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UC brings quality physical education to classrooms

Danielle Meddemmen and Kelly White

23 June 2022: A unique new pilot project is making waves, as University of Canberra researchers work with ACT primary schools to deliver high quality physical education and upskill teachers.

The project is funded by the Affiliated Schools Program, a partnership between ACT Government Education and the University’s Faculty of Education. It is being led by the program’s Chief Investigator, Assistant Professor Dr John Williams, along with Lecturer in Teacher Education, Dr Michael Davies.

Dr Williams explained the aim of the project is to support the fantastic work ACT teachers are already doing, by building on their existing skills and knowledge, without taking any time out of their already busy days.

“Our project is aimed at students in Years 1 and 2, with the main purpose being to further the capacity among primary classroom teachers to teach quality physical education,” he said.

“The associated funding is indicative of an education authority that recognises the value and potential that Physical Education has for children and enables us to draw on gymnastics as our vehicle of choice to teach much of the program, drawing on the expertise of local coach Naomi Nye.”

Five ACT public schools are participating in the pilot, which sees Primary Health and Physical Education specialist teacher, Sophie Newton, deliver a weekly lesson in each school.

A unique feature of the project is that all lessons are recorded using GoPro technology from a teacher’s perspective. This provides the classroom teachers with an embodied experience from the perspective of the specialist to refer back to later on.

The classroom teachers observe as Ms Newton delivers the lesson, then they can replicate that lesson on their own with the help of a suite of resources and videos produced by the program. It’s a model of teaching that sees students learning each lesson, while their teachers do as well.

The videos, along with detailed unit plans and other learning materials developed by the project team, are available for teachers online.

By upskilling teachers across the school system with additional contemporary and personalised  teaching approaches, the program is ensuring that generations of future students reap the benefits of evidence-driven, high quality physical education.

“Many early primary school students haven’t been exposed to physical education before – which can be a barrier to accessing physical education or organised sport later in life. A student must achieve mastery in the fundamental movement and gross motor skills, such as kicking, throwing or catching a ball, to feel confident in their abilities,” Ms Newton said.

The goal is that, by the end of the pilot program, students will master the fundamental movement skills — with staff and parents reporting that the program is already having an impact on students.

“To see it working is just amazing,” Ms Newton said.

“Students tell me they’ve been doing a lot more exercise thanks to the program, that they learned how to kick with their non-dominant leg, that they’ve learned to challenge themselves, and to keep practising until they get it.”

What does the average lesson look like? The approach is student-centred; each student has a personal progression chart to record their progress throughout the term.

The students choose which skill to work on and how much time to dedicate to practising. They visit different practice stations around the room, where videos and Year 5 and 6 buddies are stationed to assist younger students.

Students set up and pack up the equipment each lesson, maximising the time available for teachers to focus on learning.

“We’ve found that students remain on task, are focussed and self-managed,” Ms Newton said.

Dr Williams explained that the project would also benefit pre-service teachers at the University.

“Each physical education session will be attended and assisted by a pre-service teacher at the University, furthering our students; opportunities for Work Integrated Learning,” he said.

The pilot is set to continue running for the remainder of 2022. While fundamental movement skills were the focus of Term 1, Terms 2 and 3 will have a gymnastics focus and in Term 4, lessons will focus on tennis.