Friday 18 August 2023

A Successful Physical Education School Year Start Up

 Submitted by: Sonia Sheehan, HPEC Vice President Communications

A successful physical education school year start up begins with a great deal of planning before any students enter the gymnasium for the first class of the year.  As a veteran physical education teacher entering my 24th year of teaching elementary PE, I would like to share some of my tried-and-true tips for a great school year start-up. 

At the start of each school year, I like to begin with a reflection on my teaching philosophy.  I focus on the following questions:   

What do I believe are the best practices for teaching a quality physical education program and how can I implement them in my daily teaching?

How can I spark a sense of “Joy in Movement” with my students each day I teach them?

How can I build the foundation for a physical literacy journey that my students can enjoy for the rest of their lives?

What can I do to meet the objective of developing the whole student in a pursuit of a healthy active life as outlined in the Alberta Physical Education and Wellness Curriculum?

With time taken for self-reflection and a thorough contemplation of the physical education curriculum, I can begin to plan for my gymnasium expectations, my indoor and outdoor teaching guidelines, my gymnasium management plan and my curricular connections in my year planning. I am an advocate of clear, concise, and consistent expectations for all students. The following is an example of some of my gymnasium expectations and signals (a simple hand signal has been added to each expectation to help students remember what is expected):

Gymnasium Expectations:

  1. Safety First – (signal – roof over head).
  2. Listen and follow all instructions – (signal – hand to ear).
  3. Respect others and the equipment – (signal – hands folded together).
  4. Play fair and be a good sport – (signal – two thumbs up).
  5. Do your best! – (signal – arm action for running).

Gymnasium Signals:

3, 2, 1, Freeze - students will stop where they are, ensure safe space away from other students, put equipment on the ground, stay standing and look to the teacher – give a 3, 2, 1 count down to freeze (this allows students a warning about an upcoming freeze and then by the time students hear freeze, they will be ready to be still and listen)

1 whistle – stop, ensure safe space and stand where you are, put equipment on the ground by your feet, turn your body towards the teacher with your eyes on the teacher and hands on your knees (done in 3 secs)

2 whistles – stop, bring equipment with you, and return to your home base and stand looking at the teacher quietly (done in 5 secs)

Find a Home  (signal – roof over head) – find your own space in the gym/field away from others/walls/equipment (do helicopter arms to check if space is okay) and complete a designated activity (marching on the spot, jumping jacks, balancing on one foot)

Music turned on = start activity

Music turned off = freeze, ensure safe space, turn your body towards the teacher with your eyes on the teacher and with any equipment placed on the ground

In addition to planning for gymnasium expectations and signals, I create a plan and class routines for both indoor and outdoor physical education classes.

The next planning element to consider is the physical space and equipment I have available for my teaching. I am fortunate to have both an indoor gymnasium and outdoor tarmac as dedicated space for physical education classes. I also have access to a variety of physical education equipment for student use, to develop their movement and object control skills. I do my best to schedule a one week indoor rotation followed by a one week outdoor rotation when teaching physical education in order to allow students opportunities to learn and move in a variety of environments. This indoor/outdoor rotation continues through the school year and allows students to experience engagement in physical education through a wide range of weather conditions. To maximize learning and movement in both indoor and outdoor areas, I have utilized a home base system to help organize students throughout both learning environments. The home base system was introduced to me by a blog post from The PE Specialist, Ben Landers,, and I highly recommend trying it out.

Once I have thoughtfully considered physical education expectations, management, routines, and curricular outcomes connected to instructional units, I can plan for student engagement activities to kick start the year.  My first instructional units lay the foundation for the year. Focusing on communication skills, cooperation skills, safety, and relationship building through fun and active learning activities lays the groundwork for a successful year. Some of my first few physical education lessons include the following activities:

Rock, Paper, Scissor (RPS) Games (easy to introduce for all grades and a great skill for solving small conflicts between students)

RPS Celebration/Victory Dance (Winner celebrates with a victory dance and non winner completes 5 quality jumping jacks) – teach and say “Rock, Paper, Scissor, Show” – jump on Rock, Paper and Scissor– play the game in open space with another student – at the teacher’s signal, move to play the game with a new student - variation – go to the side line of the activity space – challenge anyone on the line to RPS – if you win, do your victory dance, if you do not win, run to the middle line of the activity area and back and challenge someone new

Rock, Paper, Scissors Success or Try Again – goal is to get to the Success side of the activity area by challenging someone to R,P,S – use the words: Rock, Paper, Scissor, Show – if you win run over to the success side of the activity space – challenge someone new on the success side – if you win – move to challenge someone new on the success side – if you do not win, run to the Try Again side and challenge someone new – Can you make it to the success side?  How long can you stay at the success side? How many different people can you challenge before the game ends?

RPS Team Challenge full body– divide class into 2 teams – pick one leader for each team – leader shows discreetly what the team will choose, rock, paper or scissors – teams go back to back, 3 jumps and a jump turn to show rock, paper or scissors with full body – winning team does one fitness challenge, losing team does a different fitness challenge – switch leaders every few rounds

Houdini Hoops (from SPARK PE lesson,– group of 6 join hands to create an unbroken circle, using cooperation and communication, try to move a hula hoop around the circle by stepping and ducking through it, do not let go of hands:

§  Can you get the hoop to go around the circle 1 time, 2 times, the other direction?

§  Fun competition: which group can get the hoop to go around the quickest?

§  2 groups join together and try to get the hoop around

§  Whole class joins together to try to get the hoop around

§  Stop and talk about what strategies help the group be successful

The next step in my planning includes securing dates for special events. These are the extra programs that add additional physical education experiences for students.  At my school special events include the following: Terry Fox Run, Jump Rope for Heart, Bring Your Parents to PE Class Event, Alien Inline Skating, Gymnastic Equipment set up, Ski and Snowboard Program and Fitset Ninja.

A final step in the planning for a successful start to the school year includes sharing the planning with homeroom teachers and other specialist teachers in the building.  When everyone is starting from the same page, it makes providing a consistent learning experience for all students a lot easier. At my school, the home base set up I use in physical education class was adopted by the music teacher and students have the same number/colour of home base when they come to PE class and attend music class.

Additional resources I have found to be helpful when planning the start of my school year come from the PE Specialist, Ben Landers:

Wishing you a great start to your school year!