©2019 by David Cooney

Physical education – can purposeful inquiry occur? A framework for Inquiry-based learning in Physical Education

April 7, 2019

I recently completed my first module for my Masters in Education and felt compelled to share with you all my results. 

 

You can access my assignment by clicking on the image above. It is at the bottom of the 'Documents' page of the Valuable Resources page.

 

Below is a short summary of the assignment, unit and my findings.

Problem:

PE is plagued by an unfortunate stereotype and I desperately want to see it changed. We identify ourselves as Physical Educators but this identification can be confused with Physical Activity Providers - these are two very different terms. Therefore, I had to do something to ensure we are known as teachers who just happen to teach Physical Education. 

 

I use the PYP curriculum and they encourage structured inquiry. 

I found a reference that states that an inquiry-based learning approach that integrates both physical and cognitive learning makes lessons authentic, challenging, meaningful and open-ended. This approach is student-centred, allows for collaboration and the use of all competencies. These are all factors that enhance motivation and engagement, which in turn could change the general perception of PE teachers within the general public.

 

However, there is no direction on how to conduct inquiry-based learning in PE. Therefore, I had to make my own. If this curriculum intervention was successful (the intervention being inquiry-based learning) then I needed to make a framework so other teachers could follow suit.

 

Spoiler alert: It was successful and I made this framework. Please use it to help with your teaching if you want!

 

Kath Murdoch Inquiry Cycle:

The International Baccalaureate (IB) who created the PYP believes that inquiry is the leading pedagogical approach as it allows student to achieve 'Agency' - where students have the desire, ability and empowerment to engage in their own constructive learning. 

 

Thus, inquiry-based learning was emphasised in the study since it engaged all students through the context of real-world authentic issues that the students could attempt to solve and achieve praxis. It is flexible as students had the ability to work individually or collaboratively and could utilise any skills necessary, physical or cognitive, to work towards a task, given or self-chosen.

 

Therefore, I used the Kath Murdoch Inquiry Cycle as the base for my lessons in this unit. I usually do use it as a reference in my lessons but for this unit I made it much more explicit. The framework allows for a natural journey between questioning, research, action and reflection.

 

The main purpose of this unit is for students to achieve praxis - informed committed action that is beneficial for human well-being. Therefore, 'taking action' is the aim of this unit and study.

 

Throughout the unit, I tracked students' progress around the inquiry cycle. This allowed me to determine whether my lessons were allowing students to take action both within class and during their lives outside of PE. 

 

I created an inquiry cycle poster and using Plicker dots from the http://www.thephysicaleducator.com/ I was able to track all 87 of my grade 4 students with relative ease. At the end of each lesson, students completed a short 2 minute survey and then put their Plicker on a part of the inquiry cycle. I asked several students at random where they put their Plicker and why.

 

Praxis:

This is a new term I learned from studying this module. This site: http://infed.org/mobi/what-is-praxis/ can help you understand what praxis is. But, in short it is defined as: informed, committed action. It is not simply 'taking action' for the sake of taking action (i.e.: in respect to this unit, a student being able to do a push-up) but rather praxis makes central it’s purpose, which is the confirmation of human action for a more human world at both individual, and social levels through creativity and collaboration (educating others on how to do the push-up in order to create a healthier world). No action is too small for Praxis to occur as long as it is beneficial to the world.

Student Choice - Agency:

The central idea of this unit was: 

 

Recognising the factors that affect people’s health and fitness can help improve people’s well-being.

 

Admittedly, I do not like this central idea very much due to it being locked only to Health and Fitness but it did give my students lots to unpack. The term 'factor' provided a great avenue for further research. Kids were researching smoking, cancer, heart disease, obesity, pollution, garbage, etc. I particularly liked it when one student investigated iPhone use. 

 

Eventually, the students chose to focus on one factor to solve - since Thinkers was our Learner Profile for the unit. We took a vote and settled onto obesity. 

 

Throughout the unit, students were using Google Slides to help them learn about the different areas of fitness and started creating their own exercise program. You can access it by clicking on the image below:

 

Or copy this into the URL bar: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1C7c-tgOo7rb8oGtcngF_vF61_gGhYlfdLg6g8wUdqIg/edit?usp=sharing

 

Students also learned how to conduct fitness tests to determine what their client needs to work on. 

