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inquiry, physed, reflections

Planning for Inquiry-based Physical Education

As a Phys Ed teaching team, we had a unique opportunity at the beginning of last year to reflect on our physical education program as a whole and to ask ourselves whether our approach was providing students with the best ability to develop deep understanding of a variety of curricular outcomes. We wanted to share some of the outcomes of a full year invested in this process, along with some of our continually evolving understandings.

Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand” has been a perfect starting point from which to extend our conversations around what types of learning opportunities we were providing for students. Historically, our teaching in physical education has been didactic and demonstrative with rare opportunities in which students were collaboratively invested in their learning beyond attempting to follow a set of instructions. Our shift toward a more inquiry-based approach to developing physically literacy focused on encouraging students to invest in seeking information through questioning, rather than just merely waiting for it to be “delivered”. From the teacher’s perspective, this involved carefully designing a context and framework for specific units that might draw student questions out, and help focus thinking.

Traditional physical education focuses on the development of competence in the hopes that increased confidence will result. It often fails however, to account for the vastly differing competencies of students in various sports or activities. An inquiry based approach meets students where they are at. Increased competence and confidence inevitably result.
“Why Inquiry for Physical Literacy”
Physical and Health Education Canada identifies that “individuals (persons with unique abilities and characteristics) who are physically literate move with competence (proficient performance) in a wide variety of physical activities that benefit the development of the whole person (physical, cognitive, social).” An inquiry-based approach seemed perfectly designed to emphasize the individualized development of each of these unique characteristics. Our focus, was on developing a framework for each lesson in which the focus would always remain broadly centred around:

  • acknowledging and celebrating students’ unique abilities and characteristics
  • acknowledging the foundational importance of fundamental movement skills
  • emphasizing connections between sport and physical activity and,
  • accommodating students’ broad range of physical, cognitive and social skills
 Setting the Stage
We began by defining our key understandings of how our teaching practice would shift as a result of our emphasis on inquiry-based pedagogy for both students and parents. The video we put together was brief and emphasized with both students and parents that the inquiry-based approach to PE above all would strive to ensure that there would be opportunity within each unit for students to take initiative in personalizing their learning experiences through tasks appropriate to their interest and ability.
Where to begin
The Physical Education Curriculum is a massive document. Even with the generosity of its most recent re-design which provides many rich and broad entry points into an exploration of health, activity and physical literacy, it can be difficult to navigate. With the understanding that we wanted to begin as teachers with curricular topics that had enough richness and complexity to embrace the full range of children’s background, experience, abilities and previous knowledge, we began by reviewing and re-framing the curriculum so that those topics could be clearly identified. The end result was a more condensed scope and sequence that identified key learning outcomes specified by the curriculum for each grade from 4-9. Click here to view! 
Characteristics of Inquiry-based Task Design (Galileo Inquiry Rubric)
The Galileo Inquiry rubric has always been a guiding document in my practice. For Physical Education, we focused on four characteristics identified in that rubric that aligned closely with the work we could and would be taking up in PE. They were:
  • Authenticity: We wanted to make sure that the problem(s), issue(s), or exploration(s) undertook in PE were significant to the broad range of disciplines within the physical education field (athletics, physiology, coaching, etc.) and that the tasks undertaken provided students with the opportunity to create, produce, understand or perform something relevant to students and to the discipline (outcome oriented).
  • Communication: It was important to us to provide students with opportunities to support, challenge, and respond to ideas and feedback from classmates during class, and to allow them to select ways of expressing their understanding appropriate to the task (including the use of technology when relevant).
  • Active exploration: We wanted to design learning tasks that would require student autonomy, collaboration, problem solving, management, and the recruitment of outside expertise while allowing for multiple/flexible approaches to learning.
  • Ongoing assessment: Our goal was to embed regular opportunities for students to reflect on their learning throughout a particular unit, using clear criteria that they helped to establish. We also wanted to encourage them to use those reflections to set learning goals, establish next steps and develop effective learning strategies.
Snapshots from our PE program
Circus Unit
What does it take to improve/refine motor skills? How much time? What kind of training? How much failure? How is this affected by your incoming skill set?

After an introductory class. Students had 5 days to choose a skill and work at improving it. They had unlimited resources, could work individually or in groups, and had to track their progress via video through Edmodo submissions. This glimpse provides an overview of some of the skills students worked to develop through the videos they submitted.
Fitness Video Unit
What makes physical activity/training inspiring/attractive/relevant/effective? How can we make use of our own skills and understanding and design similarly effective training, incorporating motivation, effective communication etc.

Our intro class for this unit had students participating in 5 minutes segments of viral fitness videos from the last several decades and reviewing key elements of each. We identified common elements to all videos (music, simple plyometrics, variation) and emphasized the idea that most routines had been designed based on a very particular are of athletics expertise (dance, hockey, skiing, martial arts). Students had 2 days to work with a group from a similar athletic background to design a 2 minute routine segment. The third day was for partner group feedback. During the fourth we arranged a dress-rehearsal to work on timing and provide some general feedback to the whole group. On the fifth day we had Grade 9 students set up for filming the entire routine and then reflected as a class.

The re-thinking of our PE programs at Connect led to an inevitable re-examination of our assessment practices, something that has continued to evolve over the past 12 months from a tri-yearly quantitative approach to a more ongoing, formative, qualitatively reported outcomes-based assessment with an emphasis on triangulation of data through the collection of artifacts (done digitally via Edmodo), through observation (on a daily basis), and in conversation with students (via bi-annual 1-on-1 interviews with teachers). More to come on the evolution of our assessment practices in PE… 

I’ve embedded some sample plans from last year’s program as an example of our approach to planning for inquiry in PE…

About Deirdre Bailey

Reader, Runner, Skier, Educator


5 thoughts on “Planning for Inquiry-based Physical Education

  1. Thanks Deirdre. I have seen very few resources for inquiry in Physical Education before.

    Posted by Paulino Preciado | November 3, 2014, 2:50 pm
  2. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Dominique Dalais | February 3, 2015, 6:50 am


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