What I Saw & What I Learned: An American P.E. Teacher’s trip to Melbourne, Australia & Singapore (Blog 1 of 3)

The following series of blog posts are my attempt to summarize and piece together some of the major takeaways from my professional development trip to Melbourne, Australia and Singapore.  This trip was conceived and designed with the help of my personal learning network (PLN) from the #PhysEd and #PEgeeks community on Twitter.  During this trip, I spent a school day with each teacher as they conducted physical education classes as well as any other additional duties throughout the course of the day.

At its core, this trip allowed me to experience the type of learning I hope my students strive to obtain.  What better way to model experiential learning than to pack my bags, get on a plane, and fly half way around the world to visit people I’ve never met in places I’ve never been: all while thinking, I really hope I planned this right!

Day 1: Monday March 24, 2014
Teacher: Corey Aylen (Twitter @Mr_Aylen)
St. Francis Xavier Primary School (Box Hill, Victoria)

The day began prior to sunrise with a slight mist of drizzling rain and cool temperatures.  Corey picked me up from the Prahram train station and we had about a 30-minute car ride to his school.  Our personalities clicked right away as we discussed what an amazing opportunity this type of professional development is as well as what a powerful tool the Twitter network is for educators.

What I Saw:
Corey was among the first teachers to arrive at school where it was evident right away that he wears several “hats” as the lone P.E. teacher and self taught technology administrator.   I was extremely surprised and impressed by Corey’s involvement in the implementation of Google Apps for Education and integration of Chromebooks into the classroom (with admittedly very little computer training).  Teachers seemed very fond of the new learning management system, which gave them an efficient platform for grading, providing feedback, and tracking student performance.

IMG_1636The school campus made for a closely-knit community atmosphere.  School sport facilities included an oval (open grass field), blacktop basketball and netball courts, a field turf field (about the size of a middle school basketball court) with a small goal at each end, and a playground w/ jungle gym.  The campus also included a quaint little playground for prep students (kindergarten).

Year 1-6 students have P.E. one time per week with Corey for 40 minutes (P.E. classes are scheduled for M,T,W).  Classroom teachers supervise and instruct their respective classes in “sport” activities from 8:50-9am Tuesday-Thursday to start the day (Corey organizes and manages the rotation of activities throughout the term).  Assemblies are held each Friday and are hosted by a different grade each week.  Class sizes are approximately 24 students (2 classes per grade level).  Year 4 students (9-10 year olds) participated in small-sided games (groups of 4 or less) to build skill and incorporate strategies in striking and fielding games.  Year 1 students progressed from self, partnering, and small group development on ball manipulative skills (bouncing, tossing, and catching).IMG_1639

Another part of Corey’s job is to assist classroom teachers in their use and integration of technology.  I was fortunate to witness a Year 6 teacher (@MissKyritsis) piloting “genius hour”, where students work on a project of their choosing for an hour and prepare a way to present it to the class (examples: origami video, building an rocket to launch from the oval, etc.)

What I Learned:
Corey’s efficient use of space and time to maximize participation not only enhances the student experience, but also provides support to the entire teaching staff through sport IMG_1635and technology. As a P.E. teacher from the Chicago area, I really appreciated the foresight and flexibility required to plan a curriculum without the use of an indoor facility.  Corey utilizes inquiry and strategic questioning (What are some strategies that you used to advance the runner?  How did you position your team on defense?) to lead student discovery throughout the themes of each unit.

Day 2: Tuesday March 25, 2014
Teacher: Dale Sidebottom (Twitter @DaleSidebottom)
SEDA (Melbourne, Victoria)

A 20-minute walk on a gorgeous morning to SEDA, near Melbourne University campus.  A single classroom on the second story of a brick building is where Dale Sidebottom delivers his SEDA curriculum to Year 11 & 12 students.

What I Saw:IMG_1651
The experience of seeing, and having Dale explain, the SEDA school programs was the most unique of the schools visited.  Currently with 70+ locations, SEDA sport schools are designed as a nontraditional setting for students with the goal of achieving a career in sport and recreation.  Dale teaches all subjects to 23 students whose sporting interest is cricket.

The scheduling and general implementation of the program:

Monday:  Students spend the day at a structured workplace learning environment (of the individual’s choosing)

Tuesday – Thursday: Mornings are classroom based.  Dale sets how/when his curriculum (literacy, math, etc.) is delivered. Students use laptops to complete work, submit assignments.  Afternoons are usually dedicated to fitness and activity-based learning at a local park (about 10 minutes away).  Goal setting and fitness concepts are applied in a variety of settings.

