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.

 

Get Outside!

Here’s a report which, whilst initially shocking, is not really at all surprising;

TES – Sir Ken Robinson Urges Schools To Help Increase Outdoor Playtime For Children

We can only begin to imagine what the implications are from this in terms of both physical and mental health. I even find myself wondering whether this has a whole set of implications that I and many others haven’t thought through yet. many in the medical field have suggested that, as science and medicine have moved forward, today’s generation of young children is the first with the potential to live a life beyond 100 years. What if the result of mistakes in childhood lifestyle, diet, exposure to sun and lack of physical exercise mean that they are actually the first generation that will see a shorter lifespan than those older.

There is no excuse for this. It shouldn’t happen. Do we have the willpower and the sense to arrest the negative trends?

Exercise for Better Learning

Why deny children regular exercise, when the evidence in favour is so powerful?

I would put particular emphasis here on the word ‘regular’. I get very troubled when i see data or evidence in schools that suggests that the amount of physical activity the children are getting is actually dwindling. Even when they do gt physical exercise, all too often for administrative convenience it’s squeezed in to one weekly session, thereby significantly reducing the benefits.

Here’s a nice, short article that sets out in very simple terms what we know about the benefits of regular physical exrcise. Incidentally, this article isn’t even written to refer to children – it’s just as relevant for us adults!

Fast Company – 3 Reasons Exercise Makes You Smarter

It’s ironic that the volume of curriculum is often given as one of the primary reasons for squeezing out time for recess or PE. As the article highlights, our memories actually work better when we get good regular exercise – which should mean we can learn more in shorter time. Also, in schools there’s a very big factor that isn’t touched upon here. When children are getting good exrcise every day they’re calmer and more focused in the classroom – thereby significantly reducing discipline issues and off-task beaviour.

Not only does this make the classroom a more effective place of learning, but it reduces health risks for the children and makes the classroom a ‘nicer’ more empathic place. It’s really time to rethink the role of the physical body in the school.

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.

Physical Education in Schools

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. How about, all study and no PE makes Jack and Jill in to underachievers – even in their studies.

When it comes to the issues of physical wellness and physical education we really have got ourselves in a fine mess in the education field. However, I believe it’s time we started getting rational and working our way out of these things. After all, aren’t we, the educators, the people who have held ourselves out to have the knowledge, wisdom and experience to prepare children and young people for their future lives?

Yet, what do we see? At the worst such evidence as;

a) Indian Supreme Court has to threaten schools with dire consequences if they continue to allow junk food and drinks to be sold through school canteens,
b) Students convinced/ cajoled in to not being sport or being physically active because they have Board exams coming up, even when that sport has featured as a prominent part of their life,
c) PE lessons as the first thing sacrificed when a child is given remedial teaching (because the standard lessons didn’t meet their needs),
d) Withholding of right to do PE and sport as a punishment when there are discipline issues,
e) PE and sport programmes amongst the first to be axed in State education systems when there are budgetary constraints.

Less obvious, but equally damaging are the ways that PE is treated and seen in school as a form of ‘light relief’ that excuses away any boredom in the academic classes. Next, from a very young age too many schools and PE teachers are seeing PE as pre-sport, rather than as a fundamental subject that teaches children about their body, exercises it and stimulates it and ensures that it is flexible, adaptable, strong and supported by a healthy cardio-vascular systems to enable it to perform at its optimum.

Children move out from their classrooms for a PE lesson that might be 30 to 40 minutes. There’s a familiarity to the drill. The boys ask for (and are given) a football and set off to split in to teams according to their own rules. Some girls will take a basketball to the neighbouring court, while some others even in lower classes sit out on the sidelines having already ‘opted out’ of physical exercise. Sometimes there might be a bit of refereeing, maybe a bit of coaching, but a lot of the time will be pretty unproductive and some will involve learning some bad sports habits. Result – at best maybe 10 minutes of real exercise for those already most active. Many of the children on the field may be getting little more than 3-4 minutes of activity – not enough to raise heart rate discernibly or to give any real health benefits.

To me, one of the saddest elements comes because children themselves start to see the PE lesson as a way of separating out those who have some innate ability for a sport and those with none – the purpose being to determine who will grow to be part of the school soccer team, basketball team etc. When children get to Middle School (Class 5 to 7), consciously or unconsciously they begin to figure out whether or not they are going to ‘make the team’. For those who don’t expect to, the option is easy – opt out of being physically active and take to the sidelines as a spectator.

The education system has again effectively produced an unbalanced person, one who doesn’t see or experience the inherent interconnection between mind and body. Can educators really, seriously say they have fulfilled their responsibility when they turn out a young mind trained to excel in passing exams, but who has their first heart attack in their mid-30s or gets diabetes and lives a life hampered by a regime of treatment?

There is now more than enough evidence to suggest very strongly that it’s not even just the body we’re letting down when we don’t adequately develop the habits of being physically active in children. As the following Fast Company article highlights regular exercise brings benefits both mentally and emotionally;

Article (Click on link to read article)

So, in short, we need a renewed effort to an integrated approach to physical exercise in schools that respects it as something more than a precursor or sorting mechanism for sport. Only in this way do we have the chance of a future generation that benefits from this balanced approach to human development, has better mental and emotional health and lives up to more of its potential.

Weight Training for Kids

Here’s an interesting article that highlights some recent research that has provided detailed evidence and clarity in an area that has often been subject to a lot of myth – namely, whether or not weight training is safe for children.

I have to admit that I was fairly firmly in the ‘not good’ camp when it came to perceptions about whether weight training was good for kids. However, there’s a lot in the article that makes a lot of sense.

New York Times Blog article

That said, I want to stress that it doesn’t mean that any time soon I’m going to be advocating that we install lakhs worth of gym equipment, nautilus multi-gyms etc. Some of the reasons are in the article, some are in the nature of our school.

The article highlights that any benefits from weight training for children come only when it is supervised. If such equipment is put in to schools you have to be very sure that there are no circumstances under which children will get access unsupervised. A few years ago I heard of a boy in a boarding school who got in to the habit of entering the gym at night through a window. one night he injured his back on the equipment and was not found for some hours!

Supervision means highly trained supervision. It also means that where our school caters to the needs of children over such broad age ranges it would be near impossible to have a gym that was ‘child safe’ at all ages. By its nature, gym weight training equipment can only be used by very small numbers of students at a time. As an urban school we have to continually think about the optimal use of space. It would also represent a very big outlay of funds for equipment to be used by relatively small numbers of students.

I believe the article contained answers, that actually reminded me a great deal of some of the activities of my own PE classes right back to elementary school days, including the use of medicine balls for resistance training, press ups and other exercises where the body’s own weight is used. These can be further added to by exercises in pairs where the colleagues weight provides the resistance. To me, this is very compatible with an approach to PE which is far more about building strength, stamina, body awareness, flexibility and suppleness. Games and sports would be kept for other, quite separate sessions and would benefit from the development of these skills through PE.