Integrating ICT in Physical Education

Physical education

Lets start with basic fundamentals – physical education in schools doesn’t just exist to provide some light relief from the tedium of boring learning, or to burn off some energy so that children can concentrate better in their academics or because one in a million children might, by chance, turn out to be the next sports superstar who goes on to become mega-wealthy as a result. Neither is it a pursuit that provides opportunities for Principals to accumulate trophies etc. in a cabinet as part of the credentials of a “good school.”

The reason i say all of that is because in too many places when you walk in to schools and spend some time there, you could be mistaken for believing one or all of these things. For example, if physical education were an integral part of the holistic learning of the pupil wouldn’t we see;

a) PE being taught (or at least co-taught) by children’s class teacher in elementary/ primary schools (as the adult in the school with the best knowledge of the needs, requirements, strengths and weaknesses of each child?
b) PE teachers as part of all professional development and training that relates to pedagogy, child psychology etc.?

And, as a bonus …………………….
c) Wouldn’t we see ICT integrated in to PE as part of a cross-curricular learning approach that seeks to connect the learnings from different subjects to develop understanding of an integrated ‘joined up’ world?

I’ve advocated for the integration and use of ICT equipment and skills in PE for a long time. To be fair, I have met a handful of physical education teachers who really understood and were genuinely enthusiastic to experiment with such integration. However, these were too few and far between and often had to work in isolation – begging or borrowing equipment when others in schools often believed they already had more than adequate budgets for ‘stuff.’

Here’s a recent article that may, I hope, inspire more PE teachers to strike out and try things, experiment and hopefully with the full endorsement and encouragement of colleagues and school leadership;

The Hechinger Report – How technology in Physical Education Classes Can Help

 

More on E-Sports

E-sports

Readers here will recall that a few weeks ago i wrote a piece in which I set out my reasons why I was unhappy to see schools falling in to the trap of offering ‘E-sports’ as an option – as an alternative to physical sports and physical education in the curriculum.

So, I was interested to see the following article in which the pros and cons are discussed;

Peak – Is E-Sport a Sport?

To be clear, the article isn’t particularly about the issue of E-sports being in schools, but it does go to the core of whether it’s appropriate for E-sports to be promoted as a legitimate sport. My personal reading of the article is that there is little strength in the arguments in favour of permitting it to be treated as a sport.

In my view, this alone would strengthen my concerns about allowing the games in to schools.However, we can add to that a brief snippet of a news item i caught on TV in the last week, as I entered the room. The gist was an investigation and suspicions that E-sports were willingly permitting advertising and other activity that brought gambling to the attention of children. This seems to be a massive red flag and increases my fears that it’s a trojan horse – working to get in to schools and the lives of children under a cloak of respectability for purposes that are not in the best interests of children.

I say even stronger – keep it out of schools.

 

Losing the Plot Over E-Sports

Fortnite 3 million

“E-sports” – the very name is a marketing masterpiece. It gives a sense of legitimacy and slides these activities in alongside the most thrilling of endeavours to be expected in top flight rugby, football, gymnastics, swimming, marathon running.

But this is a joke. You can dress a pig in a dress, it’s still a pig! There are people in rehab clinics dealing with the effects of computer gaming addiction. On this basis, are we going to add cigarette smoking and whiskey imbibing to the curriculum in schools?

The spurious argument frequently given for inclusion of E-sports in schools is that they attract the students who otherwise wouldn’t engage in participatory activities. I’m afraid I get flabbergasted by this argument. When I was in school the kids who tried to bunk off from every PE lesson or sports/ games session would have been equally happy to be told that they were signed up for the competitive drinking and smoking activity which in due course when they had honed their skills would see them competing against other schools, then with some illicit gambling thrown in as well would go on to have the chance to compete in national competitions at which they could maybe win vast sums of money (although, of course, most of them would win diddly squit)

And yes, the fever will now get a whole lot worse after the recent saga of the Fortnite World Cup – at which the young man above won a ridiculous $3 million dollars. Because now, the voices of the loonies will be joined by the greedy avarice of the sadly misguided to suggest that more children should be playing such games – because you can get rich playing them!

