Princess Margaret Secondary School (PMSS) has had a very strong Physical Education program for a long period of time. PMSS has a student population of roughly five hundred. Students attend from grades 9-12. Students from many backgrounds enroll in elective based PE courses because they enjoy the programs and see value in being physically active. Approximately 80% of the school is enrolled in an elective PE course. However, not all students enjoy the traditional PE 9 and PE 10 courses. This year a unique group of grade nine students (in particular boys) brought to light the need to diversify the program offerings. A large group of high energy, athletic students did not engage with the traditional PE program where team sports and racquet sports are the primary focus. In discussions with these students they routinely said that they love to skateboard and would like to be able to continue developing their skills and pass their knowledge on to other students. Classroom management was difficult with this group in traditional activities. Throughout conversation with these students it was identified that this was a great opportunity to diversify the program.
Our inquiry question was – “Will offering non-traditional activities increase classroom engagement for students involved?”
Through coordination with the SD67 Healthy Schools Coordinator, Jenny Mitchell, a group of ten students were asked to provide feedback and direction for a skateboarding unit. Using a talking circle discussion began looking at the students feeling of connectedness in our PE programs. Conversation centered on the idea that the current policies and procedures do not provide those students who do not enjoy traditional activities an opportunity to feel successful or valued through PE. We recognized that to help provide students with an opportunity to feel successful we had to meet them when it came to their means of physical activity.
During the discussions students were asked about how they would run the program if in charge. The majority stated that they would like to see more skateboarding and individual activities brought forward. To help provide more ownership of the program, students were asked to develop a small overview of skills and progressions that people should focus on for skateboarding. The students were then broken into groups of three where they would be asked to teach for a period of the class. With a limited number of skateboards available, the inquiry grant was primarily used to purchase new skateboards. The discussion group was then taken to one of the local skate shops and was given the responsibility of sourcing out equipment for the class. Students were able to secure five skateboards and the feeling of ownership of the program in general.
Prior to bringing other students from the class into the program, it was identified that the best place to participate in this sport was at the local skateboard park as the facility was designed in a manner that allowed all levels to be challenged and successful. There were four classes of skateboarding during this mini unit. Throughout the experienced group that did not enjoy typical PE classes flourished. These students worked with other students teaching them the basics of skateboarding and providing feedback on their skill development.
Not all students learned the same thing through this program. However, all students identified that they enjoyed being able to try something new in PE. During this mini-unit the focus was put on formative assessment through conversation with students. Students were able to identify perceived exertion rates and heart rate during this program which provided them with an opportunity to identify their overall output in this activity compared to other PE activities. Furthermore, students learned different techniques for teaching others a skill. Many students began using oral commands to identify skill improvement, but soon realized that many students needed to visually follow the teacher’s commands. This opportunity to teach is an invaluable resource that provided the students with a sense of pride and a deeper connection with this unit in particular. The high energy level in these classes pushed all students to try their hardest which was wonderful to see.
As a teacher it allowed me and Jenny Mitchell to identify the need for students to have freedom to try, succeed and fail various skills. By allowing flexibility students were able to reach levels that I previously did not recognize as being possible with this group. This transferred into the remaining PE units of 2016, where additional flexibility to explore a skill was provided.
It must also be noted that this program did not result in a higher involvement of students in other PE units. This group of students is very excited about skateboarding, but their desire to participate in most other activities is quite low.
In an ideal world, students that were involved in this program would have developed a much greater connection to PMSS that was long lasting. During the unit students arrived on time,