Inquiry as a Journey in Physical Education

DSCN5533As inquiry plays a pivotal role in any primary years program, I would like to provide some insight into how I strive to get students actively inquiring within my own PE lessons and the units I teach. What I write here has served me well over the years, but I am certainly not saying it is the best way. That is the beauty of this profession, we all have our own unique ways of reaching our students and achieving our aims and objectives as teachers.

The Facts

The reality is that we (PE teachers) are but a fleeting moment in our students’ lives in terms of the amount of contact time that we have with them compared to our classroom teaching colleagues. However, in no way am I undervaluing the significance that single subject teachers can have on their students’ learning journeys when making the prior statement. At my current school (Nanjing International School in China) the classroom teachers have roughly four to five 80-minute unit of inquiry time slots with the students each week. This roughly translates to approximately 32 hours of UoI time in which the students are busily working away and inquiring into things they want to know and learn about in regards to the selected topic of study over a 6-week unit of inquiry.

For me personally, I have one 80-minute session a week which translates to roughly 7-9 hours of contact time per unit with the students. Active inquiry in any UoI in the classroom involves students in a plethora of options in terms of how they inquire. For example, trips to the library, researching using the internet, talking to experts, watching videos, reading books, journal writing etc. None of these active types of inquiry are as possible in PE. However, other types of inquiry skills that the students are learning in the classroom can and should be transferred over to the arena of PE. Some of these skills may include, but are not limited to the following: Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 10.30.05 AM The above list is really just a starting point for the endless possibilities to get the students actively thinking and inquiring in PE. Creating a learning rich environment in our single subject that consistently challenges our students to find out the answers on their own or in groups should be an essential part of our teaching practice in physical education. Doing so makes for much more meaningful inquiry and is very possible within the realm of PE. My professional journey trying to promote inquiry within my instruction in physical education has constantly changed and evolved over the past ten years. One of the key considerations that we must continually reflect on as PE teachers is when do we slow the class down and have important discussions with our students related to their learning?

Through my own blog (www.pyppewithandy.com), I have received a number of emails asking me how I can make inquiry happen when it is our responsibility as PE teachers to keep the kids as active as possible during a lesson. Although I wholeheartedly agree that we must keep our students moving and active during a lesson, I would argue that there is absolute pedagogical justification to slow the class down and have important discussions to ensure that our students are grasping the enduring concepts that we have strived to embed within the curriculum.

Within my instruction I address these concepts and big ideas by creating as many visuals as possible that document my students learning journeys. Bringing their inquiry alive and making it visible throughout a unit allows students to feel ownership over their personal journeys in a PE unit.  Much of their inquiry within my lessons involves them in designing their own learning engagements based on the student learning outcomes for the unit and is very much a part of the visuals that we create together in PE. I have provided some visual examples of what this looks like in my classes below. Everything that you see on these visuals is student initiated inquiry in action. I simply document their thoughts, ideas, suggestions, insight, and learning for them on these visuals. All of the visuals that we create stay up for the entirety of the unit for other classes to see and learn from.

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Good inquiry practices, in my opinion, transcend subject specific boundary lines. Whether it be maths, language arts, music, or PE, deeply reflecting on our own teaching practice and considering ways to better promote inquiry within our classes/lessons should be an ongoing process that is constantly evolving over time. Becoming better at the art of inquiry is not only a skill needed by students, but also teachers as well. It’s about lifelong learning for all of us after all, isn’t it. Thanks for reading.

About andyv10

Teaching PE is truly a passion of mine. Helping all kids to excel or at least reach their potential is an ongoing goal of mine. I have been teaching internationally at fully authorized IB schools in Japan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, and China since 2001. The experience of teaching abroad has been an amazing journey. I have learned so much! I live with my wife, Neila, a school nurse and certified yoga instructor, and my two boys, Eli 8, and Tai 7 in Nanjing, China. My family and I are all Canadian.
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5 Responses to Inquiry as a Journey in Physical Education

  1. shane pill says:

    Great post. I will share this with the primary degree students doing the core H&PE topic. Thanks for sharing this material.

  2. Wow! Awesome learning is happening under your guidance. I totally agree with you when you say that “good inquiry practices transcend subject specific boundary lines”.

  3. kviloria says:

    This is awesome! I’d love to share this with our PE teachers. I know this will inspire them. Thanks for sharing!

  4. johnbarell says:

    Andy, Thanks very for sharing these wonderful examples of students’ inquiry within your PE class. At last we have very instructive inquiry experiences within your discipline. It’s may be, as you said, harder to justify to some, the taking out of time from running around to engage students’ curiosities about their own bodies, growth, development and the like. But there can be nothing more personal than these subjects that you deal with so expertly. Engaging students’ inquiry and critical thinking about dance, movement and creativity will long remain with them because they have had an opportunity to participate so fully. Your visuals would work well in any class. Running around the gym or on the playing field is not all that it’s cracked up to be, especially if there is no reflection about its purpose, goals and how can improve.
    Congratulations to you and your students. Perhaps in a future posting you will share with us their responses to what they do in PE? What did it mean? What did they like about it? How was it useful in other classes and in their lives? What do parents and other teachers/admins think?

    John Barell

  5. Pingback: Inquiry as a Journey in Physical Education | Inquire Within | Love to read, love to learn!

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