Last November I have attended Kath’s Murdoch workshop at SEQ Qatar, Doha, an event prepared and highly recommended by my mentor Ali Ezzeddine. I am thankful to my school, Arab International Academy, who supported me to attend the workshop.
As a specialist teacher who employs the Teaching Games for Understanding pedagogical model this learning opportunity was a fantastic way to deepen the art of questioning, to encourage students’ inquiries through different techniques and strategies and mostly to acknowledge the essentials of the inquiry from the planning moments to the assessment and action stages.
Why inquiry in PE?
Our students are genuinely motivated to learn and practice when they follow their interests and the process of inquiry allows us to tap into their natural curiosity. By using it, learners can magnify the transfer of skills when setting goals, think of resources or demonstrate organisation and communication skills. Futhermore, as inquiry teachers, we can make informed choices about students’ interests and learning needs and better shape our planning and assessments processes.
How do you see your thinking shaping?
As we have progressed into what Murdoch engaged us with, I was constantly thinking about my thinking. Being prepared to challenge your own thinking and to observe it as it shapes through the interaction with different perspectives, is an essential trait that I am willing to be aware of and keep it at high metacognitive level in my profession.
How can we encourage students’ agency?
‘Pause to allow time for thinking and use questions as learning intentions’, says Murdoch. Through the quality of our questions and by engaging the students in the learning process we deepen their understanding. Hearing learners’ voice and choice in the inquiry process is a great way to better know the students. I do this by video provocations, oral discussions recorded on the white board (mind maps) or exit permits to find more about their prior knowledge or skill interest like I did in this post.
How can we spark their curiosity?
Given the stretch of time we have in PE, I often post a picture on the board and I encourage students to write their questions as the session unfolds. At the beggining of the health unit, in grade 3, I left a foam roller on a mattress in one of the gym’s corners. Some students asked questions, some others started to do push ups with it or peak at each other holding it like a big lense. A Mistery Box as suggested by Murdoch (2015) can do wonders. During the striking and fielding unit I use a red bag with 7-8 baseball balls in it. We inquire about their different sizes, materials they are made of, texture and more important, their purpose. I invite students to anticipate and make predictions about the use of these balls and the quality of the discussion is growing visibly.
Is your learning context authentic?
The backward planning model (Wiggins and McTighe, 1998) allows students to demonstrate understanding through their performance by using
GRASPS scenarios! This is a strategy I have been exposed to in
Erickson’s (2009) book and workshop and I first put it in practice during my collaboration with a fantastic educator, my Head of PE in Singapore: Mark Williams. Our students love to play and like to impersonate the roles we assign them with. The more they inquire about these roles the better their responsibility increases, and consequently, the learning outcomes. Find bellow an example of one of the most succesful GRASPS, designed for an adventure challenge unit in grade 5, as well as some examples of posters made by grade 3 students as part of their role to recruit players for the school’s baseball team.
How transdisciplinary is your programme?
As Nicolesco (1999) emphasised, transdisciplinarity’s goal is understanding the present world and it can be achieved by exploring content within the context of inquiry. My students experienced the action of resistance and friction by working with parachutes or swimming with tshirts on while their performance was measured. With this approach we scaffolded their learning about forces acquired during classroom time. In another experiment, students came with the class teacher and measured the volume of the swimming pool. They made the calculations to find out how many elephants will fit in our school’s pool!
How to construct a meaningful culture of curiosity?
Creating a culture of inquiry by using powerful resources and strategies is essential in our activity, therefore, building a community and connecting with students is key. I write personal notes for students to express the appreciation for their efforts and establish a line of communication and trust that makes them feel comfortable in their environment. Our essential agreements that we establish at the begining of the year are posted on the board and we often refresh them and reflect upon. For my grade 5 students I built a fitness website that we used during the unit and encouraged their collaboration through it. Furthermore, Murdoch (2015) suggests to allow students to get to know you! As soon as I returned to school I reiterated the fact that I learned during the weekend with other teachers and I shared an example of my learning together with the workshops’ certificate.
Enhancing students’ capacity of questioning?
At the beginning of our units I use Question Starts strategy as an illustrative and encouraging way for students to formulate questions, starting from their own interests. This Visible Thinking routine is one of my favourite and most effective during PE sessions, along with the Smiley Faces or Traffic Light exit permits.
Powerful Questions related to PE
In her book – The Power of Inquiry – Murdoch (2015) proposes great questions: How does your gym nurture curiosity? How do you know if you’re healthy? What makes you who you are? How do we care for ourselves? Students’ answers were fantasticwhen I used some of them and I have compiled their suggestions in a grade 3 wall display and a grade 5 end of the unit reflection, on paper chart.
