Towards the Deep End


Do we teach for joy and delight? These words from Scott Kretchmar have been ringing in my head since I first heard them on Andy Vasily‘s podcast with him a few weeks ago. Fun and Delight are two human experiences which can be realised through movement. To Kretchmar fun is a shallow and fleeting distraction, a way of overcoming boredom. Delight provides a deeper more memorable experience that keeps people coming back to movement. Rugby was both fun and delightful for me. Fun was what got me into rugby, but it was delight that kept me returning week in and week out for 25 years. Since hanging up my boots I have engaged in many other physical activities that I have found fun, but nothing that offers me the delight that rugby did. My search for it in something else remains elusive. As Kretchmar says delightful experiences…

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Mom, Dad, I have swimming today…

Today I feel thankful because I am finally going to be able to teach swimming to my students.

We did have the first unit of swimming at the beginning of the school year but, since then, we’ve been struggling for the pool to reopen.

Having less than a month left of school and twenty classes to fit in the weekly schedule, we managed to have students in the water for two sessions, which is way too short but better than nothing.

Since we live in the south of China, close to Hong Kong, the weather can be very hot and humid at this time of the year, so having the swimming pool available for us is fantastic.

I guess swimming has been part of my growth and development and I find it difficult to understand that many people my age or on younger have not had the opportunity to learn such an important life skill.

Cultural believes and previous experiences have led to certain people to have fear of the water. This affects our students because as parents feel scared they excuse their children from joining our swim classes. It is indeed a sad thing that happens in many international schools and I wish parents will be more reflective of the consequences of not letting their child to be exposed to new learning opportunities.

As I reflect on what happened today, I received four emails from parents excusing their children to join the swimming lesson, I am trying to find the best way to communicate with parents and let them know that their children are actually lucky to have such opportunities in life and that hopefully, they let them give it a try.

I do not want to end up this blog post with a bitter taste though.

I have to say that most of my learners were in the water, pushing themselves, trying to improve their skills in both, front crawl and backstroke and had a blast just being active in the pool.

My last lesson today was in grade 1 and I loved to see the joy they had in the pool as they worked on their pencil glides, their kicks and played tag games in the water.

If you think about, what can be a better way to finish your week than being in the swimming pool in your PE class.

I just want to restate that I am thankful for what I have to offer my students and what I was able to receive from my parents, teachers and swimming coaches as I grew up.

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Being Creative Energizes Me

Today I decided to start my lessons with a different warm up. I made up a game based on something I learned in a PE Conference.

I used five stabilization exercises we usually do during warm-ups:

  • Plank
  • Lunge
  • Side Bridge
  • Mountain climbers
  • Squats

And I wrote down those exercises in 5 big pieces of color paper.

I asked the students to get in groups of 3 or 4 and think of the exercise, draw a picture of it and think of the number of repetitions or seconds to hold the posture for.

After a few of minutes of collaborating with their groups, learners shared their posters and explain how to perform the exercise they had on their poster.

Once every group shared, we started playing the game that consisted of half of the class had a card numbered from 1-5 and the rest of the class didn’t. Those students with cards were taggers and had to tag somebody using the same locomotor moments that the person they were after.

For instance, if one student was skipping and the other was to tag him, the tagger had to skip as well in order to tag him.

Once tagged, the student would get the numbered card and would have to find the poster with the respective number to execute the exercise. After having finished doing the stabilization exercise, he will become a tagger.

The response from the game was great! Students loved it and it just was a perfect way to have them warming up differently. This game meant working on many social skills such as communication, collaboration, complex thinking and independent learning.

I did this activity with my fifth graders, then I simplified it with my fourth graders having only one person to explain the exercise to the whole class and playing the game right after.

I think both ways were very valuable for student’s learning. The second one was much faster and learners started to be active sooner than the previous class.

This game involved lots of creativity from students as they had to choose different locomotor movements to get away from taggers.

Canyoning in Hong Kong

I have always been a nature lover. I find peace in the quiet majesty of mountains, in the hidden depths of rushing waves. Loving nature is an essential part of who I am.

As a physical educator, I believe it’s important to give students the opportunity to be active beyond the field and the court, immersed in the outdoors. This year, I organized a field trip for our fifth graders, taking them to one of the most beautiful country parks of Hong Kong. 

Many people picture Hong Kong as a huge, bustling city, where shopping is the only thing on everyone’s mind. In reality, Hong Kong is full of hidden havens and natural treasures. Hundreds of islands and hiking trails give us the opportunity to experience the outdoors in an active, immersive way.

I wanted my students to experience this kind of environment, so I contacted an outdoor activity company for suggestions. They recommended “canyoning” as a good activity for my students’ age range.

It took two hours to travel from Shekou to Sai Kung Country Park, which is located in the New Territories. This long drive posed some limitations on the activities we could participate in, but that didn’t matter in the end — everyone had a blast.

The counselors had tons of energy and did a wonderful job explaining the importance of safety and respect. They also taught students important tips about being a global citizen in all aspects of their everyday lives.

