), and we informed students of the fastest individual in each discipline. While I don't wish to suggest that the simple gesture of announcing fastest times equates to a meaningful experience for our most competitive students, but it was our way of honoring those students without doing harm to the experience of others.
When we decided to move forward with this plan there were certainly skeptics (ourselves included) and a couple parents (of the more talented students) questioned why there were not going to be placings announced, and maybe an eye roll over another ‘everyone gets medal’ event. However, this was out-weighed by the number of parents and students who appreciated the positive impact the new format had. What I observed as students crossed the finish line were exhausted smiles. If you asked me to pinpoint a moment this year where students expressed joy - I would say for many this was it. While there was certainly a nervous energy for some, there was no observable performance anxiety or fear of becoming last. I witnessed students who I hadn’t expected to, really push and challenge themselves. I witnessed students form new friendships through unlikely partnerships, and genuinely support and cheer for one another. No social comparison of “I was faster than you” or “I did a double and you only did a single” was overheard, and for these reasons alone - it was a worthwhile experiment.
I am fortunate to be the 'blogger' of our ES PE team and am incredibly privileged to work with two outstanding educators; Laura Boudens and Michelle Bartoshyk who have been vulnerable, thoughtful and willing to take risks as we attempt to move towards a more meaningful ES PE program. Without them, none of these events would be possible.
In addition, school alumni Kiyan Sunderji (shown below), who has completed a number of triathlons and an Ironman came to visit the G5 classes and talk to students about tips and tricks for transitions, positive self-talk during times of self-doubt and nutrition strategies. A student asked Kiyan about his ranking in his events, to which Kiyan responded "I have no idea", describing how it was about doing his personal best which helped drive home the focus of the unit/event.
All credit for the planning, organizing and execution of the ROGAINE is a credit to the passion and dedication of Dale Roth and Bruce Hendricks. The below is based on my perceptions and conversations with colleagues during the event. There are many risk management and safety considerations that go into this event, for brevity, many of these have been excluded. The purpose of this blog is not to provide every detail of the event but to examine it through a lens of meaningful physical education.
For those of you who, like me, have never heard of a ‘rogaine’ (excluding the hair growth formula for men), it is an acronym for a Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance and the culminating activity of our Grade 10 Outdoor Leadership program. The event focuses on developing leadership skills as students seek to find as many of the 29 markers as they can in 16 hours from the hours of 7pm to 11:00am the next day.
As I prepare to shift from Elementary school back to Middle/High school I find myself looking for examples of what meaningfulness might look like with older students. At some point in the early morning, waiting for another student group to check in, it became clear that the ROGAINE may be one of those activities that makes effective use of the meaningful physical education framework; the critical features and as well as democratic and reflective practice which I will attempt to articulate below.
The purpose of this overview is only to provide the reader with a basic understanding of the event for the purpose of understanding its potential for meaningfulness.
Aspects of the ROGAINE remind me very much of Siedentop’s Sport Education model. After students are formed into teams, they select a team name and develop a team cheer (The ‘Heffers’ ‘ mooooo cheer was my favourite). The students also determine roles, such as ‘lead navigator’, who takes the lead on route finding with the use of map and compass. Other student roles include ‘team mom’, who looks after the rest and nutritional needs of the ground, or the motivator whose job is self-explanatory.
A unique feature of this event are the student leaders, who were ‘survivors’ of the ROGAINE from the previous year. These student leaders work with the current years teams by leading them through team-building games, and sharing their insights learned from the previous years successes and failures as they plan their strategy. In my observation, there is a noticeable sense of camaraderie and tradition, as the experience of others is passed down throughout the years.
CRITICAL FEATURE: PERSONAL RELEVANCE
The emphasis of the ROGAINE is placed upon students building their capacity as leaders. Students are required to set an individual goal for leadership based on the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model. Some students' goals were to be more assertive by ‘challenging the process’, while others were to ‘encourage the heart’ and motivate their teammates. What I really loved about the way Dale and Bruce set up this event is that each team member was required to know the individual goals of everyone else in their group. In addition, teams established group norms for collaboration, and a team goal (such as find a certain # of markers, or to stay together as a team). While a winner of the ROGAINE was determined based on the number of markers found (and their respective point value), the reflection of the experience is not based on winning or losing but the degree to which each individual achieved their goal.
