Did you say inquiry in PHE?

A PHE teacher once told me that a struggle in implementing a balanced PHE programme was the attitude that PHE is just “a gym class.”

As a gym class, the implication was that (1) PHE was not ‘academic’ because (2) students did not learn anything except how to play sports or games, (3) everything health in PHE should consist of things that people have to do to improve their playing skills in specific games, and (4) it is really difficult to teach ATL skills in PHE.

I wish I could’ve introduced this teacher to the PHE teachers I know, who teach PHE as a balanced subject, so that he too could believe that any subject has the potential to address more than just the content used to learn that subject.

The four barriers to balance in PHE as a subject stem from the misconception that content is king.

Even if we start from content due to limitations in venues that have to be shared by a whole school, we can expand learning to more than just what we can play in the area that is available in any given time in a school year.

A badminton unit comes to mind. This teacher develops a unit starting with content because that was what his classes could do when space allocations were decided by the whole school PHE team. He did not stop at the content, though.

He decided the key concept would be relationships and the related concepts chosen were choice and refinement. The global context was orientation in space and time. The resulting statement of inquiry became something like:

Choices over time support growth in individuals and communities.

How does a teacher set up an inquiry in PHE to help students understand these concepts and big idea?

The most significant shift in this PHE teacher’s thinking was to use content to teach skills and concepts, through the learning strategies used in the unit. Instead of content as the starting point, he actually started with the concepts and skills, and these framed the teaching.

Leading with concepts and skills

Relationships was a concept the students could learn within teams, starting with using communication and collaboration skills to come up with a team name. Because the teams had to tell the teacher with one voice about their team name, leadership had to be chosen or had to emerge within the group.

Leadership emerges out of collaborative work in the student team.
Leadership emerges out of collaborative work in the student team.

Relationships, choice and refinement became the concepts that students would rehearse again and again as they took on roles in their teams. Roles such as Coach, Assistant Coach, Trainer, General Manager, and Motivator each had specific functions in the group. Each one of the students had to communicate and make choices in each role for the team goal of refining their playing skills in badminton.

Roles help students to develop skills for better relationships, to learn about choices and to refine specific physical skills.
Roles help students to develop skills for better relationships, to learn about choices and to refine specific physical and ATL skills.

The teacher had flipped his PHE classroom, so a lot of the content was delivered to the students through video and articles (Criterion A). The students used the content to develop plans for teaching the team specific skills (Criterion B). Time was allocated each class for Coaches and Assistant Coaches to teach the team (Criterion C), for the Trainer to develop a warm up that was fun and engaging (Criterion C), for the General Manager to keep everyone on task and on time (Criterion C), and for the Motivator to make sure everyone participated (Criterion C). Roles changed every week, so at the end of a week, the team had to evaluate what they learned, how they taught each other, and how the work for that week went (Criterion D). These reflections helped them in the following week as they changed roles and further explored the value of relationships in the team, each member’s choices for refinement in the great game.

Looking at the criteria-based tasks above, consider the learning students gained:

  • What communication skills did students practice?
  • What collaborative skills helped students to succeed?
  • What might have been the documentation tasks that students had to do? (Hint: efolios)
  • What thinking levels of Bloom’s taxonomy are required for students to accomplish all tasks?
  • How are concepts leading this unit? What is the purpose of the content?

Reflecting on the questions above help us to understand the shift in thinking that the author of the unit went through to transform his PHE classroom.

Students learned about the value of communication in a team.
Students learned about the value of communication in a team.

With the sample unit here, the shift in the planning process helped the teacher to shift the focus from content to more concept-based teaching and learning with a strong skills foundation supporting the students’ learning. Students inquired into badminton skills as well as collaboration, communication, leadership, and social skills and applied these.

How about a collaborative inquiry?

How might PHE teachers to explore how health can be further embedded into their existing units?

How might PHE teachers be able to use a PLN such as Lieke Burghout’s Facebook group for PHE teachers?

Please share your ideas in the comments.


Author’s Note: Many thanks to Brad Madden for permission to share his unit on MYP Toolbox!

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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