Friday:  School & community clinical experience: coaching, teaching clinics/programs to K-6 grade students.  Focus on cricket only (representing Cricket Australia).

IMG_1661The morning class session included a lesson planning assignment where students worked diligently in small groups constructing lesson plans that they could use later in their clinical experiences.  The afternoon session began with a series of quick activities and team building games that Dale lead his students through.  The day ended with the “Workout of the Day” (4 rounds of 400m run, 50 squats).  Dale and his students completed the workout with the goal of improving on their previous week’s time.

In addition to being a teacher at SEDA, Dale is a developer of educational apps (www.breakappz.com).  Dale’s apps are a compilation of games, activities, and resources intended to be used by teachers of any content area (ClassBreak, BrainBreak, LiteracyBreak, MathBreak, Teacher Shake).  When teaching in some challenging schools and environments, Dale found that the best way to motivate the students to learn was through games.  He would start off every class with 3-4 quick games.IMG_1654

What I Learned:
The dynamics of the class and the program are completely different that anything I’ve ever seen, but it works extremely well.  Dale’s relationship with his students is immensely refreshing.  His laid back approach coupled with high expectations and built-in autonomy is a great formula for success in the SEDA environment.  Dale’s niche and system of app development is something that I found extremely impressive.  It is obvious that Dale’s philosophy and work ethic in his personal and professional life has and will continue to lead to an extremely bright future.

Day 3: Wednesday March 26, 2014
Teacher: Ross Halliday (Twitter @FizzicalEd)
Caulfield Grammar School (Wheelers Hill, Victoria)

A 30-minute cab ride to Caulfield Grammar School (Wheelers Hill) to visit Ross Halliday.  The school is over 100 years old, rich in tradition, with a beautiful and progressive campus, featuring a gorgeous mix of old and new facilities with plans for ongoing renovations and updates over the next 20 years.

What I Saw:
Lush landscaping plants, trees, flowers are integrated throughout campus pathways.  Built on a hill, youngest students are at the top and as you go down the campus the students are older.  Junior school is classified as pre-prep through year 6 (senior school is 7-12).  Glass walls/windows are the norm in every classroom and cluster.  At the bottom of the hill are the ovals (fields), tennis courts, swimming arena.  Technology in the classroom includes interactive white boards, AppleTV, and iPads.

Pre-prep & prep P.E. classes are PMP (perceptual motor program) focused.  Motor skills, spatial awareness, body control, manipulatives are practiced in stations.  The junior schooIMG_1685l PE department consists of 2 members (Ross & Karen).  Karen focuses on the younger students, Ross on the older.   Karen and Ross seem to have a very supportive and balanced relationship.  Ross is very good with technology and advocacy for PE; Karen is very motivated to use technology, but admits she is not as up to speed as Ross (Karen does use Idoceo iPad app for lesson planning and tracking student development).

Ross uses themes of inquiry and a Teaching Games for Understanding (tactical/strategic questioning).  The ever-present focus on learning through context was visible on the white board, with signs that ask, “What are we doing?” on one side and “What are we learning” on the other.  Each lesson has a “problem” in which they will be addressing.  The lesson I witness was part of the year 2 students soccer unit.  Students were trying to come up with solutions for getting around defenders to set up the attack.  At the end of class, a short video was shown so that students could see how an elite soccer player would get passed an opponent.

IMG_1701Ross is the Head of School Sport for Year 5 & 6 Students.  Coaches are hired for each term (mix of coaches: university students, teachers, coaches from other leagues/schools).  16 schools are in the conference and compete against one another throughout the 9-week term.  Home & away scheduling is dependent upon facilities, etc.  I witnessed home games of softball, tennis, and cricket.  Prior to the start of competition, I was able to take some cricket batting practice while the boys bowled to me in the “nets” (similar to baseball batting cages).

What I Learned:
Ross’s clear and focused philosophy of teaching through inquiry is superb.  As head of junior school sport, Ross’s enthusiasm for learning and his efficiency of planning (as well as delegation of leadership amongst his coaches) was astonishing to see in action.  IMG_1687Throughout the daily whirlwind of P.E. lessons and school sport, Ross’s genuine passion and respect for all students is paramount.  His ability to transition from one task to the next, always having time for a brief conversation or moment of personal attention for students and colleagues was truly a privilege to witness.

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