“Having an opportunity to make decisions that are relevant and meaningful and experience both the positive and negative consequences of those decision seems to be influential in students’ willingness to engage in curriculum” (Ennis, 1999)
During the ROGAINE, students are responsible for their own decision making. As a group, students develop their own strategy, they decide which markers are priorities, the order they will be found, and what route is the best option for getting there. In addition to the navigational challenge, rest and sleep are determined by the group needs. Students do not have traditional camping gear and cannot simply set up camp for the night. With the exception of the time when students are able to check in at staff stations (at least once every four hours), students are on their own, and their teacher is not looking over their shoulder to guide or ‘correct’ their decision making. While students do not have a choice over whether they do the ROGAINE or not, they do have significant choice within their learning.
I think if there is one point I wish to highlight in relation to meaningfulness is that negative experiences are not necessarily detrimental or harmful experiences. In many regards the ROGAINE is a negative emotional experience. Through fatigue, the weather, fear of the dark, sleep deprivation and the challenge of finding orienteering markers at night - students become frustrated as conflict arises between group members. It could be argued that success in the ROGAINE is contingent upon how much suffering you can endure as a team while remaining focused on the task at hand. When I observed students returning to the trailhead (16 hours after it began) many looked utterly defeated.
Earlier that night, I sat with a student leader (volunteer) assigned to our staff station. I asked her about her previous ROGAINE experience. She noted that “In the moment it was really hard and frustrating, but now it’s one of my favorite memories”. We know that meaningfulness is uncovered in retrospection, but it is harder to know just how retrospective that reflection needs to be. With that in mind, I believe the most important part of the ROGAINE is not the actual event itself but what happens after it’s concluded. Students do not simply board the bus, and go home to be left with some of those negative emotions. Instead, they stay together at a campground where the first task is to catch up on their sleep. When they wake up that evening, there is a large family style dinner, where students share the stories of their experience with one another. At this point, the previous negative emotions may begin to subside as students develop a greater sense of community through their shared experience. The next day students complete their final reflection where they consider the evidence in support of their individual leadership goal. I believe it is over the course of the 24 hours after the ROGAINE ends, that the real magic happens.
Taking the entirety of this event into consideration, it is no surprise why on the night of graduation (2 years after their participation in the ROGAINE) many students state that Outdoor Ed trips such as these, were the highlights of their school careers.
Before I get into the unit, I would like to thank Zack Smith (@mrzackpe) for the inspiration to attempt to use storytelling as a provocation for learning in PE. In addition, the wonderful Tracy Tuttosi (@Readervator), for making sense of my babble, in helping me select a book for the unit.
In one particular lesson, Annie rescues a purple bird (my students insist it was a phoenix) from a cage by passing along a bridge. Students use loose(ish) parts to make a series of bridges to retrieve the laminated birds I stuck to the wall. This problem solving task resulted in a various solution involving asymmetrical balance.
Lesson 13 - Student Reflection
My Personal Reflection
In my (biased) opinion, this was the most authentic attempt to guide students to learn to play together that my students have been apart of (I've only been teaching ES for 2 years so take that with a grain of salt). Due to the imaginative nature of the task, it was difficult to tell students exactly what to do, how to do it or roles to take. It was their creation of an idea presented from a picture book that due to resource availability, required group consensus and collaboration to bring to life. To me, the student drawings for the final task look like a bunch of scribbles on a page, but they were none the less able to articulate their vision to one another, where I would have been pretty useless at that task. Additionally, students who I would identify as being somewhat difficult to engage during other units became very eager to contribute to the group project. Early on, students would ask me for help, to lift a mat or to put a tarp roof on, and I remained fairly consistent in suggesting they ask a classmate for help. Over time students began to approach me less and less, and I rarely intervened unless something was becoming unsafe or a conflict escalated.
I was pleased with the student responses in their reflection, and not just the positives - but also that 'frustration' was prevalent for a lot of students, and that they were able to separate that from other negative emotions. Frustration is normal, and led to a lot of rich discussions about how it can feel when someone doesn't agree with our ideas, or when we aren't sure exactly what we have been instructed to do by the 'leader'. This led to more discussion about how to cope with frustration.
I am interested in learning more about non-linear pedagogy and was really intrigued in parts of the lesson where students moved in response to the provocation of the book. For example, when students build their idea of a bridge to retrieve the bird (or to cross the sea from one fort to another), students end up naturally working on their balancing skills and problem solving in an asymmetrical environment without me explicitly instructing them to do so. However that was only a few of the lessons and even thought I understand the holistic aims of PHE there is still a part of me that wonders if I should focus more on the acquisition of skills through this unit.
