Teaching H&PE for the First Time? Don’t Panic! Help is Close at Hand!
If you’re going to be teaching Health and Physical Education (H&PE) for the first time this September, you may have a few concerns.
After all, compared to your cozy classroom, the gym can seem like a big, echoing, empty space... but, never fear! Ophea is on your side! Between our step-by-step lesson plans, helpful resources and the advice below from some seasoned H&PE professionals, you’ll soon see that the gym really isn’t such a scary place after all. In fact, brace yourself... because if you go in with the right attitude and some solid planning, it’s actually going to be a whole lot of fun.
The Gym: Think of it as a much bigger classroom.
“I think that, for many generalist teachers, the gym feels like a very scary environment,” says Andrea Häefele, an H&PE specialist teacher at Highgate Public School in Markham, Ontario. “You’re exposed. You can’t stay behind a desk.” The good news is that there’s no reason to be afraid. There are far more similarities than differences between the classroom and the gym than you might imagine. “You’ll need to do the same good planning you already do in the classroom,” says Brenda Whitteker, a consultant at Ophea and retired teacher with 32 years of experience. “And you’ll use the same lesson format. The minds on, the action, the consolidation along with a warm up and cool down.” In many ways, a well-run gym should even look like a classroom. “If you walk into my gym you see posters and assessment and anchor charts on the walls,” says Häefele. “The kids know where to go to find a partner. It’s very orderly and planned, which is what all classrooms should be.”
Lesson Planning: Give every activity a purpose.
The most significant difference between the classroom and gym, of course, is that you’ll be keeping students active throughout as much of the class time as possible, and safety is a top priority. And while the active nature of H&PE requires some different types of planning (i.e., making sure you have the right equipment, planning strategies for assessment while on the move, and that you know and follow safety guidelines), you’re also sure to find many similarities to classroom planning. “There are expectations in the curriculum that we’re mandated to follow,” says Häefele, who knows first-hand that phys ed class is much more than just fun and games. In the same way that an English teacher wouldn’t give students a book and tell them to ‘just go read it,’ activity played in the gym should have a purpose and specific learning goals associated with it. For example, while students may be active and having fun in a game of ‘pass the rubber chicken’ they’re also learning important, transferable fundamental movement skills (such as running and sending & receiving) and active living concepts (such as participation and fitness) as well as living skills (like communication and teamwork).
Assessment: Make sure it’s ongoing!
And, just like in any other subject, assessment and evaluation in H&PE should be based on the curriculum expectations and should take place before, during and after activities. “Students should be given opportunities to make predictions,” says Häefele. “What would happen if they played the same game with a different piece of equipment or changed the size of the playing environment?” Other ideas include videotaping a game and playing it back for students to have them analyze and explain their movements and strategies. Most importantly, keep in mind that, because assessment in H&PE is largely observation based, it’s important to give students plenty of descriptive feedback, and to ensure that they get multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
Emotional Safety: Set ground rules and include everyone.
If, like some adults, you have less-than-pleasant memories of your own experiences as a student in phys ed class, you can rest assured: things are definitely changing! The revised elementary H&PE curriculum takes a skill-building approach that is helping students (including those who are not so athletically inclined) to feel safe, comfortable and included in the gymnasium... and by setting some firm ground rules, you can add to these feelings of security for your students. “Emotional safety is so important,” comments Häefele. After all, if students feel threatened or unsafe in H&PE class, they are much less likely to enjoy physical activity and to go on to lead a physically active lifestyle outside of school and into adulthood. “You need to think about how you’re running activities so that they’re non-threatening and everyone can participate,” Häefele advises. She calls this ‘giving students choice and voice.’ Are there ways that students can modify the activities so they’re having fun and being successful while still achieving the learning goals? For example, could they try playing borden ball with racquets or a texturized ball... or volleyball with a beach ball? Making changes to activities can help to make sure the activities are inclusive, relevant to the students and suited to a range of abilities. Whitteker, meanwhile, advises avoiding elimination games. Not only do they leave some students feeling excluded, but when a student has been eliminated, they aren’t being active. And students who are eliminated are often those who would benefit most from the activity and practice. Small group activities are often beneficial—especially for students who are reluctant to participate. Perhaps most important of all, however, are the ground rules you lay. “This is a subject where bullying can happen,” says Häefele regretfully. Because of the nature of the subject – with students sometimes changing in changerooms without direct teacher supervision and students learning new skills in a public forum, there are opportunities for students to be vulnerable. Make it clear to students up-front—preferably on the first day of class and on an ongoing basis—that they’re there to support each other, that put downs won’t be tolerated and that you, as the teacher will be taking an active role in supporting a safe, inclusive and respectful gym/classroom.