(By the way, Fortnite is a game in which people in a virtual computer game world try to shoot each other dead until they’re the last survivor. Now after events in so many American schools and colleges, doesn’t that just completely sound like the sort of thing we should have children doing? No?)

Over the years I’ve attended a lot of sports events, sports days etc. in schools. Some were everything that sport should be about and some were awful for so many reasons that relate to failure of many of the adults concerned to really understand what school sports are about (or should be about!)

On one memorable occasion there were protocol reasons why there were way too many speeches on a day that was supposed to be about children enjoying and engaging in sports competitions. When I stood to speak I had chosen to focus on engaging in regular and rigorous physical exercise and/ or sport purely for its own sake, finding the pleasure in the process of learning skills and letting the outcome look after itself. I was followed at the podium by a very senior police officer. He spoke in Hindi and i was struggling to understand, so took the help of the school Principal sitting beside me for translation. I was mortified to discover that he started off by telling the gathered students and parents to take note of what I’d said. The children should indeed put lots of effort in to playing sports BECAUSE……… in this way they could become incredibly wealthy just like Sachin Tendulkar!!

So, in terms of how we arrived where we are, should anyone really be surprised? particularly in developing countries we see the rates of diabetes, obesity and other health issues for children escalating at truly horrific rates. We see schools where physical exercise and sports act like a massive filtering machine, until by secondary school just a handful who found by accident that they had some innate talent are still engaging in sport and a handful will emerge to rise to the very top (where they will be lavished with untold wealth and ridiculous adulation). The rest, they disengage from physical exercise and activity, figuring it’s ‘not for them’. Their time, instead, goes in to academics (and the parents are happy that they’re not distracted) and hours of social networking, computer games and media consumption.

Some of the luckier ones will realise in their 20’s that they’d missed the plot completely. They start to realise that their bodies are already starting to let them down and they are unlikely to be able to fulfil their career (and financial) goals if they don’t do something seriously and quickly about their physical health. Some make the move in time, some sadly don’t.

Where did it all go so wrong? There was a time when all children would have been physically active just for the pure, natural goodness of the process. They wouldn’t be getting anxious about performance issues, tearing themselves apart with unreasonable comparisons with the elite. In hunter-gatherer communities, did 95% of the males decide that hunting wasn’t for them because they couldn’t match the performance of the village’s best hunter? Or because they were never going to be the richest guy in the village through hunting?

Many children spend vast numbers of their non school hours engaged with computer games and electronic media. I fear that these are the very children who would gravitate to a few more hours of the same thing in school. They are the very children who should be steered away from such activities in school.

School is about learning to be our best and to live the best possible life in every respect. In such circumstances, learning to have a sensible and realistic relationship with our physical body has to be a fundamental part. This does mean that many teachers who didn’t have good relationships with being physically active themselves need to get over it for the sake of the children they teach.

I say though, please please, keep the E-sports out of schools!

Growth Mindset in Sports

Physical education, games and sports are a vital and integral part of a fully rounded holistic education. I also believe that for many children they also provide some of the most powerful and transferable experiences of what it means to be an effective learner. A child who develops a strong inclination towards a particular student quickly learns the natural connection between effort and outcomes – the more I train and apply myself, the better I become and the more success I can achieve in the sport.

So, as the concept of ‘Growth Mindset’ has developed over the last few years, it was important that specific attention be paid to its application in the area of sport. So, I was very pleased to see from this article that a book has been written on that subject;

Mindsetworks – Blog – Put Me In Coach – Growth Mindset in the World of Sports

Whilst I’m very keen to read the book, the article suggests that the writers have done a good job. One of the points that struck me was one where from time to time i’ve deliberately chosen to have provocative and thoughtful debates with teachers – how should children be chosen for school sports teams? All too often, the child with the high level of innate early talent gets called up for the team over the child who may be starting from a lower base, but who has the growth mindset and potential to work and strive to develop the technical skills.

The other thing the article talks about is the areas where sports coaches can sometimes have ‘blind spots’. Whilst they may pride themselves on a growth mindset approach towards the children and their technical skills and competence in the sport, they may harbour fixed mindset attitudes towards things like resilience, motivation and mental toughness. It’s important that coaches recognise that these are all things that can be learned and tailor their approaches accordingly.