A few years ago, the first unit of each school year at STS was Cross Country running. The culminating event was the ES Cross Country race, where students would race at set distances (depending on their grade level). Results from 1st to last would be posted on the bulletin board outside the PHE office. For some students, this was meaningful. The thrill of competition and the pride of crossing the finish line before your peers was motivating and garnered excitement for the following years race. For others, the anxiety associated with the pressure to perform, and seeing your name near the bottom of the results list was detrimental. For them running may have become associated with thoughts of dread or embarrassment. Much credit goes to Laura Boudens (@LauraBoudens) and Michelle Bartoshyk for critically examining their own beliefs and practices in re-thinking the annual Cross Country unit/race. Laura writes about her process as part of the Meaningful Physical Education book. I've been fortunate to work with these two and build upon the great work they've been doing.
Outlined below is our approach to a unit devoted to students developing an understanding of 'Who We Are'. Through allowing students to make choices of how they engage with our campus trails and understanding the motivations behind those choices. What is not described are some of the more contextual items, such as connections with certain grade- level homeroom classes who were also looking at the trans-disciplinary theme of Who We are (IB-PYP), as well as the annual Terry Fox Run which occurred part way through the unit.
Purpose: To continue re-imagining how students engage with our campus trails, and through a process of reflection come to a greater understanding of 'who we are' as participants in PA.
Grade/Age: Grade 3-6 (8-12yr olds)
Theme: Who We Are
Central Idea: Reflecting on our experiences in outdoor physical activity can effect the connections we feel with movement.
Time: 4 Weeks (16 x 40min Lessons)
Lesson 1 - Nature Walk
In our first lesson, students walked along one of our campus trails. Students had freedom to walk at their own pace, and just needed to check in at certain points. At the end of the lesson, we debriefed on what we might like / dislike about walking.
In addition, students used a numbered/coloured sticker (i.e. #3 Red, was always the same G6 student) to identify which feature they connected with on the walk.
Lesson 2 - Orienteering / Scavenger Hunt
In our second lesson, students were given a 'Pokemon' scavenger hunt, where Pokemon cards were placed around our campus. Students received a list of hints as to the Pokemon's location, and had the class period to find as many as they could.
At the end of the lesson, students reflected on why they/someone might find a scavenger hunt relevant to their interests. Once suggestions were made, students once again used their specific sticker to indicate which they connected with.
Lesson 3 - Trail Running
For our third lesson, the task for students was to run on one of our campus trails. While students were encouraged to run, we also made it acceptable to walk when tired. Before beginning, we talked about some reasons why an individual might find running meaningful.
At the end of the lesson students once again used their sticker to select the feature they connected most with through running of which social and challenge were the most popular choices. Through offering a choice of "something else" we understood that students were often motivated to explore - to see a new trail, or all the trails within a lesson.
For the next couple weeks (about 10 lessons), students would have the opportunity to engage in a number of 'loops' or routes that went around our campus. Initially, we started with only 3 loops, then every couple lessons we would add an additional route as students became more comfortable navigating the trail system (this was a supervision/safety precaution). The progress of these additions is highlighted below (from left to right)
The Choice Board
Each day students had the choice of whether the wished to run/jog, walk or do a scavenger hunt/orienteering activity. In addition, we also wanted to encourage students to think about WHY they were making that choice. Students would first select an activity, then a route, and lastly, what they hoped to get out of it. For example, a student would choose to run the Siksika route to challenge themselves. While another group may choose to walk the Tsuut'ina loop to catch up with friends. When students returned near the end of the class they moved their magnet back to "returned" so we knew whether there were students still out on the trails.
At the end of the unit, students completed a "gallery" walk, where the choice board, their early thoughts on walking, running, searching as well as our Meaningful Experience Mural (left). Students completed the attached handout as a rough draft, intended to help them come to some concise statements about who they are as a PA participant in the outdoors.
The rough copy was used during the final task, which was to complete a video reflection answering those questions. You can listen to the audio recording of a G5 student's response below.
