Monthly Archives: May 2017

Get Schooled on Unschooling

Today I was meandering around Twitter and came across the same conversation I see all the time. School is horrible. School makes kids hate life. School is the devil. Some of these people rail against school yet still profit from it. I personally subscribe to the school of thought that he who takes the king’s gold sings the king’s song. Those who rail against the system and aren’t doing anything to change the system seem hypocritical to me. If you hate school so much why aren’t you opening your own school? There are plenty of charter or private schools that don’t have the philosophy of public schools. Ok back to school is horrible.

These people who believe that school is horrible do have a solution though. That is a positive. The only thing worse than people complaining all the time is people complaining all the time without solutions. Their solution is unschooling.

Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child. (link)


Unschooling is a cool philosophy. The best part of unschooling is that families have full control over what or if their kids learn. The idea that natural curiosity can lead to learning is solid. This natural evolution doesn’t worry about test scores, scope or sequences, or learning objective. As an adult, I choose what and when I want to learn. I am constantly reading, taking MOOCs, or listening to webinars. I learn because I want to not because someone is going to test me in the future.

Data comparing unschooler’s math and reading scores to each other shows that students score slightly lower on math and slightly higher on verbal/language. (link) This makes sense to me. Everything involves reading. No matter what you want to learn you will have to read about it. You only do math at a higher level if you like math. 

The million dollar question is how do unschooled children compare to public school students?

“A variety of studies of homeschooled students’ academic performance have conclusively shown that homeschooled students can succeed academically. However, there have been no studies of homeschooled students’ academic performance that have used representative samples rather than recruiting volunteer participants. Further, study participants are inevitably from wealthier, better educated, more intact families, meaning that they likely would have scored well above average regardless of the educational option their parents chose for them. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that the homeschool population is significantly more diverse than the samples commonly used in studies of homeschool achievement, meaning that these studies likely miss whole swaths of homeschoolers. What these studies show is that homeschooled children in wealthier, better educated families with driven and motivated parents (the sort that would volunteer for studies of their children’s academic performance) tend to score well above the public score average, as should be expected.” (link)

What I understand from the above is that wealthy homeschoolers score well on tests. There is not a lot of data about students from lower income households taking standardized tests. That doesn’t show me that unschooling is the solution to our educational woes. It also makes sense that those who volunteer for studies on unschooling are going to be the subjects that have a positive association with it and have flourished under it. 

Here is my issue with the unschooler agenda. Not everyone can or wants to unschool their child. There is no data showing that unschooling would work for parents who do not have a higher education. Leaving kids alone to learn does not actually occur. Unschooling needs adults who can help their child pursue their interests. Everyone seems to act like we just let kids loose and they will learn. Children will always need adults to help them achieve their goals. The utopia of let them be and they will fly is garbage.

Unlike some of the people on Twitter who talk a good game, I have had the pleasure of being around kids who aren’t forced to do anything for long periods of time. I run a summer camp where our only goals are safety and fun. There are no standards and no pressure to do anything other than finding a way to create joy and delight for children for nine plus hours a day. We actively ask our campers what they want to do. (they are our clients) We do everything within our power to take what they want to do and create an opportunity for them to do it. We tailor their camp experience to them. If they want to play soccer we will play a boatload of soccer. If they want to play chess we do that as well. The only limitations we have are time and money.

This has given me a unique view and philosophy on kids. They want to be shown new and fun things. Most kids don’t want to sit around and do nothing. They love to be engaged and active. Kids want to be around other kids they like. Kids like adults who are fun and want to be around them as well. Here is the crazy part. Sometimes kids are happy after they are coaxed into doing something they were uncomfortable with. Yes, you read that right. Kids don’t always know best. That is what some people gloss over. Kids don’t know everything.

Here are some final thoughts on unschooling:

Public schools can learn a boatload from unschoolers.

Allowing children to pursue their passions is what public schools should be doing.

The results of standardized testing are killing our educational system.

Non-standardized testing areas should embrace their freedom and use that freedom to keep their subject fun and student-centered.

Students can benefit from adults exposing to them what they don’t know.

Kids don’t know everything and acting like they do robs them of opportunities to learn.

Not every house is meant to nor should unschool their children. 

Public schooling is still needed.



Today was the third annual Tomorrow’s Classroom Today education conference created and run by Dr. Scott Rocco, Brad Currie, and Billy Krakower. This is also my third time attending and presenting at this conference. It is a conference that is easy to get to, well run, and they honor their presenters by waiving the registration fee. That last part is something that ISTE needs to start looking at emulating. Why should we do all the hard work of preparing presentations while ISTE reaps their millions by charging their presenters full price, no wait the same early bird price as someone who is only attending? Ok rant over. Back to the conference.


