I very much enjoyed the Physical Education expo we had at Vancouver Island University. Here are the various workshops I attended:
The first workshop I attended was about golf. There were seven stations, each of which had a different golf-related activity:
- A small miniature golf hole was made using pool noodles, and we were instructed to try to use a large golf club to hit a tennis ball around a corner so that it would touch a Velcro-covered post. I was reminded of geometry, in trying to find the exact right angle so that the ball would rebound correctly off the wall and hit the post, though the flexibility of the pool noodle made ricochets difficult (perhaps impossible), so I ended up only being successful when I chipped the ball over the corner guards.
- A simple bowling lane was set up, and the objective was to roll a ball to hit several blocks that were standing on end. This was designed to improve coordination and aim.
- Similar to the second station, a series of hula hoops were lain on the ground at different distances. The goal was to roll balls of various sizes into each of the hoops. The objective of this challenge is similar to that of the second station, with the added challenge of trying to achieve the right amount of acceleration on balls of different sizes so as to not overshoot the mark.
- The player was given special rods with ribbons attached to the top; if the player swung the rod like a golf club with sufficient force, the ribbon would snap. This activity allowed us to practice our drives indoors, which I thought was genius.
- The player was supposed to use a golf club to chip a tennis ball onto a Velcro-covered target suspended approximately 1 metre above the ground. The use of a target helped us work on our aim, and also required us to work on our use of force in our swing, because too hard of a swing would force the ball to bounce off the target instead of sticking to it.
- A small ridge was placed on the ground in front of the player, and the objective was to tap a tennis ball over the ridge so that it touched a flat target behind the ridge. Emphasis was once again placed on aim and the right level of power.
- An obstacle course of pylons was made, and the player was required to manoeuvre around them while stick-handling a tennis ball. This actually seemed more like a hockey exercise than golf, even though the player used a golf club and not a hockey stick. However, the development of multitasking skills and eye-hand coordination made this a useful exercise for developing transferrable athletic skills.
I was quite impressed by the amount of preparation put into this workshop, especially given that it was run by a single presenter. I had a great deal of fun, and I recognised that golf—a sport I never considered would be useful or interesting for a class—could be both entertaining and educational.
#2: Swing Dance
The next workshop, which was about swing dancing, was lots of fun. We each chose partners, so I chose Valérie because I knew her. I was designated Partner “A”, she Partner “B”.
We were then asked to split into two groups (A’s together and B’s together), and go over some safety rules and class respect strategies. It was indicated that some students might feel uncomfortable holding hands with someone else, so we were encouraged—if that was the case—to have each partner in a pair hold an end of a bean bag, so that the various moves could still be performed without any physical touch taking place. We were also encouraged to refer to the roles of the dance as “leader” and “follower” rather than by their traditional gender associations, so that there would be no awkward social dynamics created, for example, if a girl wanted to lead, or if two students of the same sex were dance partners. I really appreciated these considerations, because I personally felt during my adolescence that males taking on traditionally feminine roles was seen as something that was worthy of ridicule, whereas with careful explanation of expectations, that hopefully will not be the case.
It was decided that the “A” partners would be followers and the “B” partners would be the leaders. The idea was that each partner would know the correct steps, so that when the partners regrouped they could dance together. Unfortunately, the organisers of the workshop accidentally taught both groups of partners as if they were facing the same direction, so each team had to choose which of the partners wanted to try to perform their steps in the opposite direction from what they learned. It got quite confusing. Also, we were taught a 6-beat dance and given 8-beat songs to dance to, so I found it difficult to keep beat with the song because we were starting new cycles of the dance in bizarre places in the song.
That said, I really appreciate the sensitivity and sense of respect shown by the instructors, and their sincere and successful attempts to scaffold the instruction for students who had difficulty learning the moves. I appreciated the creativity of the subject, the method of instruction, and some of the group management techniques used by the instructors. The dancing itself was quite enjoyable, and I ended up feeling like I had exercised quite a lot by the time the workshop was through!
#3: Math and Physical Education
I could tell from the start that this workshop was tailored to elementary students, since it is generally much easier to implement cross-curricular activities in elementary school (since each class typically only has one teacher). However, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of techniques that were done in the workshop that I believe could be adapted to bring some activity into a secondary math class.
This was also a station-based workshop. The stations were as follows:
- Players paired up and each pair was given a jump rope and two dice. The objective was to add the total of the two dice and skip that many times in a row without tripping. Not only would this teach kids to add correctly, but also to work on their skipping skills (skipping is good for cardio exercise, eye-hand coordination, and enhancement of one’s vertical, among other things). Perhaps this activity could be modified for exponents or some other more advanced math concept.
