Questions for a Physical Educator

This is the first year that you are rolling out a new curriculum for your Grade 9 and 10 students. Could you explain a little bit about what you have designed and why you chose to design something yourself?

During my 22 years of education, I have followed four different curriculums enabling the chance to experience the strengths and weaknesses of these programs. Joining the international circuit has also enabled the opportunity to be connected to many fascinating educators within the Physical Education world via both the ECIS Physical Education conferences and social media for quite a few years. With the many conversations and reading of other curricula that was running across the continents, I was always curious about the possibility of building something new enabling more student ownership. The opportunity to do just this arrived on my lap earlier this year, I took it, and here we are rolling out our first year.

The new philosophy of the ISZL High School Physical Education Department is one of ‘sport and physical activity for all’ via the departmental aim to engage interest and desire to be active for life. We strive to bring “Meaning in Movement” to each student aiding the development of confidence necessary to participate in either recreational activities or competitive sports. The aim is that the concept of education in the physical domain will lead each student to experience the satisfaction of performing an activity well, expressing oneself physically through movement, discovering a hidden talent and enjoying participation in activity.

We have adapted Meaningful guidelines we teach from and believe with these incorporated to every class will enhance the student’s journey to discovering a physical activity that is meaningful to them and could lead to a lifetime habit of movement. New units of work encourage the concept of challenge by choice enabling appropriate learning at a level that builds confidence and enhances the search for their “Meaning in Movement.”

The aim of the more varied curriculum we have designed is to build movement competence and confidence leading to more enjoyment around physical activity. The skills taught in physical education improve students’ performance, sharpen their knowledge of strategy and tactics, develop behaviours that promote personal and group success in activity settings and help them to transfer knowledge from one context to another. 

Student agency is at the heart of the products that we design at Tracker Apps. Why is student agency important for you and your new curriculum?

Providing a platform that enables the student to own a little more of their goal-setting, motor competence challenges, and skill development in physical activity places them in the middle of the design process and possibly link to any out of school physical activity. I believe that an appropriate individualised challenge leads to acquiring and refining motor competence, sportsmanship, cooperation and maximum participation,  in turn, increase confidence and enjoyment accommodating continued motivation in movement. 

Part of your new curriculum philosophy is moving away from common benchmarks or standards and having students track their own progress. What are some of the successes and challenges of this process?

Obviously, the scale of differentiation in a few of the units is huge, this takes planning and time to ensure rich conversations and monitoring of progress is occurring. I am still learning on this one and trying to make the learning and guidance more fruitful. 

A recent success, we ran a skill acquisition unit last month enabling each student to take a skill of choice from the cognitive level to as close to mastery as they could. Observing the planned lessons they created, the challenging exercises and the a-ha moments were priceless. Each had chosen the skill they would learn, set their own rubric, lesson plans and showcase their learning journey.

What changes have you seen in student motivation and engagement with the implementation of this new programme?

The engagement with the activities and personalised learning has been incredible, and I say this with a feeling of relief. The students have challenged themselves more, engaged in the rubric design knowing exactly where they are and need to be challenged. More in-depth discussions and planning with each student enables the physical activity journey in and out of school to be shared and complemented. 

We have just completed our first parent-teacher conference where parents were on board and understood the link we are trying to make with their child which is that of confidence equalling more enjoyment within the physical movement.

Any advice for teachers who may wish to engage in this process?

The Physical Education world, much like any other I presume is a connected one for sure. The sharing of resources, questioning of each other’s practice is rife and done with really good intentions. Fellow practitioners are a must to learn from and ask questions. Look for the blogs, research papers conversational threads.

Thanks for reading, I am always looking to connect and learn from others, feel free to connect.

Email: mark.newman@iszl.ch

Twitter: @Newmers1

Mark Newman is a Physical educator at the International School of Zug & Luzern, Switzerland. 

He graduated from Newcastle University, with a BSc in Sports Science and Education.  He has taught in both Middle and High age groups in the UK, Australia and now Switzerland. Mark is married to Cathy and has a son, Daniel (12).  He is a keen rugby player, triathlete and skier.