Playing Safe: Know the guidelines for the province and your board.
Of course, when kids are being active, physical safety is of prime importance. All teachers should review and become familiar with the Ontario Physical Education Safety Guidelines , which represent the minimum standards for risk management practice for schools boards. “Teachers should also talk to their administrators and find out about their board policies,” says Häefele. “Sometimes different administrations or school boards modify the guidelines to ‘up’ the safety standards. For example, some school boards ban skiing or require that students wear goggles when the Ontario Safety Guidelines don’t.”
And then: There is health education.
Healthy Living is key part of Ontario’s health and physical education curriculum. Some teachers are more comfortable with this part of the curriculum because it can be taught in a more familiar environment in a classroom setting but for some teachers, this part of the curriculum brings its own set of new challenges. The learning in the health part of the curriculum helps students develop an understanding of the factors that contribute to healthy development, a sense of personal responsibility for lifelong health and a respect for their own health in relation to others and the world around them. Many teachers effectively integrate the big ideas from the Healthy Living part of the curriculum with expectations in Language and the Arts. Some teachers make active connections, integrating learning about health concepts with activities in the gym (e.g., healthy eating tag – giving examples of foods from different food groups when tagged). There are some topics within the healthy living strand that can be challenging to teach because of their personal nature and their connection to family, religious, or cultural values. Approaching these topics with sensitivity, care and within an atmosphere of mutual respect is important. Ophea has a number of resources to help teachers with a variety of topics that can be challenging to teach, including the HIV AIDS Online School Support Kit and Ophea’s H&PE Curriculum Resources: Grades 1-8.
Still not sure where to start? Let Ophea be your guide!
If you’re still feeling a little uncertain, get online! Ophea’s H&PE Curriculum Resources: Grades 1-8 are just a few short mouse clicks away. “There are over a thousand lessons, already set up for you, with everything you need to take into account,” says Whitteker. The resources—which are currently available for grades 1–8 in both English and French—are organized into two main sections that are consistent with the 2010 H&PE Curriculum: Movement Competence & Active Living, and Healthy Living. As in the curriculum, activities that address living skills are integrated throughout. Each grade also includes an “upfront" section with detailed background information, 20–25 units (including unit overviews), lesson plans and additional teacher and student resources. There are also division-specific appendices that include warm-up and cool-down activities, a safe stretching guide, program planning information and four sample timetables as well as teaching and learning tools and strategies. “A teacher could follow these and do a whole year’s planning for Health and Physical Education,” says Whitteker. “Then, once they’re more familiar they can start adapting them and adapting them to suit local needs.” And, if you’d like a little extra help, why not look into Ophea’s new professional development workshop: “So You're Teaching Your Own H&PE - Don't Panic!" Participants learn practical and easy-to-use ideas that can be implemented the very next day in the gymnasium and classroom and leave with clear ideas about program planning, classroom management, safety, assessment & evaluation, and available resources.
Don’t Forget: Physical activity is supposed to be fun!
With a little planning and preparation, you’ll soon be teaching with confidence—not to mention having fun with your students. “Overall, kids enjoy going to the gymnasium,” Whitteker reminds us. Put quite simply, then, your primary role is to foster that enjoyment in those who already have it, and to help inspire it in those who don’t. “Knowing where the health of kids is going these days,” Whitteker adds, “we need to nurture and support building that love of physical activity more than ever.”