Taking advantage of a unique opportunity to try something completely new
You can imagine how I felt when I first received the news that we are going to be unable to use our teaching space for the last part of the school year. Although, there is an amazing building project taking place at Nanjing International School which includes a state of the art new double gym (which will be in addition to our existing double gym), we were given notice that the entire teaching area must shut down the last part of the school year. This was a last minute decision based on the needs of the contractor.
The main reason for this is that the existing gym will have its walls and floors all redone in order to be ready for August. This is all great news for our PE program, however, it takes away my teaching space at the end of the year. The current units that are scheduled to be taught cannot proceed forward due to not being able to use the gym. When I first heard the news, I wasn't pleased of course, but I began to contemplate opportunities that existed as a result of this unique situation. I was getting my head around the idea of having to create new units based on the fact that I didn't have the gym or the movement composition room and that my only teaching space is outside.
I had an AHA moment and began to run with it in my planning for this end of year challenge. I have always been a huge advocate of students designing their own learning in the units I teach in elementary PE. Why not let them create their own end of year units? The uniqueness of this situation will provide me with what I feel is a perfect opportunity, something I have always wanted to do. To let the students not only design their own learning, but to create their own units.
I intend on sharing with my students the learning outcomes covered in PE so far this school year. I will allow them to select their own learning outcomes to be addressed or even create their own when deciding upon which unit they will explore. One of the main challenges they will face is how they will show me what they have learned. Added to this is how they will address their learning outcomes and assess themselves.
To not let this idea get crazy out of control, I plan to allow a maximum of three groups in each class, meaning that there will be a maximum of 3 different units happening at once in any given class. This means that the students will have to work together with a group to create their unit and the learning that will take place. They must consider their learning environment, possible inclement weather, and the resources needed as well. Key questions will include:
What are the learning goals in your self-designed unit?
How will you be able to show what you have learned?
What resources to you need from the teacher?
How will you manage your time to ensure that you stay on track?
Why is your choice of units a valuable learning experience for you?
Yes, it will be difficult to keep track of everything, but I believe it will be manageable. Yes, the students will need loads of assistance from me. However, in my eyes, this is a great chance for them to be responsible for their own learning. I plan on explaining, to my students, the obstacles that I face, as their teacher, in setting them free like this. Managing all of the different learning will require a lot of work, but I want to truly embrace what I feel will be a wonderful opportunity for my students. What is the worst that can happen? At minimum, my students will be allowed to explore, play, and have fun provided that they have a focus and purpose rooted in learning outcomes.
If all goes according to my vision, I will have totally engaged and autonomous learners who feel a sense of empowerment. They will feel that I trust and respect them and their desires to truly explore something that matters to them. Win-win if you ask me! And the uniqueness of my situation justifies the genuine effort I am going to put into this learning experience for my students. Will I crash and burn? Possibly, but I am willing to give it a go! I will be blogging more about it as the last part of the year begins to unfold. If you are interested, stay tuned for more. I have no idea where this could go!!!
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.