Questioning and reflecting are two things that we as teachers must constantly be involved in as it relates to all of the decisions we make. Questioning often leads to reflection. Reflection often leads to questioning. It is a cycle that perpetuates thinking and digging deep into the “why.” In education, teachers tend to question a lot of things. Some teachers engage in the questioning/reflection process in more of an introverted way, while others are more outspoken on the issues at hand. We question beliefs (our own or those of others), systematic constructs, “the status quo”, etc. and in turn reflect on how we can make changes for the better. This questioning/reflection process is derived from passion, because we as teachers ultimately want to give our students the best possible experience in our classes while working to achieving the mission we have set out for them.
In the PE world, the mission we are working towards is one of physical literacy. We want our students to have the knowledge and skills to be competent and confident movers for life. A very noble mission indeed and one that will take a lot of hard work, dedication, advocacy and more on behalf of PE teachers, students, parents and policy makers. With so many different moving parts and pieces to this mission, the question that arises is how can we best achieve this mission? The answer to that is most likely not so cut and dry…
I began thinking about this question a lot over this past summer while reflecting upon what my teaching/PE program looked like in the past. As I reflected and questioned my own practices, I realized that my program had a VERY heavy emphasis on the psychomotor aspect of PE. I would say that 95% of the assessments I gave my students were directly tied to Standard 1 GLOs. My guess is that this was/is probably very in line with the overwhelming majority of PE teachers/programs from across our country that actually assess their students. After all, when looking at our GLOs, it is easy to see which standard is prioritized the most in our profession in terms of outcomes. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the table below:
Upon reflecting on this, interacting with people I would describe as leaders in our profession via social media and doing some reading myself, I realized that there is much more to PE than just the psychomotor domain and if the psychomotor domain is all we are teaching towards, we are very likely doing our students a huge disservice. So, before I even saw my first class for the 2017-2018 school year, I made the decision to try and focus more on the standards that easily get labeled as “not important” or even just "forgotten" in PE (mainly Standards 4 and 5) and a little less on Standard 1 for my older students.
As a result, I have shifted my teaching for them more so towards project based learning rather than focusing so heavy on skill acquisition. I introduced group projects to my students such as “create your own fitness warm up” where my students had to create an activity designed to enhance a particular area of fitness by using equipment of their choice in a 15’x15’ area. During our long handed striking unit, they were asked to work together in groups of 4 or 5 to “create their own mini golf hole” using the Engineering Design Process (EDP) where they had to design a hole using certain equipment that was challenging, but not impossible, while meeting certain criteria. Right now, my 4th and 5th graders are using the “jigsaw” process to learn individual cardio drumming patterns, teaching them to the others in their group and slowly starting to piece them together to create their own group routine. During all of these group projects, the intent was/is not so much on looking at their psychomotor skills through a microscope to dissect it for an assessment, but rather more so highlighting teachable moments related to character traits that fall within the realm of Standard 4 (teamwork, cooperation and acceptance).
My students’ reactions to this project based learning approach has been overwhelmingly positive and early on in the year I realized that reflection on the part of the students was key in this process as well and it was worth capturing. I began having my students using their Plagnets, Plickers and exit tickets more so for the purposes of focusing on Standard 5 (how they felt about what we were doing in PE, their attitudes towards things, their perceptions of how they were working with others, etc.) rather than using them to solely quickly assess their knowledge on a topic. At the end of all of these group projects, I always have my students fill out a reflection form about what they liked best about the process, what they didn’t like and how well they thought their team worked together. I encourage them to be honest in their reflections because I want to know their true feelings on the things we did and the methods I decided to have them use. It has been an eye-opening experience to say the least.
Now that I am halfway through this year of change and am once again reflecting on the topic of physical literacy, I have posed another question to myself: Could the key to physical literacy and a lifelong love for movement be found more so in Standards 4 and 5, rather than in Standard 1? I’m not sure, but let me try to answer it with another question. Why do you choose to do anything that you do with your leisure time? Probably because whatever you are deciding to do during that leisure time provides you with enjoyment. Whether you use your free time to decide to read, watch a movie or go swimming, you are making that choice based on enjoyment of the activity. So how can we foster the concept of “enjoyment” in PE to help our students progress more toward a culture of CHOOSING to be active and move when they have that leisure time of their own? After all, that is the end goal of physical literacy and the answers may lie within the often forgotten Standards 4 and 5…
**Special thanks go out to Justin Schleider, Jorge Rodriguez, Dr. Justen O'Connor and Mike Ginicola for the recent discussions that lead to this blog.**
The internet is an amazing marvel of modern technology. Within seconds you can be video conferencing with someone from halfway across the world while simultaneously browsing an online shopping site with the hopes of purchasing something you’ve had your eye on for a while. The internet has no doubt changed the way we live our lives forever. Every industry/career on the planet has been influenced by it in some way, and education is no exception.
Thanks to the internet, we as teachers can share resources online, both for free and/or for purchase utilizing a variety of apps and websites. Apps, such as Google Drive, are great for sharing resources with other teachers across the globe for free. I know I personally have multiple shared folders to share some of the electronic resources that I have created over the years with others, free of charge. There are a lot of great resources that I have created in said folders for anyone to access at anytime (http://bit.ly/2iv7gqr, http://bit.ly/2x4KThe).
