New Constraints, Same Philosophy: Play is Essential

Prior to the pandemic, play was essential for the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of children. In quality physical education, ongoing feedback and purposeful practice were achieved through the use of peer interactions and small-sided games (with modifications and extensions). Autonomy, differentiated challenges, and self-reflection were embedded throughout units and lessons.

Classroom management strategies and routines allowed for maximum physical engagement and timely feedback. Establishing a culture of social and emotional safety was paramount. Sending a consistent message that failure is an essential part of the learning journey allows students to build their competence within a safe environment. Thus, equipping students with the confidence and interdependence to overcome physical, social, and emotional hardships.

Safety measures have put new constraints on how we deliver quality physical education. But the students’ need for physical, emotional, and social well-being has never been so important.

At my school, in order to facilitate social distancing, our classrooms and open spaces (library, gym, cafeteria, auditorium) have been transformed into cohort classrooms. Students will wear masks and stay with their cohort, in their respective 6-feet of space and the content teachers will come to the cohort to deliver the lessons.

I always start the school year with community building. After several months of social isolation, I will be dedicating most of my energy to building social bonds and awareness of emotions. We are planning on being outdoors as much as possible to allow the freedom to move. However, outdoor lessons are hindered by things like weather, noise, lack of visuals (projectors, whiteboards, etc.).

We can not share equipment or supplies, so ball sports are going to be limited to self-toss or foot-to-foot passing only. Rather than focusing on traditional team sports and manipulative skills, our units and activities will focus more on opening avenues to lifetime activities; that on the surface are individual pursuits, but are more fun when done as part of a group (such as golf, biking, parkour, team adventure challenges, orienteering, etc.)

For the students who are participating in virtual or distance learning, I will be posting short videos (3-5 minutes) at least twice per week for them to view in their own time as well as activity choices. These pre-recorded videos and activity choices will serve to keep us connected as well as to reflect on the content and apply it to their unique environment. I will also hold scheduled “office hours” where I will host Zoom meetings for off-campus students to drop by to just say “hi,” ask questions, play a quick game, or share how things are going.

The biggest challenge will be creating a joyful association with learning and physical activity with all of the safety constraints. Finding ways to make the school experience fun will certainly take some creativity and willingness to give up control in favor of student exploration.

Middle School students at The Avery Coonley School playing cricket using only feet.

Within these parameters, I am taking the opportunity to slow down and seek more genuine connections with the students. I am most concerned about their psychological well-being in the school environment. Physical Education teachers, and all teachers for that matter, should be more open about our vulnerabilities and reflect openly about how we are doing with our own self-care. Students will have had the differing experiences of the quarantine, online learning, and lack of social connection. The perspective gained from these experiences has most certainly stunted social and emotional coping skills. Even prior to the pandemic, children had already been suffering from anxiety and depression due to social and/or familial pressures like no other generation before. Coupled with the fear of illness or death from something you can’t see and don’t yet fully understand, these traumas lend themselves to an incredibly unstable population of young people.

As educators, we must reflect on what are the new learning priorities for these students. In my opinion, many of the physical skills and strategies are low priorities whereas mindfulness, lifelong activities, and individual pursuits are priorities given the limitations and constraints of the pandemic. This pandemic has afforded children the opportunity and time to try something new. With the lack of youth sports, kids can explore new areas of recreation; which, in some ways, has been refreshing to see.


A Tip for PE Teachers – Consider Your Strengths

image. Retrieved from

Physical education teachers often find themselves in difficult or seemingly impossible situations (class size, budget restrictions, scheduling conflicts, etc.). If you are working with a team or department that lacks a progressive approach, reflect on an area of teaching that you do really well. Use your greatest strength to change one aspect of your program. Teachers are rarely accepting of big sweeping changes that require more work (especially when the perceived results don’t seem to justify the means or when the effort required seems to outstrip the potential reward).

If you can prove yourself incrementally with small changes in areas of strength (time management, data processing, technology, instruction/instructional models, etc), you will build confidence in yourself and your team. While we do learn best through failure; if a new idea bombs miserably, it can be difficult to regain the trust and enthusiasm of your team. Using an area of personal strength will also minimize the risk and variables that are outside of your control. Over time (years), shaping and reshaping your program will become the norm. Other departments and content areas may even be inspired to incorporate new practices!

This tip was featured on Eric Davolt’s website, The #PhysEd Coach.
For more outstanding tips from dynamic teachers, please visit:

PreMortem in Physical Education: How and Why You Should Try It!


