After a lengthy process, our school is moving forward with a new timetable structure for the following year. The timetable impacts our PE programming in a number of way, summarized in the table below, for reference.
The adjustment from a full year to a semester program, alongside an overall increase in teaching minutes for each course has provided a number of new challenges, but also an opportunity to re-design the curriculum to best need the needs of our students.
Step 1 - Key Considerations
To this end, I leaned on the appropriately named article Selecting Content to Teach in High School Physical Education (Gillispie et al, 2023). The authors outline 4 key considerations to consider when selecting course content.
If we want to design a PE program that engages students and inspires them to be active in their local communities, an analysis of both of those considerations would be a worthy endeavour. We designed a survey based on the re-classification of activities recently put forth by O’Connor, Alfrey & Penney (2022) on re-thinking the classification of games and sports.
Within each category we compiled a list of all the activities available in the community that would fall within each category, as well as ones that were prevalent in our geographical context (consideration 1 & 2). We decided to include activities that we have no idea whether it was feasible for us to offer - rather than not including it, we figured if students showed interest in it, it might be worthwhile to figure out if logistically we could make it work.
We administered the survey to students based on their grade for the upcoming school year (e.g. we surveyed Grade 9 students, who will be next years Grade 10s). Within each category students selected the top # from that category they were interested in. Students also indicated which category they generally would look forward to the most.
As you can see from the table above. Our boys and girls were generally interested in the same categories of activities, albeit in different proportions. However, what was really interesting was the activities within each category that each gender wished to participate in. A curriculum with content designed for our boys would include flag football, kayaking, combatives, baseball, golf and training for sport performance. Where as a curriculum with content based on our girls interests would include; basketball, paddle-boarding, volleyball, trail-walking, skateboarding and yoga.
Step 2 - Further Categorization
Like most schools, we don’t have the luxury of programming everything we want when we want. There is a consideration of budget, facilities, teacher allocation and so on. To take this all into consideration, I put each activity onto a 3 x 3 magnetic card.
Step 3 - Mapping it Out
Finally, it came time to actually hash it out in terms of which activities would fit where. On the whiteboard, we first ranked the activities based on students' interest (shown right). Generally speaking, we wanted to ensure that in each grade level there were (i) different coloured cards thus representing a variety of activity categories (ii) that the highest ranked activities were included. There were some exceptions as even though ‘dodgeball variations’ was the most popular target activity, we weren’t really willing to build a unit around that, but would incorporate it into some fun ‘options’ days.
With two classes stacked in each period (i.e. two grade 10 classes at the same time) we wanted to leverage our ability to offer students choice, but during other units, keep students together (for social reasons) or rotate classes between two activities. The below image shows the messy version as we pieced together on the whiteboard.
Summary: The Content of PE & Meaningfulness
While we are not quite at a finished product (some fine tuning for the exact # of lessons is still required), we do feel that we've tried our best to honor designing a program that represents students interests amidst a changing contextual landscape. In my ideal world, the units would focus less on activity and more on categories or concepts that would allow multiple forms of exploration within each concept or activity category, however, the bandwidth for what would be another significant change in an already chaotic end of the school year just wasn't there.
It is important to note that while the categories proposed in O'Connor et al's article, which informed how we designed our survey, will certainly allow students to participate in content (activities) that may become meaningful to them - that is only one piece of the puzzle. For example, a student may be interested in soccer, but if during our soccer unit all we teach are tactics and skills that be used to gain a competitive advantage in soccer: then how will a student who simply wants to engage in an informal game of soccer for social reasons find it to be meaningful? In the article, the authors propose a number of example questions/outcomes that extend beyond tactics needed for winning or losing. For example, what could we do to make the competition more equal or more enjoyable? In what ways can I support the team? While the content of PE can certainly set the stage for meaningful experiences, there is still a need to align the content (the what) with the pedagogy (the how).
Justen O’Connor, Laura Alfrey & Dawn Penney (2022): Rethinking the classification of games and sports in physical education: a respect to changes in sport and participation, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy. DOI: 10.1080/17408989.2022.2061938
Olivia J. Gillispie, Emi Tsuda, James D. Wyant & Eloise M. Elliott (2023) Selecting Content to Teach in High School Physical Education, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 94:3, 11-16, DOI: 10.1080/07303084.2022.2156939