Websites such as Teachers Pay Teachers have used the internet as a means to connect educators with one another through more of a capitalistic approach; giving educators a chance to make some extra money from their ideas by giving them a designated place to sell their creations to other teachers for a fee. In addition to my multiple free to access shared folders on Google Drive/Dropbox, I also have a sales page on Teachers Pay Teachers. There are a lot of great resources that I have created over the years which have been uploaded to my Teachers Pay Teachers site for reasonable prices (http://bit.ly/2w9Bvcc).
I recently read a blog by Chris Hersl (@MDPhysEd on Twitter…blog link: http://bit.ly/2gA1p2D) which I thought was very interesting. It is a well written piece that got me thinking. Through my reflection, I came realize that I agreed with some of the points that Chris made while also disagreeing with others. Chris’ main point was that charging fellow PE teachers for resources on sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers was having a negative impact on the collegiality and community of our profession. While I respect Chris as a person, leader and great advocate for our profession, I tend to disagree with him on this. I tend to think there might be a bigger threat to the collegiality and community feel of our profession…
As I thought more about his blog and my reactions to it, I came to realize that most PE teachers that are on social media can fall into one of two categories when it comes to electronic resources: “producers” or “consumers”. When I think of “producer” colleagues, I think of the people on Twitter/Facebook that are constantly creating AMAZING electronic resources that for the most part, are being shared to the masses free of charge. When I think of “consumer” colleagues, I think of the people on Twitter/Facebook that are constantly asking for these resources created by the “producer” teachers to be shared/sent to them for nothing in return. Sure there may be some instances where a “producer” type teacher might be looking for a resource in more of a “consumer” type role, and vice versa, but for the most part, if you are reading this blog, you know which category you fit into most of the time.
The resources that the “producer” type of PE teachers make take A LOT of time/energy/effort to create and to me, they are free to make the decision to either post it/share it for free or upload it to a site such as Teachers Pay Teachers, where it can be downloaded for what I think is usually a very reasonable price. Some people will say that by posting a resource for sale is in direct opposition to the “sharing” spirit that we should have more of in our profession. My questions to the people that think this way would be:
Most interactions I see on Twitter/Facebook centered around electronic resources are more so a one-way street (i.e. “consumers” commenting on the “producer’s” post of the electronic resource about how they would like to have said resource shared/sent to them). Like I mentioned earlier, these electronic resources usually take A LOT of time/energy/effort to make…time/energy/effort that could have been put into things unrelated to their teaching job. Time/energy/effort that could have been spent with family, friends, on hobbies/other interests, etc. For a “consumer” to just expect that an electronic resource created by a “producer” for hours on end to be shared with them instantaneously, for free, having invested no time/energy/effort of their own into it, is increasingly rubbing me the wrong way the more and more I think about it.
Keeping the idea of improving the status of our profession in mind, would our time be better spent trying to encourage/help those "consumer" PE teachers to play around with/learn computer programs used to make electronic resources (Comic Life, Google Sheets/Docs/Slides, PowerPoint, various Apps, etc.) rather than just constantly having those teachers to expect something that took time and effort on behalf of someone else for free? Would this type of approach foster more appreciation for the hard work/dedication that goes into creating electronic resources? Would this type of approach help a once labeled “consumer” type teacher to invest in themselves in such a way that they now have a new skill set to develop their own electronic resources to become more of a "producer"? The old adage “give a man a fish, he eats for a day…teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime” might possibly ring true here.
To me, true “sharing” is a two-way street, to ensure that everyone has some “skin in the game” so that no one is taken advantage of. At the very least, I think we should see more trading of resources via social media instead of just giving them away for free. If you see something you like and would like to use it yourself, offer the person that posted it something you have created in return. This type of bartering could go a long way in our profession to ensure that the time/energy/effort put into the creation of an electronic resource is never taken for granted by others.
Food for thought…
To me, projectors are the most versatile piece of technology that a PE teacher can have in their gym. Using a projector (or sometimes multiple projectors) has become a daily necessity within my lessons over the years. From displaying directions/objectives/outcomes to displaying animated skill GIFS and live student heart rate feeds, this piece of technology has had the single biggest impact on the way in which I teach and the way my students learn.
The unfortunate issue that a lot of PE teachers face is that their district is not willing to mount a projector somewhere in the gym (either on a drop pole from the ceiling rafters or on the front/back wall). I remember a few years ago when I heard that all classrooms in my school were getting interactive Epson projectors, but when I inquired about getting one for my gym, I was told we were the only classroom that wouldn’t be receiving one. The reason they gave was because they were worried about it getting damaged as a byproduct of the things we do day in and day out in the gym. I would imagine that a lot of districts use this same reasoning as an excuse to not invest in this type of projector set up for their PE teachers (and I say excuse because there are no shortages of gyms that I have seen that have come up with ways to protect this valuable mounted technology..it can be done).
This has resulted in the overwhelming majority of PE teachers that currently use projectors resorting to keeping their projector on a wheely cart and rolling it in/out from the plug in the wall when needed/not needed. While the benefits of using a projector in this way certainly outweigh the inconveniences, there are still limitations to this type of projector set up. One such limitation is that wheeling the projector cart out onto your gym floor results in a loss of valuable activity space since it is a safety hazard to have students moving around so close to the cart. Considering most PE teachers do not have the proper amount of activity space as it is, this is a big deal. Another limitation is the fact that since the power cord is tethered to the outlet in the wall, there is now a formidable tripping obstacle that your students and you as the teacher must try to avoid in order to stay safe. Like I mentioned earlier, using a projector on a cart to me still has benefits that outweigh the inconveniences and as long as safety risks are mitigated (coning off around the wire/cart) it is a viable option to use, but the question that can still be asked “is there a better way?” Is there some type of #physedhack that can reduce/eliminate some of the aforementioned risks while also being cost feasible? It turns out there is!