- Players were split into four teams, one for each suit of playing cards. Each team threw several playing cards in the air and had to gather cards of their suit according to a math rule specified by their instructor (e.g. an odd number greater than 8) and a method of retrieval (e.g. hopping on one foot). Similar to the previous exercise, this develops athletic skills like balance, while also encouraging students to learn about number theory. (I don’t foresee this activity being quite as appropriate for secondary students, unless perhaps some less juvenile method of retrieval were used, and more advanced math rules.)
- Students tossed a bean bag to try to hit seat numbers printed on the bleachers that corresponded to the answers to various math problems given by the instructor. This exercise could easily be modified for secondary students in that several types of projectiles and targets could be used, and the math questions could be as complicated as they needed to be. There could even be algebraic expressions placed on posters on a wall.
- The players were given a simple math problem to solve with a partner. Several laminated pieces of paper with math problems on them were strewn about the area, and the players were told to search for another math problem on the ground that had the same solution as the given problem (there were more than one for each). For example, if the teacher said, “8 times 5,” an acceptable answer could be the team that chose a piece of paper saying “two tens, two fives, and ten ones.” I like this activity, because like the previous activity, it can also be easily adapted for the secondary classrooms by making the questions more difficult.
- The final challenge, similar to the third, was to throw a bean bag into one of two cones or hula hoops, depending on whether the number given by the teacher was even or odd. This challenge was a bit simplistic for a secondary class, but the idea of trying to hit certain targets based on answers to a question is an idea that could be used in math class.
Overall, this workshop inspired me to try to leverage my students’ excitement and love of movement instead of trying to suppress it. It caused me to think about teaching my course materials in new ways, which I believe made it very practical.
#4: Fostering Success in P.E.
The presenters opened their workshop with lots of free-play time, and I noticed that I was so much more willing to listen to what they had to say when I had been given the freedom to choose which activity I wanted to participate in.
We were told to choose a partner and invent a new game using various pieces of equipment we were given access to; then we could practice it for a while to become more skilled at it. I and my partner created a very complicated and difficult game that involved trying to play badminton while a Frisbee was spinning on a finger; we certainly were not very good at it! However, I appreciated the autonomy nonetheless.
The end of the class was basically a rehash of the exhibit at the Education Expo, so I didn’t really learn anything new from the last time I heard them speak. I also felt that there were several considerations regarding people with disabilities that I did not feel they adequately considered. Much of their assessment portion was more about teaching tips than it was about bringing feelings of success to struggling students. However, they did have several good ideas.
#5: Outdoor Deficit Disorder
My final workshop was about trying to increase the number of hours students spend outside, not only to increase their activity level, but also their interest in nature and their recognition of the human connection to it.
I had difficulty imagining how it would be possible to carry out many of their suggestions. Some would be difficult for me to apply because the subject matter is too basic for secondary students—e.g. a scavenger hunt for various shapes and textures—and others would be hard to apply because in order to get secondary students outside, waivers would need to be signed, and for any significant trip, it is likely that other teachers would need to be notified so that their class material can be rescheduled.
The organisers of the workshop told us about their hikes in nature reserves and their attempts to teach children about ecology and the conservation of nature. Since I have no science training, I would not likely be teaching those kinds of subjects.
They did suggest one thing I found might be useful in my practice, which is trying to determine the slope of a felled log or some other inclined object in nature. One presenter said that in the past, she had seen a set of pylons with math questions on them, and those pylons were placed around the school. She cited a study that showed that students’ cognitive function was improved by up to 30% by the ability to exercise and anxiety was lowered by being outside, which I felt was very important information of which to take note.
One of their main premises, though, was that the outdoors is the best way to make information practical, and without practicality, the knowledge is wasted. I personally vehemently disagree with this assertion, at least when it comes to secondary education, since by that point school becomes much less about practical knowledge (most of that has been achieved already long before high school begins) and more about trying to indirectly learn analytical and critical skills; being able to get a taste of subject mastery in order that the student can decide a general direction in life; and acknowledging systems, patterns, and theoretical structures so that the student can innovate without being limited to his/her own perspective of things. As such, my personal feelings about the presenters’ education philosophy may have coloured my opinion of the workshop’s relevance to me.
However, I appreciated being inspired to leave the classroom occasionally, and I believe my students would likely appreciate it as well.
Overall, the VIUPE conference was informative, educational, and useful. I derived much more enjoyment from attending these conferences than I originally anticipated I would, and I was unwaveringly impressed by the preparation and excellence of teaching demonstrated by all the presenters I witnessed.