Maintaining engagement and motivation can be daunting for any educator. Teachers are encouraged to model risk-taking and implement new approaches to keep learning fresh, authentic, and meaningful. Physical education teachers are often entrenched in impossible situations: large class sizes, limited resources, scheduling shortcomings, lack of support, etc. Keeping a positive learning environment throughout the school year can be extremely difficult, no matter the situation. Often times, teachers want to make changes to their program (new unit, instructional model, grading policy, procedure, etc.) but the risk of failure is too great and could set them back even further.

Last summer, while reading Daniel Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, I came across an idea intended to help business projects succeed. Rather than waiting

until a project has died to perform a postmortem autopsy and identify what went wrong, a “PreMortem” is the hypothetical opposite. At the beginning of the project, it is communicated to the stakeholders that the project has failed miserably. An article in the Harvard Business Review describes the genesis for this idea as coming from a research group in 1989 finding “that prospective hindsight – imagining that an event has already occurred – increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%.” By identifying what did go wrong from the beginning, individuals can be mindful of potential problems before it’s too late.

The steps of a PreMortem are extremely simple. In a business setting, managers or team leaders are encouraged to dedicate at least two hours for the process. Obviously, a physical education teacher would not dedicate this much time. I would recommend between 12-15 minutes total. Below are the steps I followed in the pre-mortem process:

  1. All students are aware of the upcoming situation (it doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking. A new term, unit, initiative that has begun or will begin soon.)
  2. All students are present, focused, and uninterrupted (we all should know by now that moderate to vigorous exercise will increase engagement and focus so make sure the students have engaged in aerobic activities before the PreMortem).
  3. One student is the dedicated as the note taker. A marker and dry erase board/butcher paper work best.
  4. Present the students with the scenario (the project has failed). This takes a little bit of acting to really sell it well. For me, we had just finished a successful team building unit that the students really enjoyed. I used the current positive vibes to bring out the seriousness of what was to come. Something like… “I’ve really enjoyed facilitating this unit. You are using each other’s strengths and getting along quite well. It is fun to watch how hard you are working and how well you are solving some of the problems and challenges of the unit. But, I have to get serious for a moment… (pause for effect) I’ve looked ahead to ______(February) and things are awful. The ___ unit is a disaster. Fighting and arguing is at an all time high. The locker rooms are disgusting. Students can’t stand coming to P.E. anymore. I have run out of patience… I dread coming to class. I can’t wait for the day to end.”
  5. Brainstorm every possible problem that could have occurred. All ideas at this point are written on the board no matter how unlikely or ridiculous (within reason, remember time is of the essence in P.E.).
  6. From the list, circle the top ones that are most likely to happen. Focus on the show-stoppers. Discard the problems you have no control over.
  7. Brainstorm solutions. Make a new column on the dry erase board or new butcher paper. Create 
    proactive solutions for the problems listed.
  8. Create a plan to follow through. Use your professional judgement to display and/or revisit the list of problems and solutions so that students maintain ownership in the process.

I have been extremely pleased with student responses in my classes since implementing the PreMortem protocols. A positive learning environment has led to stronger bonds between classmates; students who would not have otherwise felt comfortable with risk-taking have routinely pushed through their comfort zones. I encourage other physical education teachers to try this activity out to gauge long and short term results. Please let me know how it goes!

Here are some additional resources to clarify the pre-mortem process:

Google Slides Lesson Example

Performing a Project Pre-mortem by Gary Klein

The Pre-Mortem: A Simple Technique To Save Any Project From Failure

Pinkcast 1.6 How to anticipate (and prevent) big mistakes

My Favorite Unit: The Fightin’ Seahorse Challenge (Challenge Me)

The idea for this unit came from a presentation at the Illinois State P.E. convention about 7 years ago by a middle school physical education teacher from Crystal Lake, IL named Susie Johannesen.  The basic premise for the unit (5-7 class periods) is that students come in to class, grab their booklet and pencil, then spend the class attempting to accomplish various challenges.  Classmates witness and initial each other’s booklets after each image6completed challenge.  We took this idea and adapted it for our classes.  We continued to add new challenges along with student-suggested challenges each year.  We had two sets of challenges; making it developmentally appropriate for students in grades 3-5 and 6-8.  Our students absolutely loved it!

Last school year, my colleague (Joe Schallmoser) and I decided we could enhance this unit even more by combining “Challenge Me” with the idea of earning “money” by completing challenges.  Earnings could be used to purchase other challenges.  Along with the obvious physical benefits of this unit, the focus of character building through honesty and perseverance are most impressive!  We decided that if we were going to make this unit about honesty, why go through the trouble of printing fake money?  Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 6.45.48 AMA simple spending log allows students to track their earnings and spendings along the way (Unit Presentation Introduction)  If we, as teachers, can effectively communicate the importance of honesty and character, our students should be able to track their own earnings and spendings without overcomplicating it with cash… besides, who uses cash anymore?

