Phys ed comes full circle for the 21st century

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July 3, 2013

Nineteen phys ed teachers and teacher candidates join hands, jumping up and down as they propel themselves through circular locomotion. Amidst plenty of laughter, they’re decoding the fundamental movement skill of jumping—and reconstructing it in a games context.

Welcome to physical education in the 21st century. The 1990’s music mix may be the same, but this gym class is moving to a new beat.

The teachers gathered at UBC’s Osborne Centre during the first weeks of summer vacation are students of their own practice. The course is a seminar in curriculum and pedagogy, and the lessons learned in this setting will be carried forward into the teachers’ home gymnasiums.

The music stops for a moment, and instructor Dr. Nancy Francis proposes a new exercise: Discovery learning through dance. “It’s problem-solving,” she tells the group, “There are five ways to jump using one and two feet. What are they?” Students partner up to answer the question through active testing. The music starts, and once again their feet are moving.

Visiting from Brock University, Dr. Francis is applying the Teaching Games for Understanding framework (or TGfU, as it’s known worldwide by its adherents) – a tactical complexity approach that emphasizes physical, social and emotional safety, and puts the students’ cognitive processes at the centre of learning.

Co-instructor Joanna Sheppard, visiting from the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), explains how TGfU operates in the context of today’s lesson:

Teaching Games for Understanding says: You have these tactics. You want to problem-solve for these tactics.

In order to attack the goal in basketball, for instance, you need to be able to jump. And the fundamental movement skill is jumping. If our children aren’t taught that at a younger age, they will not be able to implement getting up high to put that ball in the net.

From an elementary physical education point of view, the TGfU framework helps students learn fundamental movement skills through smaller side games that mimic the formal games.

Introduced in the early 1980’s, the Teaching Games for Understanding framework has become an international phenomenon, with physical educators from 12 countries forming a TGfU special interest group. Dr. Joy Butler of UBC started the international TGfU movement that now promotes worldwide scholarly inquiry around ways of knowing, learning and teaching through games-centered approaches.

Dr. Butler is a champion for TGfU at UBC, organizing summer courses such as this one, as well as a graduate program that has yielded a book on Reconceptualizing Physical Education. Sheppard’s international work also exemplifies how TGfU mobilizes research knowledge into practice: “I do work in Antigua in the Caribbean, where we use the TGfU model to teach life skills.”

Dr. Butler and Dr. Francis have both taught Joanna Sheppard, who is thrilled to be working with her mentors at this point in her career. “There’s a real collegiality in our profession,” she says, putting her arm around UBC teacher candidate Jamie Harper, who is taking this course after completing her practicum in North Vancouver. Harper was also Sheppard’s student at UFV, “so it’s full circle.”

Harper rejoins the group as they move on to safe tumbling skills, which they’ll practice with their own students come September. “That’s what I like about Teaching Games for Understanding – lots of game play time,” Sheppard says with a grin, reflecting the wisdom that play and learning go hand in hand.

Instructor Joanna Sheppard (UFV), and teacher candidate Jamie Harper (UBC)

Story by Jenny van Enckevort.