Enter the rear projector set up! I first saw this on Twitter thanks to an awesome PE teacher in Iowa named Mark Jungmann (@NorthPolkWestPE) and soon replicated by another fantastic PE teacher named Mike Graham (@pe4everykid). They had both set up their projectors against the wall with the lens facing towards the middle of the gym. Hanging off the back of their basketball hoop was a frosted shower curtain secured to some PVC pipes. Sure enough, the videos/pictures I saw of this had their students moving along to dance videos/warm ups projected quite clearly onto that frosted screen. You might be saying, “well wouldn’t the image be backwards since the projector is at the back and not the front?” As it turns out, most projectors have a setting in their menus that allow them to be projected from the rear…this effectively flips the image so it is correct when looking at it from the front!
This #physedhack is a game changer find for those that use projectors on a regular basis in their gym. It is a cost feasible way to eliminate the cord/projector cart being in the middle of your gym floor. Mark and Mike are great innovators within our profession and if you are not already following them on Twitter, do so. You won’t be disappointed.
So how can you make this set up for yourself? Check out Part 2 of this blog if you are feeling crafty!
So you read Part 1 of this blog and if you are reading Part 2 now, I’m assuming you are ready for a DIY project to make this rear projector set up a reality in your gym!
Well, first you’ll need to take a trip to Home Depot/Lowes and get yourself the materials. Here is what I used:
To Make the Brackets:
Measure out 8 inches of the flat aluminum bar and mark it off. Make a cut using a hacksaw/circular saw/miter saw on that line. Do this twice since we will need 2 brackets. I was lucky enough to have a 16" section laying around that I could just cut in half.
Before we do anything else, we need to know the diameter of those exposed bolts coming out from the back of the basketball hoop. Use a ladder/step stool and a tape measure to measure the diameter of the exposed bolts. That measurement is the size of the nuts you need to buy. In my situation, the exposed bolts were 5/16” in diameter, so I bought 2 5/16” diameter nuts.
Next we need to measure where to drill the hole for where the brackets will slip over top of the exposed bolt on the back of the basketball hoop. Mark a spot on centered on the flat aluminum bar about 2.5" down from the top. Repeat this on the other piece of aluminum.
The hole you drill into your aluminum brackets needs to be a bit bigger than the diameter of the bolts because you want it to slide right through and not catch the threads. In my situation, I used a 1/2” diameter drill bit to make the hole. Drill it through the mark you just made on both pieces of aluminum.
Now we need to get ready to bend the aluminum into an “L/V” type shape so the top PVC pipe holding the screen can sit right in the crease. Measure a spot about 1.5” down from the hole and make a line across the aluminum at this spot. This will be your bend point.
Take your 2 pieces of aluminum out to the curb outside your house. Line up the bend point line with the edge of the curb so that one end of the aluminum is on top of the curb and the far end is sticking out. Apply pressure with your hands to both sides of the aluminum bar until the end that was sticking out bends into your desired shape. Repeat this for the other piece of aluminum and you have finished creating your custom brackets!
Securing the Brackets to the Back of the Basketball Hoop:
Set up your ladder underneath of the hoop. Put a washer on each of the exposed bolts coming from the back of the hoop so the brackets have a flat surface to press up against.
Slide each of your brackets on to the exposed bolts. Slide the brackets down until the are up against the washers.
Place the other 2 washers on the bolts as well and slide them down until they are up against the brackets. You should now have a “bracket sandwich” (Washer-Bracket-Washer).
Take the 2 nuts and hand thread them on the exposed bolts. Use a correct sized wrench to tighten them down in order to secure the brackets in place. Ensure the brackets are perpendicular before tightening down all the way.
Your brackets are now good to go!
To Make the Screen:
To make the screen, start by cutting the 1” PVC pipe to desired lengths. These will be for what we attach the frosted shower curtain to at the top and bottom. Your cuts need to be at least as wide as your shower curtain. I left a few inches sticking out on either end as well.
Once your cuts are made to the PVC, tape the shower curtain to one of the PVC pipes you cut. Make sure the curtain is centered on the pipe and it is taught. This will be your guide as to where to drill your holes for the eye bolts to secure to the curtain to the top PVC pipe. Mark a hole in the center of each grommet hole on the PVC pipe. Try to make sure your markings are going in a straight line from beginning to the end of the pipe. Repeat this for all of the grommets.
Remove the shower curtain template and then begin drilling your holes for your eye bolts. Make sure you are using a proper sized drill bit for the diameter of your eye bolts.
Once all of the holes are drilled, hand screw an eye bolt into a hole until they are snug.
Stretch out your frosted shower curtain. Take the other PVC pipe you cut (the one without the eye bolts) and center it at the bottom of the shower curtain (the non-grommet side). Roll the bottom of the shower curtain up like a burrito with the PVC inside until you get some overlap.
Duct tape the bottom of the shower curtain to itself to create a little sleeve for the bottom piece of PVC to sit in. This will help to ensure the screen is pretty taught and stretched out for better viewing.
Zip tie the top of the curtain to the PVC pipe with the eye bolts in it by using zip ties to secure the grommets to the eye bolts. Repeat for all eye bolts. Cut the ends of the zip ties at desired length.
Place the end caps on the PVC pipes and you are done with the screen build!
Use a step stool to place your screen on the brackets, set the projector up behind the screen, change its settings to project from the rear and BOOM! You are ready to rock!
