22 Mar The Madness of March

Meagan Ramos and James O’Toole are Advent’s P.E. co-teachers. In this post they share some of the secrets behind their unique, inquiry based program.

If you were to walk a day in the life of Physical Education (P.E.) here at Advent, you’d actually be on a bus. P.E. at Advent is a unique experience where we commute to various locations throughout the city. We call ourselves “PE on wheels,” and our locations have a vast influence on our curriculum. We invite you to travel on this journey with us to get to know our inquiry-based program. First up is an overview of our March Madness unit.

Basketball SkillsYou may have heard about the March Madness unit currently underway. In this unit, Third through Sixth Graders create a team name and mascot, develop team strategies, run their own practices, and play four-on-four basketball games.

If your first reaction is “Wait, that sounds like the gym class I remember from when I was a kid. What happened to our child-centered, inquiry-based P.E. program?”, do not be alarmed. We’re still focusing on concepts and skills. We’re still prioritizing learning over competition. We are still educators first and referees second.

At this point in the school year, students from Third to Sixth Grade are ready for a taste of competition. Many of our students need game situations to demonstrate their learning. Gameplay allows them to feel empowered in Advent’s safe, supportive, and collaborative learning environment.

There is a lot of groundwork that goes into preparing for the March Madness unit. Skill building begins in ECC as students engage in the science behind movement. For example, we investigate the force required to bounce the ball back up to your waiting hand while dribbling.

Here is what this unit looks like at each grade level:

ECC and Kindergarten

In ECC and Kindergarten skill building looks like learning through storytelling. Students perform a relay called Dough-rae-me-fa-so-la-ti-BREAD, which emphasizes comfort with dribbling skills (AKA molding the dough). The focus is on skill building without the name “basketball” attached. This removes the preconceptions surrounding the sport and allows students to stay inquisitive and imaginative.

First and Second Grades

As we enter First and Second Grade, we give the context of the skill by making the association with the sport of basketball. We still remain focused on basic skill development while keeping the learning exploratory. During class we introduce guiding questions to keep the students engaged in a way that feels personal and specific to their needs. For example, the question “How do I make the ball do what I want?” invites a wide-range of ideas, and quickly adheres to differentiation of learning and instruction.

Third Grade TeamThird through Sixth Grades

Students are feeling confident in their skills and are ready to be challenged. In Third Grade we introduce small group activities and teacher-led basketball games. We address basic rules of basketball such as out of bounds, double dribble, traveling, and physical fouls.

Gameplay can invoke a lot of emotions for some, which is why we focus on building team camaraderie. This diminishes the sense of fear and intimidation when you share a goal with your classmates.

This process that begins in Third Grade continues all the way through Sixth. Each year the students are excited to receive their team roster. We talk about the role of a teammate and how working together amplifies success. To strengthen the teams that we create, we have the students come up with their own name, mascot, song and goal without teacher influence. They also organize their own student-led practice in the beginning of each class. Games are officiated with student ability in mind, and teams are awarded or deducted sportsmanship points depending on behavior. In the upper grades we emphasize cooperation, problem-solving, and strategic play.

March Madness is a beloved experience that is anticipated by both students and teachers. It is a time in our community where all grades are connected by a common thread. Movement is a form of expression that brings us together, fosters joy, and ignites the heart. Let the games begin!