 

Finally, the students were becoming increasingly competent at creating their own exercise programs, testing and training their classmates. I asked the kids how they felt about the action they were taking and followed on with, "how can we make a bigger impact to solve the obesity problem?" 

 

After much discussion, the kids wanted to train others and then one student chimed in, "can we train the whole school?" We then made the Warrior Fitness day (A warrior is our mascot).

Warrior Fitness Day:

For an entire day, the grade 4 classes were personal trainers. I created a booking system using Google Forms and each class in the Elementary School booked in a time that suits them. Our gym was packed with kids, teachers, parents and grade 8 students coming in to be trained by the grade 4 trainers. 

 

One teacher mentioned afterwards: The students bought into their role. Agency in action as they designed specific workouts and modified others for their clients. They loved the responsibility they earned and the outcome was first rate.

 

 

The kids led a total of 409 sessions at 40 minutes per session. It was a massive day but one they will never forget. Throughout the session, the trainers conducted a fitness test, collected the data, interpreted the data to find which area of fitness their client needed to work on and led the session. At the end of the session, the trainer gave recommendations to improve the clients health and fitness and gave the the client the completed exercise program. 

 

Homeroom integration:

This unit was connected with the grade 4 unit of inquiry involving 'systems'. Their central idea was:

 

Systems use power and authority to make decisions and accomplish goals. 

 

This fitted very well with the PE unit since a successful trainer who is looking to change a client's health habits needs to have positive power, authority and leadership. Furthermore, the homeroom's writing genre for the unit was persuasion. 

 

Overall, it was fantastic to see the students' learning being applied in another area of their education. 

 

Results:

Students completed a survey after each lesson and it asked questions regarding: enjoyment and confidence.

 

 

A specific Learner Outcome for this unit and study was:

 

Students understand what is required to assess physical fitness and are able to record relevant data in order to provide appropriate health and fitness recommendations.

 

Based upon the positive qualitative and quantitative results, this curriculum intervention appeared to be successful and has the potential to change the way educators approach their lessons.

My inquiry framework:

 

 

I found the Kath Murdoch Inquiry Cycle powerful but it does have it's limitations. It is a great guide for executing a lesson but not for planning. Therefore, I added onto the Inquiry Cycle and attached a planning section. 

 

The planning section is based upon a picture and a frame. The picture is the central idea that contains your big ideas and allows students to unpack the meanings within. The frame is divided into four sections: the unit of inquiry, ideas for authentic experiences, the Learner Profile, and the Approaches to Learning (ATLs). The ATLs are essential skills that are transdisciplinary, meaning they can be used within school and in the student’s life outside of school. 

 

The plan is encapsulated in a rounded square, which flows into a hollow rounded square towards the Inquiry Cycle where the lesson has been executed. The hollow square has arrows pointing to the 6 areas of the cycle indicating students can access any stage once the plan has been executed. Arrows connect every area of the cycle indicating the non-sequential nature of the framework – the natural order of wonder and curiosity. Once this framework is used, teachers can place this in the classroom and allow students to continually refer to it and write their own thoughts on it such as ideas for authentic experiences, or listing references for the Finding Out stage of the cycle. It is a dynamic, accessible and flexible framework that allows for student voice and agency.

 

Conclusion:

According to the data collected, student and teacher surveys, and student work collected inquiry-based learning can work in the PE classroom. In addition, it also demonstrates that praxis can occur within this learning environment. 

 

Obviously, more work needs to be done.

 

This study was conducted on a Health and Fitness unit - can it be applied to other units? Movement Composition, Striking and Fielding, Invasion Games, etc.? Can praxis occur in these units? 

 

I had an extra class for each of the grade 4s. Rather than a standard 2x 40 minute class, I had 1x 80 minute class and 1x 40 minute class - 3 classes/week for each of the grade 4s. Would this model work on a standard timetable?

 

I created the new inquiry framework, however I have not tested it. Would it actually work?

 

So, the framework is there for you to use, the study proved successful, there are obvious areas for extra investigation but these can be tested out in the future. 

 

I would love to know what your thoughts are on this subject. I absolutely believe in the power of our subject to change lives and the world but we have to show the world that we do have that power.

 

Let us all achieve praxis through our teaching. 

 

Happy teaching. 

 

David

 

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