Any other PE teachers out there feel like their ears are bleeding when they hear Kidz Bop? If you are able to listen to Kidz Bop all day, everyday in your gym, more power to you. For me, Kidz Bop is more like listening to nails on a chalkboard. I just can’t bring myself around to using it. Never have, probably never will.
No offense to the kids who record the Kidz Bop songs (they are without a doubt talented singers), but I am a much bigger fan of the originals than their versions. The problem with trying to use a lot original songs in the elementary PE setting is that they are often, for one reason or another, not appropriate for children. After all, the inappropriateness of such original songs is why Kidz Bop exists in the first place.
Enter Audacity. Audacity is a great, free audio editing software available for Mac and PC users that is relatively user friendly. I have been using Audacity for many years and it has allowed me to use a lot of upbeat, popular, original songs simply by making some changes to the music files themselves. Simply import the file of the song of which you would like to edit and go from there (video tutorial on that below).
Once you have become familiar with importing songs and the selection/button functionalities within Audacity, you are ready to take things to the next level. Audacity offers a variety of effects, options and editing features that you can make use of to turn a once off limits song into one in which you can play without hesitation. Here are a few of the features that I use most often within Audacity while editing my music for my PE playlists:
Deleting Portions of Songs (2:00 mark in video below)
Deleting portions of songs can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. Maybe the song in question that you are editing has a long instrumental intro and you want to get rid of it. Or maybe there are extensive consecutive bars of the song where you deem the lyrics to be inappropriate, which you want to eliminate. Whatever the reason, this is a no nonsense, easy way to make an edit to the portion of the song in question.
Change Tempo (4:04 mark in video below)
This feature is fantastic, as it allows you to speed up or slow down the song which you have imported. I use this feature in a variety of ways. I might speed a song up if I think it just doesn’t have enough “pizazz” for my general music playlist that I have playing while the students are moving around. In general, I like for my background songs to be pretty upbeat (100 beats per minute or more). I find that upbeat music helps to create a great environment in which my students want to be active. Upbeat music can be a tremendous motivator in and of itself.
Another way I use this feature is while preparing for my dance units. Maybe I found the perfect song to choreograph a dance routine to for my K-2nd grade students, but it happens to be a little too fast. I can use the “change tempo” feature to slow it down to a tempo I feel would be more appropriate to allow my students to be able perform the steps to the beat. The same is true on the flip side of this. Maybe I found the perfect song for my 4th and 5th grade students to create their own repetitive dance to, but the tempo is a little to slow for them. I can again use the “change tempo” feature to speed it up in order to challenge them enough so they stay engaged and don’t get bored with it.
To be honest, I often create multiple tempo versions of the same dance song. I might have a slow, medium and fast tempo version of a particular song which allows me the freedom to change things up based upon the needs of my students. If as a whole, they are struggling with the medium tempo version, I can change over to the slow tempo version to allow them to be more successful. The same goes for switching from the medium tempo version to the fast tempo version if as a whole, they seem to not be challenged enough.
Vocal Remover/Reverse Feature (7:26 mark in video below)
This is another great tool within Audacity to edit out inappropriate lyrics. While using these features are a little more complex than simply deleting out a section of the song, I find it to be worth it. The “vocal remover” feature is hands down my go to when it comes to removing a cuss word, inappropriate reference, etc. “Vocal remover” does exactly what you would expect – the software removes the vocals of a selected piece of audio track while leaving the background beat/instrumentals intact. If for some reason the “vocal remover” feature doesn’t do its job and you can still hear the lyric, it might be best to use the “reverse” feature. “Reverse” simply takes a selected piece of the audio track and flips it, vocals and instrumentals. This makes it sound like a blur/censored piece of track.
These features just scratch the surface of what Audacity is capable of. I am by no means an expert in using this software, but I know enough about it to do what I need it to do for my PE classes. You can download Audacity for free here: http://www.audacityteam.org/. Mess around with it for a bit and see if you think it can beneficial for you and your students. Happy editing!
P.S. Here is a screen shot of my iTunes playlist to start off the new 2017-2018 school year to give you some ideas about what to include on your own playlist. Any songs in which you see "Edited" next to have been altered in Audacity in order to remove inappropriate lyrics or speed up song tempo. Make sure you do your due diligence in terms of checking out prospective songs to ensure they meet your standards of appropriateness before playing them in your PE classes.
I work in a school district that is very large. Maryland is a state that aligns their school districts with their counties. I’ve never quite understood why this is, but ever since I came to Maryland for my undergrad degree, I’ve always noticed that people seem to identify where they are from by their county rather than their town. With my school district being so large (76 schools, 56,000 students), it is no surprise that we have a lot of PE teachers (a little over 200 as of last year) to meet district policy mandates in place for PE. I can only speak for the elementary side of things where I teach, but it is a true rarity for their to be only 1 PE teacher in a school. Obviously, the number of PE teachers in a school is dependent on student enrollment numbers. As of last school year, elementary PE staffing per building in my district ranged from 1.0 – 2.8 PE teachers. My current school is toward the higher end of that range; we are staffed at 2.4 PE teachers for the coming year. I am full time, I have another full time co-worker that I have been teaching with for the past 7 years and there is also a part-timer that is with us 2 days a week. For as long as I have been teaching at my current school, our part-timer has rarely been the same from one year to the next, but thanks to the consistency of my full-time co-worker and myself from year to year, our program has been able to grow and gain a lot of value within our school community.