Higher quality coaching that utilises and harnesses the power of growth mindset thinking can ensure that more children get more rich and rewarding experiences from their engagement with games and sports.

Physical Education in Primary School

Body and mind are all part of one integrated system. However, until we see universal education that acknowledges this, we have to question the commitment to holistic education – development of the whole child.

I was once a speaker at a school event in India talking to a sizeable gathering of parents, sharing the stage with a senior policeman. I spoke first, sat down and then he got up to speak. In my short speech I had highlighted the importance of physical exercise and being active in terms of the overall development of a child. When the police officer stood up, he gleefully told the audience they should take full note of what I’d said because – “Look at Sachin Tendulkar! Your children can make a lot of money in sport!” I cringed. The full intent of what I’d been saying was lost on that audience.

So, we get a number of problems, especially in the Indian education system, when it comes to physical wellness and approaches to physical education;

a) The schools system is so wedded to the idea of education as the transfer of a body of knowledge from educators to pupils, to be memorised, reproduced and graded. There’s not much of the learnable ‘stuff’ in PE, so it’s often treated as an add-on in the day to day school programme. It’s given titles like extra curricular.

b) Most of a child’s day in school is spent being so ‘suppressed’ that PE lessons are seen as a thankful release and nobody is surprised that they’re treated as a fun break time away from the ‘real stuff’ of school.

c) Nobody wants to be a PE teacher. Children are taught for these lesson periods by people who claim to be sports coaches, rather than PE teachers. Even though classroom teachers, especially in the Primary years may believe in the ‘mother teacher’ concept (sometimes begrudgingly), rather than subject specialists, they would be truly shocked if asked to conduct PE lessons for the children in their class. They fail to see that this is completely incompatible with the idea of educating the whole child.

d) Too many school leaders also see sports, games and PE as the light relief from the real, genuine reasons for schooling. As a result, the PE lessons are often the first to get sacrificed when extra time is needed for other things. In addition, they will largely be happy if the children have some activities to engage in which are fun, they enjoy as relief and where those with the best, natural comparative innate abilities go in to teams and bring some accolades and trophies for the school to be proudly displayed in a cabinet.

e) The parents and the children also buy in to ideas of sports and games as what’s important, put those with initial innate talent on pedestals and fail to understand the connections between development of foundational skills, effort and practice and eventual potential in physical activities.

f) One result of this is that by around Class 6, those children not seen as having innate talent for a sport choose to voluntarily opt out of physical activity. This proves useful for the schools as most of them don’t actually have enough space for all these children right through to class 12 to stay physically active. However, it destroys the association between physical wellness and the good of the whole person.

I have had many times when I’ve challenged teachers that they cannot afford to perpetuate these approaches. They could develop the finest minds in their classrooms, children with the finest knowledge, the abilities to succeed in all sorts of examinations and academic pursuits. However, if that young person has their first stroke or heart attack in their 30’s, can the educators really deny the role and responsibility they have for the situation?

In way too many schools, pandering to all the misguided notions, PE lessons consist of children playing or, at best, being trained for sports like cricket and football. It might look cute to parents to watch 20 5 year olds running around a football pitch chasing a ball – so close that you could throw a blanket over them. However, it provides those children very little of what they truly need.

Even in adult sport there are many clues. One that I witnessed personally was to see Subroto Cup level football players at the high school level who couldn’t kick a long ball without falling down and then having to get up before they could start running again. I recently also heard similar issues from rugby coaches working with youngsters at the top level at club and national level in India. They needed to find a lot of extra time to work with these youngsters if they were to come up to sufficient ability. They lacked in body awareness, balance, flexibility and body suppleness and stamina – the sorts of things that form the foundational bedrock of a good Primary School PE programme.