I summarized a few thoughts and learnings that were inspired by Murdoch’s workshop. Find amazing resources on her website, from where, as an educator you can build a stronger understanding of what inquiry represents in today’s education. I hope you find this helpful and, as Kath Murdoch wrote in her autograph: ‘Stay Curios!’
Erickson, L. H and Lanning, L.A. 2014. Concept-based Curriculum and Instruction. Sage, CA.
Murdoch, K. 2015. The Power of Inquiry. Seastar, Australia.
Nicolescu, B. 1996. La Transdisciplinarité. Paris, France: Rocher.
International Congress What university for tomorrow ? Towards a transdisciplinary evolution of the university. Locarno, Switzerland. Available: http://perso.club-internet.fr/nicol/ciret.
Visible Thinking Routines. Available: http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/VisibleThinking_html_files/03_ThinkingRoutines/03d_UnderstandingRoutines/QuestionStarts/QuestionStarts_Routine.html
I have encouraged our students to create their own posters in preparation for the Sports Day. They worked in groups and they were supported by the class teachers when highlighting their understanding of essential sports values that we are emphasizing in our units. These posters were displayed in the gymnasium and around the playing areas during the event. I am really happy with the outcomes of this action, especially with grade 1 students who insisted to have their voice heard and their posters displayed in specific places. How do you encourage students’ agency at your school during the Sports Day?
Murdoch (2015) emphasized that constructing the emotional environment is key when educators aim to nurture quality relationships. When feeling trusted and part of a connected community, our students feel safe and take risks in their learning.
I write student notes and put them in their cubbies, lunch boxes, or their bags; I leave them on their tables when they’re not in the room or simply pass them directly with an additional feedback.
‘It is worth putting time into. Like all relationships, the connections we have with our students needs regular attention – it’s not just something to attend to at the beginning of the year’ (Murdoch, 2015).
References: Murdoch, K. 2015. Power of Inquiry. Seastar Education. Australia
I am just sharing this amazing work of a passionate educator! Thank you, Chris!
Physical Education is not the easiest subject to organize boards, but is definitely attainable with dedication and clear purpose in mind.
This year I moved to a new school and thanks to the principal’s vision we have a display policy in place that regulates the way we communicate students’ learning, actions and outcomes. The PE department has allocated a generous corridor with plenty of pin boards where we have the opportunity to showcase and advocate for the quality of our programme. In this post I will share some examples of displays that fit best our learning context.
Grade 3 Health Related Fitness
I want to start with a display where grade 3 students express their suggestions and actions that they will take as a result of their knowledge, understanding and skills acquired in the unit. Inspired by Kath Murdoch’s book – Power of Inquiry – I have deepened the questioning empowering students to communicate their thinking effectively. To be concise, I will just point out what we have displayed, mentioning that some displays are work in progress, as they are part of a learning continuum that we aim to illustrate.
This is a practice that I enforce at the beginning of each year with the cohorts of students that I teach: we discuss together what makes our PE environment safe and enjoyable for learning. We reach consensus, then students write down their group statements and we all sign the poster. We define ourselves as a team of learners and we often go back to our agreements to refresh or highlight their importance.
Approaches to Learning
We post the approaches to learning in both English and Arabic, and we add relevant pictures for each of the five skills categories. We have a similar display with the IB Attitudes .
Play with Purpose
This is the core of our activity and the posters communicate and illustrate snapshots of the Teaching Games for Understanding approach that we employ in our school. I created collages that evidence students’actions and the intended learning outcomes.
On this board I choose students’ reflections, games creation outcomes and learning continuum, that evidence the formative and summative assessments of various units. As other displays exemplified in this post, this is a dynamic one that gets refreshed on unit basis.
Finally, I got to organise the Wonder Wall and give it the attention it requires. I made a poster with each grade and the name of the unit. Our students write their questions on post-its during or after group inquiry, pre-assessments, provocations and exit permits. We answer all the questions and we encourage students’ agency by informing our planned and taught curriculum.
By using the white board we invite students to communicate how they feel about their learning, through Smiley Faces and Traffic Light tools. I find these tools effective at the end of the sessions: some students help organizing the equipment while others communicate their learning. I also encourage social and communication skills by asking them to share their learning with a peer (Think. Pair. Share.) or by letting them justify their reflection.
Ideas and suggestions
I would be happy to hear about your ideas and suggestions, or even more, to see how you advocate for the quality of the PE programme at your school.
In my next post, I will be sharing a personal reflection following Kath Murdoch’s workshop that I attended last month. I intend to share some of the pedagogic approaches, strategies and tools that can enhance our activity in the PE environment.
Have fun and keep it simple!