For the past 7 years, we have used a co-teaching model in our classes mainly out of necessity. Due to our high enrollment numbers, the need for 90 minutes of PE per week per student within the schedule and the lack of alternative space, we are often “doubled” in the gym (2 classes, 60 students and 2 PE teachers) during most teaching blocks of the day. Co-teaching for us consisted of one of us taking the lead for that particular teaching block while the other was more of a “floater” that would assist with equipment set up, transitions, organization, feedback distribution, etc. Our roles would then switch for the next teaching block. This is a style that has worked for us in the past.
I am fortunate that to date, I haven’t been in a position where I feel as though I have had to co-exist with one of my PE coworkers. My full time colleague has been great to work with over the years. We share the same kind of teaching philosophy and vision for our students and program. We compliment each other well and maximize one another’s strengths. For example, she is extremely organized and has great systems in place for running our big PE related school events, such as JR4H and Field Day, while I put my creativity into practice by handling most of the equipment building, resource making and planning from week to week. She is a problem solver that is great at figuring out scheduling/logistics while I use my outspoken nature to advocate for our students and program to get what I believe we deserve. I feel comfortable saying that we have each learned a lot from one another to enhance our teaching practices and ultimately, to enhance the experience our students are getting during PE. This type of positive coworker relationship is true of most of the relationships that I have had with the part-timers I have worked with over the years as well.
However, based on conversations with people that I have had both in person and on Twitter, I have come to realize this type of relationship is not the same for everyone out there teaching PE…there are plenty of instances where PE teachers within the same building, for whatever reason, are doing more co-existing than co-teaching. From stories I have heard of others, this mindset of co-existence in some cases is due to differing teaching philosophies, differing management styles, differing levels of engagement in the profession, amongst other things. This then leads to these coworkers separating at most times during the day, during teaching periods and off periods, because of these differences. A theme that I noticed in most of these co-existence teaching situation stories that I have heard was that there was often one teacher more so than the other willing to take initiative, take risks, try new things and implement best practices, while most times, the other teacher in question was just happy with the “status-quo”. I wish this observation could be attributed to be something more of an outlier rather than a theme, but with it presenting itself across the stories of people I truly respect within our profession, I would say that “theme” is the truest way to describe co-existence teaching situations.
I am in no position to tell others how to do their job, but at the end of the day, to me, the co-teaching vs. co-existing debate boils down to one essential question; are you doing what is best for YOUR students? If you are in a healthy co-teaching relationship where you are comfortable with your students being exposed to the quality teachings of either yourself or your co-worker, I am truly happy for you. Like I mentioned earlier, I have this type of relationship with my co-worker. One piece of advice I would give you is to not take it for granted. Continue to work together, push one another and keep your students at the forefront of all the decisions you make together regarding your program.
If you are currently in a type of co-existence relationship with a co-worker, I would first implore you to try and work out your differences. I realize that reconciling these differences is probably much easier said than done. If this fails (and it very well might), realize that you can’t control what coworkers believe, despite your likely many attempts to help them realize that “status quo” is not good enough for their students/our profession as a whole. You have a responsibility to the students on YOUR roster first and foremost and because of that, there might be some teaching situations where separating classes is doing what is best for your students. I could totally understand why a passionate/enthusiastic teacher who believes in best practice would want to separate their students from a situation in which they might otherwise be under the influence of a coworker who is the antithesis of these qualities. Surround yourself with positive influences within your professional learning network and do what you know is best for your kids.
As we enter the new school year, I urge you to take some time to think about this in your situation. I wish you a rewarding and successful start to the 2017-2018 school year. Make it the best one yet!
The concept of using heart rate in the physical education setting is far from new. The earliest reference that I found to utilizing pulse counting in physical education within the research literature was from the early 1930s. Floyd and Van Horn (1932) wrote of physical education teachers being responsible for calculating the pulse rates of sick students during various physical achievement tests in order to help their doctors make a more informed diagnosis of their condition as well as if/when they could return to full activity within class. Using pulse rate to calculate exercise intensity continued to be practiced within physical education during the 1940s. Dawson (1942) writes of different physical fitness tests that were used in conjunction with calculating pulse rates before, during and after the tests to help determine levels of students’ cardiovascular fitness. This trend of utilizing pulse rate mainly for the purpose of fitness testing within physical education continued into the next few decades.
With technological advancements being made during the mid twentieth century in all aspects of life, technological solutions to measure heart rate were no exception. Faulkner, Greey and Hunsicker (1963) mention that they used a portable twin-electrode Sanborn Visette Model 300 to calculate the heart rates of all students in a physical education class, one a time, at different periods throughout class in order to conduct their research (click here if you want to see what that machine looked like). This was a significant development in heart rate technology because researchers were now able to take laboratory-grade measurement equipment out into the field due to its portability. In the 1970s, the first patent worldwide was filed by Polar Electro for a battery operated fingertip heart rate monitoring device, which was another step forward in terms of making heart rate monitoring a measurement option for physical education programs across the country.
However, the real game changer for heart rate within the physical education setting came in the early to mid 1980s with the addition of a wireless heart rate monitor capable of collecting data as well as being able to download that data onto a computer for the first time in history. It was then that a woman teaching middle school physical education in Vinton, Iowa who wanted to do things a little differently in her program would start a journey that has since changed our profession forever (click here for a video to get a better grasp on the importance of this step forward).