The possibilities for this type of unit are endless! I would love to hear from other teachers who have done something similar or ways in which we could improve upon this unit.

Here are all current resources for the unit: The Fightin’ Seahorse Challenge Unit Resources Please feel free to download, copy and modify these resources to fit your Physical Education program.


Maximize Engagement: Sport Ed. & TGfU Hybrid Units

This blog post by Adam Metcalf was a feature on the Gopher P.E. Blog

The best way to learn is to do. The worst way to teach is to talk.” –Paul Halmos

We all know that student-centered, authentic learning experiences are crucial for cultivating the type of learners who will be best prepared for success in the modern world. The incessant battle for weak attention spans has unearthed how incredibly important it is to design learning experiences that allow for student choice. At the same time, we must foster the development of social interdependence in a safe, supportive environment where gaining perspective through a shared journey is the objective. Alas, knowing that something is important and figuring out a practical way to do it is the ongoing challenge of our profession. Taking risks, giving up control, and stepping outside of our comfort zones as teachers can be daunting.

My physical education department has been using a Sport Ed/TGfU hybrid model for nine years in our middle school curriculum (Grades 5-8). Although it may seem intimidating, the shift away from the traditional sport units and instructional methods to a student-centered approach has been more fulfilling than we could have ever predicted! In this approach, the teacher acts as the facilitator for learning rather than the traditional “sage on stage.” We have seen amazing engagement and growth in our students through adapting and combining elements from the Sport Education and Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) instructional models.

While an “event driven” unit can be exciting and memorable, an overcomplicated unit can result in an enormous amount of planning and management; this may lead to teacher burnout and a decrease in student engagement. We have found that adapting some simple elements from the Sport Ed model and using the themes and structure of the TGfU model can help provide a framework for engaging and repeatable units without teacher burnout. We have tried many variations and continue to tweak the unit structure, but have found the most success using the basic guidelines below:

Unit Planning:
Begin your year establishing expectations, building relationships, cooperative skills, etc. Then plan and sequence your units according to the TGfU Game Categories:

Invasion Games (Soccer, Rugby, Basketball, Ultimate, Floor Hockey, etc.) will be the most prevalent sport category. Begin with a sport unit that is simple and/or one with which students are familiar. Skills and strategies will transfer from one sport to the next (i.e., maintaining possession and creating space in soccer will also be applicable in basketball). Grouping these sports together will create a deeper understanding and an increased familiarity with how to react to and solve the in-game problems and situations.

Sequencing Net/Wall Games during the winter months work well with the indoor space and equipment available at our school (Volleyball, Badminton, Pickleball, etc.).

As the weather warms up in the Spring, we prefer to finish the school year with Target (Golf, Archery, Bowling, etc.) and Striking/Fielding Games (Kickball, Softball, Cricket, etc.).
Each sport unit (within the TGfU category) is typically eight to twelve 45-minute sessions. Our students have daily P.E. so each unit spans approximately 3 weeks. We usually complete 6-8 sport units per school year:

2-4 sessions of preseason practice
3-4 sessions of regular season games (team records count toward tournament seeding)
3-4 sessions of post season tournament (usually double elimination)

Keep It Simple
Limit the number of roles and responsibilities. In our units, everybody is a player and some people have additional roles. Each team has a coach (who volunteers prior to the start of the unit). Once balanced teams are determined, all members meet to sign the Team Contract/ Fair Play Agreement as well as determine who will take on the additional responsibilities: assistant coach, equipment manager, fitness trainer, publicist. By structuring simplified Sport Ed units, repeating the model will allow several students the opportunity to experience the various roles.

Facilitate Learning
Rather than giving the students skills and drills, we allow them to come up with their own practice plans. We encourage them to take the focus of the day and play a modified game that will allow players to develop an understanding within a dynamic, fun setting. Using the TGfU model structure, we encourage and assist coaches with implementing small-sided games to emphasize the strategies and skills needed to achieve success. When we are focused on offensive strategies, modifying the number of defenders and/or restricting movement will allow for more meaningful practice on the offensive side.

Example: Preseason Learning Outcome: Maintain possession by creating space using pivots, fakes, and jab steps.

Scoring: Offensive players score a point every time they complete 3 consecutive passes within the prescribed boundary. Take turns playing offensive and defensive positions where the defensive team is outnumbered (i.e. 2 vs 1, 3 vs 2, 4 vs 2, etc.)