Our main activity consisted of hiking down a river while navigating over the rocky slope. Students learned how to spot safe stepping rocks by looking at their color. A gray rock was dry enough to walk on, while darker, brownish rocks were wet or covered in algae, which meant they were too slippery for our feet.

Students learned how to communicate with their peers by letting them know if a rock was wobbly or looked unstable. They helped each other to the best of their ability, offering their hand and words of encouragement if a classmate needed some extra assistance.

Throughout the trip, my students constantly offered positive observations and comments, such as, “This is so cool,” “I love it,” and “This is so fun!”

At the end of our river journey, we glimpsed a gorgeous view of the ocean — such a pretty and relaxing sight, surrounded by trees and mountains. We could even see a few fish swimming the crystal-clear water. We were so lucky to have chosen a bright, sunny day for our field trip. The sky was blue, and the pollution that had been quite bad in Shenzhen suddenly seemed to have vanished. It felt like paradise.

We stepped out of the riverbank and out of the canyon, shaking the water from our clothes. We returned to the campsite by hiking on a pleasant trail through the forest.

I am attaching parts of students’ field trip reflections to this post. Many of them are EAL (English as an Additional Language) students so you may encounter spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in their pieces. Please understand that this is part of their learning process, as they continue to discover new ways to communicate their thoughts. 


Canyoning Reflection Lars 5B

canyoning field trip- Ben5B

Canyoning Reflection By ByeongJun 5B

Fiona’s 5B Canyoning Reflection

AMPed (Autonomously Mastered Purposeful education) Program

Last November I got this email:

“Hello SIS Colleagues, 

We are excited to begin our AMPed curriculum in Grade 1 and we would love your help. Starting in Trimester 2, we are looking to offer our Grade 1 students a variety of learning and exploring opportunities on Day 3s, from 1:20-2:00 pm. 

We would like to offer a “Career AMPed” project where the students have the chance to shadow members of our community and see what it is like to do the many jobs that make SIS the fantastic place it is. You would sign up for just 1 session, just 40 minutes with a small group of students (10 or less) that will spur thoughts, questions, connections, and insight into the minds of our young students as they see and experience what it is like to be…you.

The Grade 1 team feels that you would have wonderful guidance, skills, and enthusiasm to share with the students in this alternative learning setting. Would you be willing to work with a group of Grade 1 students for one block on one Day 3? We will ask one TA to come with the students to help you.

Please let us know if you are interested and available to participate in our AMPED projects on a Day 3 in Trimester 2. 

We’re really looking forward to this dive into exploring new ideas and learning with Grade 1!


…And so I decided to help and be part of the project…

So what is AMPed? Click here to learn more about it

Later in the year, I was assigned a group of Grade 1 learners who came to learn about Physical Education. Since I was in the dance unit, I asked them if they would like to help me teach a dance class to kindergarten students.

I showed them how I planned the lessons, how I assessed the students using rubrics, the vocabulary we were going to be looking at during the lesson, and then everyone got a job to help with. Some of the first graders were in charge of the warm up, others of the music for the dance, others picked a child to assess following the rubric I gave them.

After the class, the Career AMPed, as they called them, reflected on their learning as “PE teachers” by sharing what they enjoyed doing and what they thought it was hard as a physical education teacher.

I thought it was a great experience for them, as well as for me as a facilitator of their learning.IMG_0951IMG_0970IMG_0978

We like to Move: Creative Dance Unit

We wrapped up our creative dance unit last week.

It was incredible to see how much improvement happened in a few weeks. Students learned how to move their bodies to the beat of the song. They were able to count the beat till 8 ( slow) or 16 ( fast) and based on that create all sort of movements and dances.

The SPAH turned out to be a very happy place for everyone just dancing and being active.

Students learned different elements in dance such as SPACE, ENERGY, TIME and BODY, and based on those elements they created their own dances.

We created a bulletin board to help them understand better all the new vocabulary words they were learning. You can see a picture below.

Then, we had students getting in small groups and creating their own dances with a very basic structure:

Every dance would have to have:

Beginning with a static movement repeated 8 times

Main part. Where students had to create 4 different movements ( each movement repeated 8 times) In this case we had students thinking of SPACE, levels, directions, pathways and shapes, ENERGY, and BODY, different parts of their body should be involved in the dance.

Ending with a static movement repeated 8 times

We used this structure for our upper elementary grades.

In second grade, students invented 4 movements dance with a partner. We really stressed the idea that every student had to create/invent a movement.

Kindergarteners and first graders moved their bodies graciously when we played the music. They were not afraid of expressing themselves throw different dances.

It was a truly wonderful experience for all learners.


Net Games Part 1

This year I decided to start teaching some of my units with a new approach called TGFU (Teaching Games for Understanding)

This is not really a new approach but it was for me, so I decided to do some research, learn more about it and I started my invasion games unit teaching modified games, focusing more on the tactics than on the skills. I was learning along with my students as I taught it. I got support and ideas from amazing educators and gurus in this kind of approach, such as Mel Hamada, @mjhamada, and Jorge Rodriguez, @PhysedNow, who shared their resources with me.