KEY OBSERVATIONS / TAKEAWAYS
Is there any activity in Physical Education more polarizing than dance? In my experience, it is the one activity that is as likely to be greeted by cheers as it is groans. At the end of a unit, students inevitably ask what unit is coming up next. When I told them that "next week, we will be dancing" the student responses followed an interesting, almost linear trend. In Grade 1 & 2, there was nearly unanimous excitement. In Grade 3, most students were excited while a much smaller portion seemed less enthused. However, in Grade 4 & 5, there was outright objection to dancing, as well as students who were eager to start right away. Certainly there are many factors that may influence one's attitude toward dance, or any activity. However, I was none the less interested in why there was such a major shift in student attitudes towards dance as they aged. While acknowledging that this may be simply a matter of chance, that the unique perceptions and experiences of each student in these classes just happened to result in what I viewed as a somewhat linear polarization of attitudes towards dance over time. Perhaps this pattern of changing perceptions is natural and would be observable in all activities, not just dance (dance just happened to be the first unit I've done at the same time across multiple grade levels).
My initial hypothesis was related to meaningful experience; that students in Grade 1-2 had no yet acquired enough experiences in dance (positive or otherwise), that the prospect still feels novel and exciting. Whereas the older Grade 4-5 students had perhaps accumulated enough experiences in dance, that in the case of the "anti-dancers" had been meaningless or detrimental. In a conversation with @ImSporticus he reminded me that students often become aware of their participation in comparison to others later in childhood. Perhaps the students in Grade 1-2 simply enjoy dancing because they perceive they are just as competent as their peers as long as they are trying hard. Whereas in Grade 4-5, as students begin to understand themselves in relation to others, students begin to realize that perhaps they are not as competent as their peers (despite their effort), and thus may deter a willingness to engage.
. Another theory is related identity formation. I've noticed during informal conversations with students, that students in Grade 4-5 often identify or describe each other based on an activity. For example, students often says " Student X is the parkour kid in the class" or the "gymnast" or the "artist". While very few students in Grade 3, and none in Grade 1 and 2 ever speak in those terms (to me at least). Are there ways that students identify themselves that are anti- or in opposition of an identity associated with dance?
To the point, alongside the curricular outcomes associated with these grade levels, what I aimed to do was:
1. Understand through a lens of meaningful physical education (MPE), why/how students had formed negative attitudes towards dance? If you're unfamiliar with the features of MPE. They h are below, as outlined by Beni et al (2017).
3. Do No Harm. Having followed some of the work of @coachnateb on Twitter, what I did not want to do, was further harm the relationship between students and dance. I did not want to 'force' a student to participate by leveraging their grade or any other form of threat such as calling parents. I wanted them to choose to participate on their own.
In the Beginning
At the beginning of the unit, I used the results of a survey to group students who had negative attitudes towards dance with those who had more positive perceptions for a small group discussion during which students shared what they respectively liked or disliked about dance. A reporter from the group shared out to the larger class. The opportunity to express themselves, the non-competitive environment and its uplifting nature were reasons cited for enjoying dance by the dance lovers. As this post is focused on engaging reluctant dancers, below is the list of responses as to why students did not like dance. In the sub-bullet, is a potential explanation related to the features of MPE in support of these statements.
Based on the information provided by students, I would take the following actions to attempt to address the reasons why students may dislike dance with the intent of creating a connection that would motivate students to dance. In reality, the strategies presented below were far more 'messy' during the unit.
1. Provocation - I still remember watching Andy Vasily's (@andyvasily) keynote during the first APPEC (now PHASE) conference in Hong Kong. Using the powerful story of Team Hoyt as an example, Andy shared an inspiring talk on the importance of emotionally engaging hooks to learning. If MPE is about emotional connection, this seemed like a strategy worth investing in. The video we watched was of the "Dancing Guy" who has appeared on numerous videos
2. Choreographed dance would involve group steps (during the chorus) and free dance during the verse.
Eventually we started building towards our final 'Dance Party' where I wanted to emphasize the following...
5. Personally relevant music would be selected
6. Students would have the opportunity to create their own dances
The Final Dance Party: As mentioned, I wanted the dance environment to represent one they are likely to encounter in their post-COVID future. Even if a student didn't love dance, I wanted them to be excited about attending the event. In addition to the previously mentioned disco ball, Amazon also had cheap glow sticks, with each student receiving one. During this dance party we played the songs we had learned choreographed dance moves to throughout the unit, as well as pre-mixed songs of their choosing.