Ask Lots of Questions
The authentic nature of this format can heighten the potential for group dynamics to get messy. It is important for the teacher to make sure that a safe classroom culture is paramount. Giving up control to the students is undoubtedly difficult, but this is the best way for them to learn. Your students need to know that you are there to support them and need you to remain firm and consistent with what is expected from every member of the class. If a practice or game isn’t going or didn’t go well, ask questions of the coaches that will advance a more reflective, open mindset. Allow students to express themselves in daily class discussions, or in private as needed. Be willing to make adjustments based on the feedback and needs of the class.

The engagement and enthusiasm fostered through this model is unparalleled. We have also found that once students have experienced autonomy and authenticity of this type of unit (i.e., peer-lead activities and the use of teams that stay together through a preseason, regular season, and postseason), they overwhelmingly prefer a “Sport Ed” unit to a traditional unit. I highly recommend giving it a try and seeing for yourself!

For a more extensive look into TGfU and Sport Education hybrid units, check out a recording of my webinar, Maximize Engagement: Sport Ed. & TGfU Hybrid Units.

Streamline Standards Based Progress Reporting: SHAPE America Template + Google Apps

The first thing that went through my mind when I saw the new SHAPE America Standards Based Progress Report Template was “This is awesome.” The second thing that went through my mind is that I have to put this into a Google Doc and create an accompanying Google Sheet so that these can reports be sent to my students and parents as a supplemental report using the Autocrat merge add-on.  The great thing about this template is that it gives P.E. teachers a clean template that is relatively easy to customize.  Whether your school uses Standards Based reporting or not, this template and Google Apps merge system will allow teachers to communicate progress aligned with teacher-selected Grade Level Outcomes.

Here is a video tutorial that will show teachers how to use the Google Doc & Google Sheet to run an Autocrat merge that will create and email the Student Progress Report document.

Here is the SHAPE America Standards Based Student Progress Report created by
Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 9.03.58 PM

Here is a link to the  Google Drive Folder that includes the Google Doc Template, Google Sheet Template, and some samples.

SHAPE America Grade Level Outcomes PDF

SHAPE America Grade Level Outcomes Crowd Sourced for Google Sheets (



Do More with Peer Assessments: Google Forms + Autocrat

Quality Physical Education teachers know that we should be using self and peer assessments to gather evidence of learning during our lessons and units.  We also know that providing timely feedback to our students can be a daunting task given our large class sizes and limited class time.  I used to use paper/pencil peer and self-assessments with my students, but by the time I was able to process the data into something accurate and reliable, the unit was over.  I have solved this problem with GoScreen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.01.31 AMogle Forms, Google Sheets templates, and Autocrat (add-on script).


By setting up a individual “grid” style google form entries, the observer can assess as many (or as few) classmates as prescribed during or after a performance in very short amount time (1-2 minutes).  This data can be processed by the teacher quickly to determine evidence of learning based on central tendencies of the observers (I use mode).  Through the use of autocrat, data is merged with a Google doc template and feedback is customized and sent directly to students (via email, or print to distribute).  This can all be done for hundreds of students within 15-20 minutes.  Here’s how:


The PHYSEDagogy Podcast – #Physed Showcase – Edition #3


 Current Episode:

Edition #3 Cover PhotoThe PHYSEDagogy Podcast – #Physed Showcase Edition #3

Here is the third edition of the #Physed Showcase Podcast.  In this episode we will wrap up the #PhysedSummit 2.0.   You will hear Adam Metcalf talk about how to create a sustainable system for sport education units.  Learn about the Burp It On program and hear them talk about how they are raising awareness for physical activity. Listen to Matt Guth and Jonathan Jones talk about how they have got their students connected through a Pen Pal Program. 

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Opportunities, Mentors, And A Growth Mindset: A Personal Story About The Journey Towards Finding One’s Passion

I have the best job in the world! Having the opportunity to earn a living doing what I love is something that I certainly do not take for granted. It’s always interesting to think back and reflect upon all the opportunities, mentors, and setbacks that have shaped me into the person and teacher that I am today. Undoubtedly, the support and generosity of my parents and siblings have shaped my outlook more than I could ever possibly repay. No matter the situation or obstacle, my mom always helps me keep things in perspective. “Think positive thoughts! Everything happens for a reason.” She often tells me.

This blog post is a bit different than my normal “teacher-centered” posts… this is a personal throwback.  The following essay is an “Autosnap Midterm” paper about a personal mentor that I wrote during my first semester in my teacher education program at Northern Illinois University. My professor gave me some flattering, positive feedback; and even told me that I should try to get it published! I never attempted to publish, however, I figured that it may be a nice blog post to inspire children and adults to be growth minded, recognize opportunities, and do what makes you happy.