Her name is Beth Kirkpatrick. Beth got her hands on these wireless heart rate monitors simply by contacting the company that made them (Polar Electro) and asking if she could have some to use within her classes. They obliged. Using these wireless heart rate monitors, Beth was able to completely restructure how she did everything within her teaching. No longer was the focus of her program on sports, but now thanks to the addition of the heart rate monitors, it was on individual achievement/fitness for life. Since these monitors had the capability of collecting the students’ data, and in turn, the ability to download said data onto the computer within individual student folders, Beth had created the first data-driven physical education program in the country. She has become known as the pioneer of heart rate monitoring in physical education for good reason.
From the mid 1980s to about 2010 Polar continued to have a monopoly on heart rate monitoring technology. However, during this time frame, heart rate monitors as a group solution for physical education kind of stagnated a bit. Sure, there were some advances made such as increasing the amount of data storage present on the wrist receivers themselves, faster methods of data transmission to computers as well as more advanced programs to analyze the data, but these changes were not enough to keep up with the pace of how fast the needs of students, teachers, PE programs and schools themselves were changing. Whether this stagnation was a result of Polar having a monopoly on the market, a lack of future-thinking or something else, I am not sure.
This stagnation led to frustration and made it less and less practical for PE teachers to incorporate group heart rate monitoring platforms into their teaching for a variety of reasons. The standard chest strap transmitters that existed during this time frame were difficult to manage from a teacher standpoint. Chest straps were also seen as a very invasive way to collect data and some schools/districts wanted no part of them. PE Manager, Polar’s data management program, wasn’t the least bit user friendly and it took me a year myself of using it every single day to learn the ins and outs of it. Unfortunately for Polar, this lead to a lot of PE teachers being turned off by their products all together and the shortcomings they brought on themselves opened up opportunities for other companies to move in.
By 2012, the mobile device/app development revolution was in full swing. Tech startups were popping up all over the country and just like in every other market space, sometimes all it takes is a bit of competition to spark innovation and progress. The heart rate monitor industry was no exception. Plenty of new companies specializing in individual wearable heart rate technology as well as group heart rate monitoring solutions were making a name for themselves. Localized data management computer programs went by the wayside as everything has become web/cloud-based in order to be accessed from anywhere, at any time, with any device. Chest straps are now an antiquated relic of the past as these new companies have done the research and development necessary to create sensors that are now able to be worn on the wrist/forearm. These new type of sensors have the ability to transmit heart rate data in real time via Bluetooth/ANT+ to a centralized iPad that the teacher has, allowing them to see exactly how hard each of their students is working during any given moment in class. These changes were needed as our profession continued to evolve, and as such, 21st century methods of data collection were necessary to keep ourselves relevant in the educational landscape. The last few years have been exciting to say the least as the things that were once thought of only as a pipe dream are becoming more and more real.
In my opinion, the one thing that will set one of these companies above the rest is their willingness to listen to the PE teachers that are in the trenches every day. At the end of the day, we as PE teachers know what a heart rate monitoring platform needs to have within it, both on the hardware and software side of things for it to be functional, feasible and valuable to our students and programs. I myself as well as some of my close PE colleagues (who all have extensive knowledge and years of experience of using heart rate monitors in elementary, middle, high school and college settings) have tried to make suggestions to various companies about updates we would like to see made in order to make their heart rate system more of a complete fit in the K-12 space. Most of the time our suggestions got blown off by “the powers that be” at these companies. For whatever reasons, most of these companies think they know better than teachers. I say most because there has been one and only one company that has truly embraced the idea of seeing the heart rate system development process as a partnership between themselves and teachers. That company is Heart Tech Plus (click here for website).
While Heart Tech Plus is rather new on the scene (they were founded in 2015) and may not yet have as much notoriety as some of the bigger companies, they are more than willing to listen to suggestions that educators have to make their products better. Having been stonewalled and shutdown so much with other companies, this to me is worth its weight in gold. In the past 6 months that my colleagues and I have had a relationship with Heart Tech Plus, they have already taken a few our ideas and put them into action. That to me says a lot of about their vision for the future. At the end of the day, it is collaboration that drives progress forward and Heart Tech Plus understands this.
In terms of group solutions for your PE program’s heart rate system needs, I encourage you to do your due diligence and research before making a purchase. A system that works in one school/program may not necessarily be the best fit in another for a variety of reasons. Your best bet? Reach out to other PE teachers that use a variety of different systems and get their thoughts on it. Ask them to be honest and to tell you the pros and the cons that they have come across as they have used the system day in and day out. The more information you have at hand, the better the position you are in to make a decision. Food for thought…
Dawson, P. M. (1942). Studies and measures of physical fitness. The Journal of Health and Physical Education, 13(8), 446-447 & 493-494.
Faulkner, J., Greey, G., & Hunsicker, P. (1963). Heart rate during physical education periods. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 34(1), 95-98.
Floyd, M. B., & Van Horn, M. (1932). Exercise in relation to cardiac cases. Mind and Body: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Physical Education, 39(408), 204-211.
FITNESS TESTING AT THE ELEMENTARY LEVEL:
This year more so than any other, I have found myself reflecting on everything I do within my teaching in an attempt to further my growth and development as a physical educator. Part of that reflection process has led to me question a lot of current, wide-spread practices within the discipline of elementary physical education. In a time of extreme uncertainty in the education profession, it is imperative that physical education teachers constantly reflect and question the purpose of everything that we do in order to stay relevant within the educational landscape and do what is best for our students. It turns out that I was not alone in this thought. Many colleagues within my “professional learning network,” on social media were doing a lot of reflecting/questioning of their own. One particular area of extensive debate that I have often found myself involved in both in person and on Twitter, revolves around the appropriateness of fitness testing at the elementary level in physical education. These are the thoughts that inspired this blog.