This GIF was a big win. The student in the light pants who you see dancing/spinning around was one of my most reluctant dancers at the beginning of the unit. When creating his own dance to a clip of Eminem's - Lose Yourself, he said to me in private "I used to hate dance, but now I love it" ...you can't make this stuff up!
However, I can't claim that the strategies or approach I took were 100% successful. We did frame success as being personal for each individual. Success could be taking a risk, being brave or continuing to further their love and passion for dance. For the reluctant dancers, many took a risk and chose to dance, often with encouragement from a friend. While others would do so periodically depending on the song. Anecdotally, our Admin Assistant popped in to look through the gym doors and noted that she was impressed that so many students were dancing, citing the previous reluctance of some specific students. However, there was also one boy in Grade 5 that I couldn't get to engage, I couldn't negotiate with him, couldn't get him to dance to his favorite song and his reflection revealed little as to why he was so opposed to dancing. He helped record and give feedback, but wasn't interested in dancing himself. I chose not to pressure him into trying, and am comfortable in saying that at the very least - no further harm to his perception of dance was done.
At the end of the unit, students completed a "2 Stars, and 1 Wish" reflection, in which they identified two things they liked, and one thing they wished would have been different / included next time. Below is a summary of responses. There was likely some recency bias here, as the glow-stick/dance party was still fresh in their mind.
Overall, for my first time teaching dance to ES students, I was happy with the unit, and proud of the students who now have a more positive attitude towards dance. However, it was messy as lessons were adjusted each day pending my observations and conversations with students. Next time around would look to make it more coherent and as per the student request, incorporate more diverse genres of music. I guess in reality, not every student is going to have a positive connection to an activity (while no student should have a detrimental one) but I am left wondering about how I could have engaged the aforementioned reluctant student.
Finally, as a reluctant dancer myself, I would be remiss if I didn't thank my partner @missalberts11 who choreographed all the dances for me. Often dealing with my "this is too hard, teach me something easier" requests.
Stephanie Beni, Tim Fletcher & Déirdre Ní Chróinín (2017) Meaningful Experiences in Physical Education and Youth Sport: A Review of the Literature, Quest, 69:3, 291-312, DOI: 10.1080/00336297.2016.1224192
As kids around the world have sport opportunities taken away from them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What I felt my ES students were struggling with most was not the loss of being physically active but rather the loss of belonging and/or identity that the activity has provided them.
In planning for an upcoming Floor Hockey unit, I wondered if it was possible to recreate this sense of belonging and team atmosphere in our physical education class. A decade ago, I recall spending time during my undergrad learning about Seidentop's Sport Education (SE) model. If you're unfamiliar with the SE model, essentially this model aims to give a complete representation of the sporting experience and the various roles that make it possible. Teams are formed, who have their own unique cheers, logos etc. and students perform roles such as coach, manager, trainer, scorekeeper, referee etc. in addition to their participant roles. While the SE model has not been one I've utilized frequently, over the past few years as I dug deeper into the features of meaningful phys-ed, the SE model was repeatedly referenced as having positive correlations with social interaction/belonging as well as fun/enjoyment. If you're interested in reading more about it, the Complete Guide to Sport Education is a great resource. It is worth noting that in this unit I had not remained entirely faithful to SE model but rather modified elements in consideration of my context.
In addition, as part of the Alberta Teaching Quality Standard (TQS), teachers must apply foundational knowledge of First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities to promote greater intercultural understanding and to acknowledge the strength and diversity of FNMI communities. Having taught the previous 8 years abroad, I had little understanding of how this is to be achieved (my perception is that it is commonly taught through a unit on FNMI Cultural Games or Dance).
Taking all of this into consideration, my goals were to utilize the Sport Education model to engage students in a 8 Week (18 x 35minute lessons) Floor Hockey unit in which students would consider how they could contribute to the sense of belonging of others as well as develop a greater understanding of First Nations communities.
To frame the unit, students would be competing for the Lacquette Cup, named after Brigette Lacquette - the first First Nations woman to compete for Canada's Women's Olympic Hockey Team. Bridgette grew up as a member of Cote First Nation, and as a young child participating in hockey was not always made to feel like she belonged as competitors would often make racially insensitive insults targeted towards her First Nation status. Through the encouragement of her father and her own persistence, Brigette continued to participate and went on to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. In addition, while I did not engage students in discussion related to the gender inequality that exists in hockey, between the PWHL, NWHL and NHL etc. some of my students have already begun to see hockey as an activity for boys. With this in mind, I hoped using Brigette's story as a focus for the unit would also provide students with an example of a strong female athlete and draw more attention to the women's game.
