The Digital Landscape of the Fundamental Principles in Health & Physical Education
Schools have changed drastically over the course of the pandemic, and it is clear that the education system is shifting. While educators in school buildings adapt their instruction to safe physical distancing measures shaped and constrained by the physical environment, remote educators are learning how to build a class culture and set of routines with students they may never have met in person.
With the rapid move to remote learning, how are the educators and students today adapting? Remote learning is a new learning model, and it is apparent that the mental, emotional and academic impacts of this shift can be challenging. While there are some educators and students who are thriving online, the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic; isolation, balancing workloads and other associated effects is rising among many. How can schools and communities work together in motivating educators and students to achieve their full potential and lead healthy, active lives?
It should not be underestimated that the 2019 Health & Physical Education (H&PE) curriculum “helps students develop an understanding of what they need in order to make a commitment to lifelong healthy active living and develop the capacity to live satisfying, productive lives.”1 With this sudden shift away from the physical classroom, what does remote learning look, sound and feel like in H&PE today? How are educators coping, while ensuring that the learning environment in H&PE gives students opportunities to learn through creative work, collaboration and hands-on experiences?
Maliesha Murali is entering her eighth year of teaching in the York Region District School Board. You can find Maliesha documenting her teaching journey on Twitter @MalieshaMurali and on Instagram @teachthetoughstuff. Her experience and passion is focused on creating a culturally responsive learning environment, focusing on providing her students windows into the wider world while mirroring back to them the unique value of their own diverse experiences. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maliesha was redeployed to the virtual platform. This shift into remote teaching and learning was the catalyst to enable educators like Maliesha and her students to thrive in an ever-changing world, while reshaping and renewing educational values and goals. The H&PE curriculum from Grade 1 to Grade 12 is founded on 5 fundamental principles2, , 3 and we connected with Maliesha to ask a few questions and took some time together to look at the digital landscape of teaching and learning.
Fundamental Principle #1: H&PE programs are most effective when they are delivered in healthy schools and when students’ learning is supported by school staff, families and communities.2
With the removal of the physical space of a school, how are you building relationships with your students and their families, in hopes that they see the concepts they are learning in H&PE within their own lives?
Coming from a York Region District School Board Certified Healthy School, I do see the direct correlation between effective H&PE programs and healthy schools initiatives. With the removal of the physical space and supports that come with it, modelling healthy living concepts is even more crucial. Setting the stage was extremely important for my students in our virtual learning environment. There were many discussions on what it looks like to take a break or rest. We learned from Anti-Bias Anti-Racist educator and consultant, Liz Kleinrock, on what grind culture is and how we are constantly being required to overwork ourselves, even when we have finished our tasks.4 My students learned early on that it is important to listen to our minds and bodies and know when to take rest. As their teacher, I reinforce daily habits that include looking away from the computer screen, closing our eyes, stretching our bodies or hugging someone/something at home, which ultimately touches on mental health, social emotional learning and physical movement. Students will then relay these practices to their families and normalize them in their daily routines.
Fundamental Principle #2: Physical activity is the key vehicle for student learning.2
Too often we separate the consideration of mental health from physical health. These two are deeply interrelated. The mental and emotional pressures on educators and their students can be life altering. H&PE offers students a unique opportunity for kinesthetic learning. Can you describe how you and your students are making movement meaningful in your program?
Making movement meaningful starts with the background knowledge on why movement is so important for our minds and bodies. In our online classroom we dedicate 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon for a break time. Break time is designed to allow students to take both a mental and physical break from their screens. Options I give my students include closing their eyes to take a mental break, engaging in an activity they enjoy that is off screen, stretching, taking a walk or eating a snack. A lot of pre-teaching is needed for students to understand and be able to listen to their bodies and minds for when they need a break. Restlessness, disengagement, strained eyes or sore muscles are all indicators that let students know that they need a break. Students are also aware that they are able to take their breaks at any moment these indicators are first noticed as opposed to a strict scheduled break. This allows for differentiation and personalized intentional movement for each student. Intentional movement is also a journey. My hope is that with support like organizations like Ophea, I am able to implement a Daily Physical Activity (DPA) choice board, which will encourage purposeful movements that range from low impact, moderate and vigorous. That is the current project I am working on!
Fundamental Principle #3: Physical and emotional safety is a precondition for effective learning in H&PE.2
As educators, we know that students learn best in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe. How are you creating equitable distance learning opportunities for all students, including those students with inconsistent access to the internet, mobile devices, or other equipment?