In March, we started our “ Net Games” unit with Volleyball and I didn’t feel like I did a great job using the TGFU approach. Our school is great in many aspects, however, one of the big detail is the lack of facilities. We do have some, just not enough for the number of students I would say. As a consequence of that, my partner and I need to co-teach quite often, which is sometimes great, and sometimes challenging.  We ended up having students working on improving their skills, tracking the ball activities, and small games situation.

As part of this unit we also teach other net games, such as tennis and badminton. This year, I started teaching tennis and since I had one single tennis court for twenty plus students, I had to be quite creative with the activities I was teaching my students.

Being by myself though, made it easier to adapt my class into what I thought would be more of games than pure skills work, although, I again had students working on skills as well as games in a stationary or center set up.

An example of some of the games and  activities I had my students working on

Wall Games

I had students working on improving their forehand and backhand skills playing against the wall. Eventually, they started playing against a partner, so they took turns hitting the ball against the wall, which made it more exciting and challenging.

Cooperative Tennis Game

Another group playing with a partner what I called “Cooperative Tennis Game”, trying to pass back and forth as much as they could using both, forehand, and backhand skills.

Bouncing the ball up and down and all sort of tricks you can practice with a tennis racket and a ball.

In this activity, learners had to practice a variety of ways of bouncing a ball with the racket and do all sort of tricks to challenge themselves.  Since we live in the south of China and it gets really hot out there this time of the year, that was also one station where learners could take a water break.

“Challenging” Tennis Game

On the other side of the net, the other half court, I had students playing a challenging game to their partners, making them work on their backhand skills, and practicing different shots.

Finally, I had a group serving underhand or overhead to the fence.

That way I had my class divided into groups of 4, maximum 5 students and they were really involved in the activity. Students played for about 3 minutes, then rotated to the next activity.

After a few sessions, I decided to introduce other games. I thought of how to maximize students’ learning in a single tennis court and which games would make sense to have them exposed to. I ended up having them playing:

  • 4 square tennis
  • 1 vs 1 on the hitting the ball against the wall
  • Beginner Hoop or SpikeBall Progressions ( Thanks to Jorge Rodriguez @PhysedNow and Mike Ginicola @PhysEdDepot for inspiration) Here is a video from Jorge Rodriguez and below you can see the progression for “Spikeball” with a hoop and a ball
  • Spikeball with the actual game

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In my humble opinion, one of the most important parts of this approach is to have students understanding the “what and why” of their actions and “how” they can work on achieving something they are not doing yet.

I found that stopping the games briefly and asking learners single questions, really helps them to go through that process of understanding.


Be Prepared, Be Mindful, Be Inspired

A couple of years ago I met Andy Vasily, an international physical educator at APPEC, a PE conference in Hong Kong.

In his keynote, Andy told us some personal stories and how these events in his life changed the way he approached life, personally and professionally.

I totally relate to these statements. They are all equally important to me.

Be Prepared

As a physical educator, I am aware that my lesson can change dramatically just because of the weather, the students in that class or the mood I might have because of stress, lack of sleep, or any other thing. Just because of all that we have to be prepared and plan our lessons thoughtfully and accordingly. That doesn’t mean that it might not change last minute…

A few days ago I wanted to introduce my students the SOLO Taxonomy in order to make their learning more meaningful and make sure they were aware of what they knew or not in our Net Games unit, more specifically in the tennis skills. I guess I wasn’t exactly prepared myself and it really made me consider my teaching skills and abilities…

Be Mindful

How many times have you started doing something and moved on to something else before you were actually done? We live and work in busy worlds where there are continuous distractions. We always to achieve more and sometimes we put too much on our plate. I remember a teacher I use to teach with used to tell me, “If you are adding something into this, just think that you will have to take something off. We only got this much time, no more.” I like to say that I am an innovator and I consider myself quite creative, but that means that sometimes I get way too many thoughts on my mind at the same time, too many goals I want to achieve, too many challenges, and I end up not focusing. One of my goals this year is to work on being more mindful and focus on one thing at the time. I ended up putting my phone in my drawer and my iPad away and both of them in silence, so I would get no interruptions as I work on something.

Reflecting is another goal of mine, and it is, somehow related with being mindful. Just dedicating some minutes to think and write about my practices, what went well and what do I need to work on, change or adapt.

Be Inspired

As a life long learner, I like to find different sources of learning in my journey to become a better educator. I follow amazing teachers and leaders on twitter who inspire me every day. I work with incredible educators who are always trying to think out of the box to bring the best to their learners. I attend several conferences every year where I always learn something I like to apply right away so I won’t forget.

I listen and participate in conversations in “voxerpe”, more listening than participating though.

I read books with new approaches, such as the Cooperative Learning in Physical Education.

I do MOOCs and webinars.

I share my teaching and learning ideas to hopefully inspire other in twitter.

Thank you all who inspire me in any possible way, so make me every day a better teacher!

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