These lessons were devoted to 'fun' floor hockey related activities designed to give students as much skill practice as possible. This included variations of common games such as British Bulldog, Sharks & Minnows, King Pin etc. This also allowed me time to complete a baseline assessment of each students skill level so I could ensure teams were evenly matched later on. During this time, 'inclusion' and 'belonging' were introduced and defined with each class. At the end of this introductory phase, students shared how they felt they might be able to contribute to the belonging of others.
During these lessons, students participated in small sided games with an emphasis placed on contributing positively to the belonging of others as stated above. We used a variety of tactical challenges/constraints such as defenseman and forwards being restricted to their half of the court and talked about reliance upon teammates. This time was also devoted to introducing the class to Brigette Lacquette and the challenges she faced from competitors who tried to make her feel like hockey was not a sport for her.
The people of Cote First Nation were originally a group of Saulteaux people who settled in Saskatchewan near the Manitoba border. The Saulteaux are part of the Anishinnaabe culture who have 7 Sacred Teachings (love, humility, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom and truth) sometimes referred to as the 7 Grandfathers, which are to be applied in our daily lives. These 7 Teachings are also represented by animals, four of which, would serve as our teams for the Lacquette Cup. In their newly formed teams, students wrote on a handout how they could uphold the values of their animal during Floor Hockey (i.e. Buffaloes, how will you demonstrate respect throughout the tournament?)
During the next lesson, students determined the roles for their team, which were listed below.
These lessons were devoted to team skill-based practices 'Team Practices', where the stick-handling and passing coaches created drills for their teams (it was a lot of slow moving around pylons) and teams participated in exhibition games.
During this time we also discussed what is often referred to in many First Nations cultures as the 'Medicine Wheel', and the importance of the circle in promoting equality. During tribal councils it is tradition to sit in a circle formation to represent the equality of power. Often, an 'object of power' or 'talking stick' is used, so that only the person holding the object is permitted to speak while others are active listeners. This was the purpose of our logo designers. The puck they designed would serve as the object of power for the teams sharing circle. At the end of each game, students would gather in their sharing circle and either discuss the prompts shared on the board or share something else they were feeling at the time. In comparison to small group strategies I would normally use, I hoped the addition of the talking object would create a greater sense of belonging amongst the team, with participants feeling their voice was heard, as opposed to vocal / experienced students dominating the conversation.
Lessons 13 - 15 (Round Robin)
Students participated in a 4 Team Round Robin, playing one team each day. Prior to beginning the tournament, students created a team cheer that they would perform before the start of each game.
At the conclusion of each game as part of the sharing circle, students would complete an assessment relating to sportsmanship and inclusion.
Lesson 16-17 (Playoffs)
As we drew closer to the championship, students were becoming increasingly excited, eager but also nervous at the same time. Outside at recess one day, I found a student (right) who had brought his dad's coaching board to school and was laying out the 'winning' strategy for his teammates. However, a couple of their classroom teachers mentioned that a few students had a difficult time coping with losing. With this in mind, before the single-elimination playoff began we watched a clip from the gold medal game at the Pyeongchang Olympics (a game I was fortunate to be at). After winning gold for 4 consecutive Olympics, Canada goes to sudden-victory shootout against Team USA. I set the scene with a few slides and then clipped to together the video of the final shooters for both teams. Spoiler Alert - Canada loses. I found the Olympic footage from the game and clipped together the reactions of the Canadian players (upset, but respectful) and we had class discussion about how to lose gracefully and maintain composure in difficult situations. It was a timely lesson, as a couple of the semi-final match ups went to overtime, there were tears, but the students did maintain their composure and congratulated their opponents on the victory.
Eventually, the champions were crowned, and the students were excited about being able to keep a physical 'Lacquette' Cup (made of a tin cup from Dollarama with a base of 2 hockey pucks) in their classes.
The day after the championships concluded, students gathered in their last sharing circle and shared what they were proud of (as an individual or a team), memorable moments etc. We conclude with an 'All-Star' game, which was just random teams. We spoke about the spirit of the All-Star game as being non-competitive and a celebration of achievements. At the conclusion of the game, we reviewed what we had learned about inclusion and belonging and why we should never treat people the way Brigette was treated as a kid.