There are two main components when creating a safe and equitable distance learning environment with regards to health and physical education. The first component is making sure I implement equitable practices with regards to my students having their cameras on or off. At first, I panicked at the thought of teaching health and physical education online. “How would I see their physical activity if they do not turn their cameras on?” I quickly realized there are other ways and resources to assess student progress that does not require cameras. When taking a look at the Ophea Open Class resource, there were pre-made units following the teaching games for understanding (TGFU) model. Each unit was broken down into weeks and then was further broken down into divisional expectations. Each lesson in the unit gave clear learning goals, success criteria, and consolidation questions. It was the consolidation questions that helped me realize that I could assess physical education through student responses. For example, students using appropriate vocabulary or detailed explanations of the strategies they used while participating in the activity. This allowed for my students to feel safe by not turning on their cameras but also allowed me to assess effectively.
I thought I had it all figured out until I said “GO” and students communicated to me that they were unable to participate in this very moment due to their current living situation. For example, little babies would be sleeping, parents in meetings or a lack of space within their home. I then modified my lesson to give students one week to complete the task. In one week, students would have two periods for physical education. The first period would consist of myself going through the slide deck I had made for them which included content from The Safety Considerations for Remote Learning in Physical Education, watching the videos from the Ophea Open Class resource, and brainstorming possible equipment with the students and answering any questions. That would leave the remaining time for students to gather all equipment and materials necessary for the activity. The next class would be dedicated for students to try this activity. For the students who are unable to complete the activity during physical education time, they would choose a physical activity from a premade choice board. If students choose an alternative activity, they are responsible to complete a physical education journal with prompting questions. My students knew that they had one week to complete the physical education activity and consolidation questions. The equity comes in knowing that students did not have to complete the activity during a set time.
My biggest takeaway from my online experience with H&PE was the fact that I had to be able to “let things go”. My need for control or to be able to see what is happening had to take a back seat. I had to intentionally unlearn a lot of what I was accustomed to, in order to implement an effective, yet equitable practice. So far, it has been working! Students are engaged, handing in their consolidation answers or journals, and I am able to assess based on curriculum expectations.
Fundamental Principle #4: Learning in H&PE is student-centred and skill-based.2
Learning in H&PE should be directly connected to the needs and abilities of individual students. What tools are you using to help you develop a comprehensive H&PE program to meet the diverse learners in your class? Can you describe your differentiated approach to teaching and learning in H&PE?
The biggest tool I am using right now is the Ophea Open Class resource. The lesson plans in the open class give opportunities for differentiated learning by providing modifications, accommodations, and extensions for each activity. These lesson plans allow me to differentiate learning in order to meet the needs of all of my students. There are accommodations to make the activities less challenging for those students who need a slower pace or extra support. There are extensions that allow for students to challenge themselves in physical education such as setting record times or creating further distances or adding physical barriers such as using the less dominant hand. Using these accommodations, modifications, and extensions provided by this resource has really engaged my students at all levels. They provide multiple entry points for my diverse group of students.
Fundamental Principle #5: Learning in H&PE is balanced, integrated, and connected to real life.2
H&PE is balanced in that it addresses both the physical, cognitive, and emotional needs of students. This subject area is also “highly relevant to our students’ present and future lives in a complex, global, technology-rich, and rapidly changing world.”2 In your remote teaching environment, what are your greatest needs right now as an educator? How will you help students develop the comprehension, commitment and capacity to participate in and promote healthy, active living?
My greatest needs right now as an educator is the need to relieve stress and anxiety of my students as well as myself. That might mean changing the structure in which physical education is delivered and assessed. It takes a lot of unlearning but once we reached this point of best equitable practice I began to see positive engagement and appreciation for H&PE.
The biggest connection I can make for my students, where I am promoting healthy living, is that we will not always have access to a gymnasium or equipment. What does H&PE look like on the virtual platform? It is a journey, and I am learning that it is important to teach students that just because we don’t have access to these things, it does not mean we do not have opportunities to be physically active. In this particular moment in time where a global pandemic has struck the world and changed our daily routines, it is imperative to find alternative ways to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. This includes having discussions with students around the idea that a healthy lifestyle also consists of social and emotional well-being and that physical activity is directly correlated to this.
Teaching and learning today is different, and it is important to bear in mind that cultivating an engaging distance learning experience can be challenging. It takes time and an incredible amount of patience. Perhaps we can look at the virtual landscape as an opportunity to allow us to teach and learn differently, to meet new needs as well as old ones. Educators, community partners, students and their families all have critical roles to play when it comes to building healthy, active lives and it is important to first take the time to address our own well-being in order to support the well-being of others.
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1Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 7). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf
2Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 9-10). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf
3Ontario Ministry of Education. (2015). The .Ontario Curriculum Grades 9-12: Health and Physical Education (pg. 9-10). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/health9to12.pdf