Before I begin sharing my concerns, I should let you know the FitnessGram requirements that are in place within my school district. As a PE teacher at the elementary level in my district in Maryland, I am responsible for doing fitness testing with all of our 4th and 5th grade students once each year in the fall. The tests that are currently required to be administered are the PACER, sit and reach, push up, curl up, height and weight and trunk lift. I am required to input all students’ scores into the web-based platform that FitnessGram has and I must print out paper copies of all students’ fitness reports to send home to parents.
All FitnessGram tests that I do with my students meet or exceed the standards set forth in the FitnessGram Test Administration Manual. For the push up test, I myself watch 2 students at a time while performing their movements and make note of any mistakes. I administer the curl up test and the sit and reach test in the exact same way. For the PACER, I have students pair up like it suggests in the manual. One partner is running while the other is recording successful laps/misses for this person. For the trunk lift test, I call students over a few at a time, have them lay on their stomach side by side with some space in between one another and lift up when I am ready to measure that particular student individually. Height and weight is done one at a time with only myself and the student being measured in a space far away from where other students are moving/working.
Now, on to my issues with FitnessGram…
Issue 1: Invalid Data
If your district is anything like mine, you have had FitnessGram training to ensure you as the physical education teacher understand the test parameters. Also, if your district is anything like mine, you have PE teachers that just do the various tests however they want, despite having the training. As I have talked to people on social media/in person about how they organize their students for fitness testing, one thing becomes clear…FitnessGram tests are administered in totally different ways from one school to the next. Some physical education teachers have their students administer fitness tests to one another during testing, while at other schools, the PE teachers themselves are the only ones that administer the tests.
I can imagine that PE teachers around the country would have various reasons for changing how a particular FitnessGram test is administered in order to make it work for their particular situation. While I don’t condone this practice, I certainly can see PE teachers realistically doing this in response to unrealistic teaching conditions (huge class sizes, limited time, limited space, etc.) in order to get it done. Whether a PE teacher decides to change the curl up test from how it is supposed to be done to hands sliding up and down the thighs, or they decide to get parent volunteers to come in and help administer the tests, it all ends up resulting in one thing…invalid data. What then happens with this invalid data? These invalid scores are then put into the FitnessGram web-portal where department heads take the data from school A, B, C, D and so on to create a district-wide report on students’ fitness levels. This invalid report is then in turn used to make programmatic decisions. The invalid nature of the data turns a well-intentioned practice into a misguided one.
Issue 2: Time
I see my students two separate times/week for 45 minutes, for a total of 90 minutes of PE time per week. With my students receiving such limited time with me each week, every second in the gym counts for so much. Like I mentioned earlier, I administer all FitnessGram tests myself, with the exception of the PACER. This method of administering FitnessGram is significantly more time consuming than having students test one another, but in my mind, it is the only way to get data that is somewhat reliable and valid.
When I did fitness testing earlier this fall, the push up, PACER, trunk lift and height and weight tests each took one full class to administer. The curl up test took a class and a half to complete as did the sit and reach test. I also had one day at the end of the testing window that allowed for make-ups for students that had missed tests for various reasons. Some things you should also know while letting this information sink in is that I have an average of about 30 students in each of my 4th and 5th grade classes, but we are almost exclusively doubled all the time with another class in our small gym. The max I let students go up to for push up and curl ups was one rep more than the top of the “healthy fitness zone range” for their age/gender and for PACER the max laps I allowed them to go up to was 51.
All in all, it took 8 full class periods for all of our 4th/5th grade students to complete the required tests with only myself administering them. I see my students approximately 80 times per year. 8 class periods accounts for, at minimum, 10% of the total amount of time that I see each class per year (this percentage is likely higher for most classes, as it is rare for a class to actually receive 80 physical education classes per year due to days off, assemblies, field trips, etc.). This truth led me to further reflect and question my current fitness testing practices….is it worth it to me to spend 10% or more of my time with a particular class administering fitness tests just in order to have reliable and valid data while other PE teachers in my district taint the data pool with invalid scores? Having thought about it for a while, the short answer is no. Here in Maryland, a bill just got passed through our state house that seeks to limit standardized testing to no more than 2% of class time. This 10% number that I spent administering FitnessGram to my 4th/5th graders is in stark contrast to this recent bill.
This reflection led me to another question…can this time that I am currently spending on administering a standardized barrage of fitness tests in my classes be used more wisely and effectively in order to meet fitness-related objectives and grade level outcomes while also fostering enjoyment for movement? The answer is most certainly yes.
Issue 3: FitnessGram is a One Size Fits All Model
Fitness, in its most basic of forms, is individual in nature. In addition to it being individual in nature, it also is inherently complex. There are so many factors that have an impact on students’ fitness levels; genetic predispositions, activity level, diet and nutrition, among many others. Because of this, it is safe to say that no 2 students are exactly alike in terms of fitness level within any given physical education class.
The implications of this for me as a teacher is to individualize the fitness portions of my lessons through differentiation just as I would for the skill/knowledge portions. This requires me giving students choices/options/alternatives for a variety of exercises based on what they each need. A good example of fitness differentiation might be for a student who is not strong enough to do a regular push up. An alternative for this would be to have them modify this exercise by putting their knees down or by performing the same movement on an incline to make the movement easier while engaging the same muscles.