Of course, when there are notable events in professional sports, they often appear on Sportscenter. Using a green screen and some clips from the games, I put together a short Sportscenter video which was shared on the school-wide morning announcements.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure class cohorts do not mix during recess, our school divided our outdoor spaces into 4 recess zones. During supervision, I noticed that students seemed to lack activity ideas in the zones which had less play structures (Zone 3 & Zone 4 have playgrounds) and thus I decided to conduct a recess unit hoping to expand students movement opportunities during recess time. An additional COVID-related challenge was that students did not have access to the same amount of equipment they might have traditionally had at recess.
Taking all this into consideration, I planned to introduce skipping / jump rope as the first activity with the intention of aiding students in exploring 'just-right' challenge. Our school has dozens of skipping ropes, so we could afford for classes to have their own set to avoid sharing between cohorts, and every recess zone had a place to skip.
Over the first few lessons I used skipping challenges found on an the AppStore which were already categorized by level 1,2,3... etc. I started all students off at the green challenges as we discussed the importance of 'just-right' challenge and what it felt like using the goldi-locks metaphor. At the end of the class students made a selection from a hand sanitizer bottle which was labelled 3-2-1 to represent how difficult they found the challenge that day.
As students became more comfortable with skipping, I began differentiate the challenges and allowed students to choose each day.
Of course, Recess is a time that allows for considerable student autonomy and I wanted to honor that as we continued through the unit, while continuing to expose students to other recess options. Much to my surprise, students were not very familiar with 4-Square. Like Skipping, there was opportunities to play 4-Square in a variety of recess zones. For the next 4 lessons, students progressed through various four-square challenges at their own rate. We started with 2-square variations, and encouraged students to catch the ball if needed. We discussed how to play four-square competitively but provided students the option to play socially as well.
For the following few lessons, students now had a choice, similar to the choices they had at recess, four-square or skipping? Students were not confined to their choice, and often switched between skipping and 4-square challenges in the same class period. Regardless of the activities they chose, we continued to discuss optimal / just-right challenge as we went. Each student had a pre-assigned magnet with a number on it, and each class had their own colour. At the end of class students were asked to reflect on the question written on the bored and place their magnet.
The third (and final) recess activity that was introduced was 'wall-ball'. Some students were familiar with wall-ball but it was primarily a focus of students in Zone 2, where the wall was. In observing students at recess, I noticed that often students played 'whole class' or very large group games (12-15 students) and when a student was eliminated, they sat out for a long time. In the gym, the walls were divided into 7 different wall ball courts where we practiced some wall-ball lead up activities (small group, cooperative, modifications allowed). A few lessons later when it came time to choose (now) between skipping, four square or wall ball, I asked students playing wall-ball how it felt to be eliminated early from the game at recess? Not surprisingly students had a lot of negative feelings towards the experience. It was a simple transition into asking students to think of their own 'special' rule that allowed players to re-enter the game. Interestingly, each class came up with something slightly different, some added a tossing the ball into a basketball net as a 'revival' of all players, while others added a fitness component (i.e. 5 push ups and re-enter the game). At this time, we began to discuss how challenge was related to fun. As shown in the photo below (right) we placed fun on the vertical axis, with challenge on the horizontal axis. It appears that a number of students found less challenging activities more fun, which is perhaps not surprising as based on their responses they are associating the degree of challenge with their confidence in their own abilities.
At this point it seemed we had been using the magnets for a while and I wanted more qualitative information from the students. Towards the end of the unit, students wrote on a piece of paper which recess activity they found the most challenging and why. There was really no consistency in responses and students found each of the activities challenging for different reasons. However, I selected a few of the responses (anonymous to their peers), which described a challenge related to social interaction (i.e. a lack of inclusion or clarity on the rules). As a class we discussed the implications of those feelings for recess time and how we could mitigate them. Students described the importance of extending play invitations to their peers and many took on leadership roles to ensure joiners to the group were briefed on the rules (often times, I had no idea what modifications or rules students were playing by).
At the conclusion of the unit, students completed a video reflection (at a set up iPad station). Where they responded to questions of their choosing
Despite the allure of the snow, I was pleased to see that a number of students continued to skip (or at least attempt it) in the snow.