People in India wonder why all the enthusiasm and the sheer numbers of participants don’t translate in to any kind of success in football. The country has a lowly world ranking, loses ignominiously against countries with far smaller populations to select from and has only even seen a couple of players able to make the grade to play overseas, even at modest club levels. Whilst nothing can ever be put down to a single problem, the lack of foundational skills development in primary school is a significant issue impairing the ability levels. The issues holding back ability levels in rugby are similar. There’s no question, the young people playing do so with enormous dedication and enthusiasm. They put enormous effort in to their training, especially for fitness and strength. However, the country is yet to see any kind of international breakthrough.

When you compare children’s primary school experiences with those in Britain there is one massive contrast. The vast majority of British athletes and sports men and women have come through government education systems, especially at the primary level. Most of those schools have little in the way of specialised manpower for PE and sports. Instead, they are taught by their regular teachers who see the physical development of the children as being as much a part of their responsibility as language or maths skills development.

Here’s a good 15 minute professional development training video from UK that gives good insights in to the kind of skills developed in Primary School PE classes;

An education system that tries to develop fine minds whilst neglecting the body will, in my view, always fail. The development of a healthy body is not just for the few who might go on to play a sport, but the start of fundamental life habits that can benefit every pupil throughout their lives. We have a long road ahead in our schools.

Daniel Pink – Getting Out of Children’s Way

This is a really thought provoking short video from the writer, Daniel Pink. Somewhat understandably, when you look at the comments on youtube, he's taken a lot of criticism for the views expressed. However, I believe that there's a great deal of truth in what he says.

When I was in school it was very rare for parents to show up on the sidelines of the sports pitch. During that time, our entire focus was on the pitch, on the team and our role within it. That was more than enough to think about. I know that one of my worst ever sports experiences was when my grandparents came to a rugby match when I was 11. Apart from anything else, I could tell afterwards that my grandfather wasn't impressed by what he'd seen and that really undermined my confidence and hurt a great deal.

On other occasions, I remember how important it was to be able to give my interpretation of a game, a match or an athletics race - having had the chance to fully assimilate it, think about it and rationalise it in my mind.

Attending a boarding school from age 11 to 16, even athletics sports day wasn't attended by parents. To me, it was a vitally important day and the focus of much attention in the weeks beforehand. I set my own goals and targets for the day, I trained, I listened to my coach and at no point did I have to worry about who would be watching. I recall on one occasion that one of my first races of the day (when 15) was the 100 metres hurdles. I had trained hard and was very focused when I got to the start line. The gun went, my start was good. By the fourth hurdle i was competing at the front of the race. Putting my all in, I stretched too much for the next hurdle instead of putting in an extra step. I just failed to clear the hurdle, started to topple and went down heavily. I scraped a lot of skin off a knee and one arm. I eventually got to my feet and jogged to the end to complete the race. I had completely failed in my first goal for the day. Looking back, I think if that had happened in front of family, it would have negatively affected everything else I was to do that day.

However, here, I was on my own. I was in some physical pain and the consolation of my competitors wasn't doing too much. I walked off alone and sat behind the pavilion alone for about 15 minutes. My internal dialogue eventually brought me around to the fact that I'd really done nothing wrong, but tried a bit too hard. This enabled me to focus on the other events that day. The result, by the time i emerged from behind the pavilion I was even more focused and determined. I went on to set a personal best in the discus throw and then a new personal best, coming second in the 1500 metres (beaten by one of my best friends who was a very highly regarded schoolboy athlete).

Interestingly, no trophies or certificates were given out on the day. The entire focus was on the competitions, the races and the performances.

The challenges that afternoon were mine. The eventual achievements were also mine and I had the clarity of understanding how I'd been able to turn failure in to success. I'm glad my parents weren't there that day.

Today, there are many clues of what's gone wrong in school sports. Sports Day is often referred to by educators and school staff as a 'show', display or 'event'. The focus becomes unhealthily on who wins, glory - as though somehow competing, striving for one's best etc. don't carry enough excitement. There's another clue in that most schools don't keep accurate records of the times and distances achieved (all that matters that day is relative performance against others on the track). This prevents a student from competing against self over time and also denies them the ability to understand what has been achieved in their school, at their age group in past years.

There's so much we can do to improve the sports and physical exercise experiences of children in schools. One of the most important things we've got to do is bring a real separation between what's going on and what children understand from professional sport in the media.