Adam Metcalf
EPFE 521.1
October 4, 2004
Autosnap Midterm

I look back over my shoulder to check the scoreboard displayed behind me in left field and then take a couple steps in to make sure that I can still make a play at the plate if the hitter drops a single in front of me. With two outs and runners on first and second, we are barely hanging on to a one-run lead. The pitch is fired inside and the right-handed batter gets around on it to send a high line drive in my direction. I turn to my right in a full sprint as I try to focus on the ball over my left shoulder. I leap up and reach with my left hand to snag the ball out of the air. As the ball hits my glove’s pocket, my face and body collide with the chain link fence. The fence gives way just enough to sling shot my somersaulting body back on to the warning track. My legs and feet tumble over my head as I try to find my balance enough to stand up in one fluid motion. Turning back toward the infield, I raise my glove to signal that I had hung onto the ball and secured the victory.

After the game ended, I gathered my bag and was walking out to my parents’ car when a middle-aged man with a scruffy red beard approached me. He said, “Son, I think you have just made the best catch I have ever seen.” I genuinely thanked the man and continued on my way home.

Three years later, I was a sophomore at Columbus High School. The sophomore team was struggling, and I was not getting any playing time. One day after practice, my sophomore coach said that varsity coach Tom O’Leary wanted to see me. I immediately felt confused and wondered if I had done something wrong. I stayed after practice and waited for the varsity coaches to arrive. I had never spoken to the coaches before (or at least that is what I thought at the time). I walked up to Coach O’Leary and introduced myself. He said, “Son, I’ve been following you since you were in seventh grade. How would you like to dress for tonight’s game with the big boys?” I then realized where I had seen that scruffy red beard before. I was ecstatic, nervous, and confused all at the same time as I accepted his offer. I could not understand why he wanted me to join varsity when I was not getting playing time on the sophomore team.

I was extremely nervous throughout the game as I only knew a couple of the varsity players. After we had secured a comfortable 9-1 lead, I ended up getting a pinch-hit single in my first varsity at bat. I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders as I rounded first and returned to an extended handshake from Coach O’Leary. “See!” he said, “this is where you’ve belonged all along.”

From that day on, I was a full time starter on the sophomore and junior varsity teams. I participated in two practices a day, which was difficult as I was only fifteen years of age and did not have a driver’s license. Coach O’Leary took me under his wing and told me that I was going to be his project for the next three years. He said, “If you do what I tell you, you’re gonna love this game as much as I do.”

For the first week of practice, he focused on changing my arm throwing motion from a three-quarter side arm to directly over the top. He took me aside and taught me about the physics of the ball’s spin and how I would have much more control and power if I threw it this way. I worked hard every second of every practice that entire season and did exactly what Coach O’Leary told me to do. If he told me to loosen up my grip at the plate during batting practice, I did it. If he told me to focus on my footwork while fielding a ground ball in the outfield, I did it. Without fail, the results spoke for themselves.

I was named the starting varsity center fielder as a junior. Coach O’Leary confidently defended my center field positioning even though I was not the fastest outfielder. He always preached to me about center field being the captain of the defense as well as the best fielder on the grass. I loved the grass. I loved center field. I loved the game of baseball. Coach O’Leary had given me so much confidence that every time I stepped on the baseball field I knew that I had the tools in place to get the job done.

I was unanimously voted team captain my senior year and led the team to a successful season. I went on to play baseball at Loras College and lead by example every time I strapped on the cleats. I graduated from Loras College with a business marketing degree and worked a couple jobs in sales for a few years in the Chicago area. I knew I could not spend the rest of my life doing a job that did not make me happy. I was badly in need of some guidance.

In the summer of 2003, I returned to my hometown in Iowa for the wedding of Coach O’Leary’s niece, a good friend of my sister.   Upon walking into the church, the first face I saw was the red-bearded one of Coach O’Leary. We made eye contact immediately, and he gave me the silent underhanded fist pump I had seen so many times before. That night at the reception, he told me about how he still tells his players stories about me. My eyes began to well up as he went on about how I wasn’t the fastest or most talented athlete but that I played the game with heart. His wife even came up to me and told me how much he loved coaching me. She kept going on and on about how those were his happiest times as a coach. I’ll never forget that night’s conversation with him. I had always known how much he had affected my life, but I never thought about how I fulfilled his.

Four months after our conversation at the reception, I resigned from my sales position and applied to Northern Illinois University in my pursuit to become a teacher and a coach. I always wonder how different my life would be right now if it weren’t for Coach O’Leary. He took a chance on me and is a major reason I am who I am today. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason; I can’t wait to be a reason for my students and athletes someday.