However, imagine how confused/irritated/embarrassed a student must be when they have been successfully practicing a version of a modified push up during class only to be told when called over for the FitnessGram push up test that they must do it the way the protocol calls for (only hands and feet in contact with the floor, back straight, elbows bending to 90 degrees and staying with the cadence while going down and up)? This student is still not strong enough to perform the movement in this manner yet, tries twice to go up and down, collapses onto their stomach during both attempts, and consequently, gets a 0 on the push up test since they didn’t complete a single push up according to the protocol. This contradiction is not only frustrating for students, but for their PE teachers as well. Testing protocols within FitnessGram completely disregard the need for test differentiation based on current individual students’ fitness levels.
Issue 4: Developmentally Inappropriate at the Elementary Level
The keynote speech that Dr. Robert Pangrazi gave at the 2014 National PE Institute is really what got me thinking about the developmental appropriateness of fitness testing at the elementary level. His big take-home message from this speech was that elementary-aged students do not respond to training since the hormones necessary to do so are not yet present during this stage of their development. He goes on to say that improvements in fitness scores from the fall to the spring are are simply a result of maturation. Watching this speech really got me thinking and if you have not yet seen it, you must. It will certainly make you question the status quo of how things have been done in physical education in recent history.
With this speech as my fuel, I got to thinking specifically about the push up and curl up tests. If elementary students’ musculoskeletal systems do not yet respond to training, why are we even bothering to administer these fitness tests at all to them? Is it necessary? Are we just doing it because we have been told by the Cooper Institute that we have to? All reasonable questions to ask ourselves as PE teachers.
I kept digging deeper into why certain aspects of the push up test and curl up are the way they are and more questions began to enter my head. For example, have you ever wondered why the criteria/form that must be demonstrated for these two tests is EXACTLY the same regardless if the student that is being tested is in the 4th grade or in the 12th grade? For the push up test, no matter what age you are, you must keep your back straight, stay with the down/up cadence and bend elbows to 90 degrees. For the curl up test, no matter what age you are, you must keep your hands in contact with the mat, slide your fingers up and back from line to line, stay with the up/down cadence, make sure your head touches the mat after each rep and make sure your feet remain in contact with the floor. This is all criteria that must be demonstrated regardless of the student’s age, development or experience in order to count as a successful rep on both of these tests.
This practice within FitnessGram is in stark contrast to what we expect students to be able to demonstrate regarding assessments for psychomotor skills across grade levels in our PE classes. Would you assess a 2 grader’s overhand throw using the same criteria as you would for assessing the overhand throw of a 5th grader? No. Why? Because it is developmentally inappropriate. So why on earth would it be OK for us to use identical criteria to determine successful reps/mistakes on the push up and curl up tests for 4th graders compared to 12th graders? It’s sheer lunacy.
Issue 5: Affect of Fitness Testing on Physical Literacy Development and Future Participation in Physical Activity
Our overall goal as physical educators is to help our students to become physically literate as we work to develop the knowledge, skills, competence and confidence necessary in order for them to make the choice to regularly participate in physical activity outside of our gymnasiums. Of those aforementioned facets of physical literacy, research has shown that the biggest predictor of future physical activity is perceived competence. With perceived competence being such a huge piece of the physical activity puzzle, it is worth looking at students’ attitudes, beliefs and feelings in relation to fitness testing.
After having administered fitness tests to my students over the last 7 years, my students’ scores have rarely surprised me. The more athletic students often score in or above the “healthy fitness zone” for each of the tests while students who have interests other than sports often score below the “healthy fitness zone.” Is this data telling me or my students anything they don’t already know? No. My athletic students finish the test feeling accomplished and great about themselves, while my other students leave feeling incompetent and “less than” despite my best efforts as their teacher to let them know that a fitness test is not what defines them as a person.
Recently, I have been thinking more about the long-term effect of these types of feelings on my students’ perceived competence and more specifically about the question, “does fitness testing do more harm than good to these students?” To me, it doesn’t take an extremely advanced degree to understand that a student who consistently does poorly on fitness tests will be less likely to participate in fitness activities outside of PE class. With my non-athletes being fragile as it is, exposure to this might very well turn them off to physical activity all together, which is a cost that we as a nation can not afford.
I think we as PE teachers really need to start asking ourselves two questions continuously throughout our teaching…”why?” and “is there a better way?”. Fitness testing is not exempt from these questions. I encourage you to ask these questions to yourself in relation to your beliefs/feelings about fitness testing at the elementary level.
In my personal belief, I do not think all of parts of fitness testing need to be abandoned at the elementary level. My main areas of contention are with the curl up and push up tests. If it were up to me, I would discontinue the use of these two tests for the reasons I have shared in the paragraphs above. I am however, in favor of keeping the PACER. Since CDC recommendations state that most of the exercise children should have between the ages of 5 and 12 years old should be aerobic in nature, it makes sense to continue with this test. For me especially, I am looking forward to using our heart rate monitors next year with the 5th graders as they do the PACER to really help the students understand the concept of pacing. I am also in favor of keeping Sit and Reach. In the past, it has gone well with getting my students to begin to understand the role that flexibility plays in warm up and cool down procedures before and after exercising.
If fitness testing is something that will continue to be implemented from upper elementary school throughout high school, it should not be exempt from proper scope and sequence development/gap mapping just like any other skill/concept would be in a K-12 physical education curriculum. Why can’t fitness testing at the elementary level be comprised only a few fitness tests with others being added later on in a child’s educational career when it is developmentally appropriate to do so. Food for thought…
Resources That Inspired This Blog