I rolled in just as the beginning of the conference formalities were started. I opened my laptop to get ready and it started blaring Disney tunes from the night before. (kids bedtime and all) I quickly held the power button down and shut it off. What I did not realize was that I only temporarily shut it down and didn’t do a full reboot. When I turned it back on it started playing the music again. Nothing like interrupting a silent room with blaring music. Luckily, Brad Currie, the expert leader was able to roll with it and make a light-hearted moment out of it.

Due to this snafu I walked out to get my computer working and missed out on the keynote Angela Watson. I was able to connect with some great people in the lobby. It was great to attend a conference and have no responsibility!

Session 1:

Title: Now That’s a Good Question! How to Promote Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning Presenter(s): Erik Francis

Description: What is a good question – or rather, how does a good question prompt students to think deeply and express and share the depth and extent of their learning?  How can questioning engage students to develop and demonstrate their learning through research, examination, investigation, and design?  Learn how to develop good questions that will challenge students to demonstrate higher order thinking and communicate depth of knowledge in-depth, insightfully, and in their own unique way.

Erik’s session was overall solid. His understanding and explanation of the depth of knowledge is second to none. I loved how he made us think about questioning. His presentation is linked here. Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings are necessary for teaching content. His visual on the Depth of Knowledge is awesome. Definitely, check his resources out.

His session did have a couple of points that I disagreed with. He was so worried about Project Based Learning and trying to convince us that his teaching of projects was PBL when it didn’t seem like it was based on the definition given by the Buck Institute. The conversation derailed what was an excellent idea. Erik uses projects in his class. He uses many of the things that PBL uses. It doesn’t matter whether it is PBL or not. The point is his teaching seems to work for his students. He did not show us any data though so we have to take his word for it. I would imagine it is in his book which you can find by going to his site

We also had a discussion about why he doesn’t force students to work in groups. My point is if we are going to teach the whole child we have to address interpersonal wellness. Allowing students to isolate themselves does not improve this wellness.

Overall his session was engaging although lacked movement. This is common amongst presenters who don’t understand or value movement. I would say if he is presenting check it out. It will make you think about thinking!

The second session I attended was:

Title: Innovative Approaches to Literacy Presenter(s): Chrissy Romano-Arrabito and Donna Petrin-Wall

Description: Participants will dive in and explore methods to create a student-centered, technology enhanced ELA classroom. Participants will take away an understanding of how to use Google Classroom, Docs, and Slides to provide feedback during the learning process, apps and extensions to support struggling learners, dynamic tools to increase student engagement, collaboration, and create authentic learning experiences, and various formative assessment tools that can be used to continually inform instruction.

This session was awesome. I expected nothing less from Chrissy and Donna. Chrissy is on the circuit like they say in the biz! They gave a ton of resources for how to use a more student-centered approach to an ELA classroom. Her ideas were fresh and interesting. Seesaw was given a huge shout out and deservedly so. It is a game changer! My one take away Story Jumper is an engaging tool that teachers need to check out.

As an aside, it was brought up that Bitmoji only has straight and curly hair to choose from there were no options for braids. This is a problem when Chrissy and Donna teach students who can’t make a Bitmoji that looks like them. This is unacceptable. Please tweet @Bitmoji and let them know this.

My suggestions to both Chrissy and Donna is figuring out how to incorporate movement into your presentation. A simple stand and turn and talk would do wonders. I did love how you opened the floor up at the end of the session to the participants. I love when the room gets a chance to shine as well.

My session was my third and final session. If you want the slides on how different ways to incorporate movement click here.

After the third session, we ate lunch and then heard 5 ignites. Ignites are 5 minutes long and usually 20 slides that are 15 seconds each. One idea I thought was brilliant was the raffles were at the end of the day. In order to get a raffle ticket you had to visit every vendor. That is a great way to increase vendor traffic! After the raffles we headed home. 

As always I will state my glows and groans (stolen from Jorge Rodriguez)

Glow: Dr. Josue Falaise’s ignite was amazing. He was passionate and switched the time of his slides but still stayed under 5 minutes. He highlighted the contributions of two People of Color Patricia Bath (cataract surgery inventor) and Lonnie Johnson (inventor of the super soaker). His passion for education was obvious and he is a delight to laugh and hang with.

Groan: There were a lot of sessions and only three time slots. I would have fewer sessions per slot and more sessions overall.

Glow: They accepted me to present!

Groan: There were still not a ton of People of Color that were present. I think Julianne Moore brought most of the Women of Color there!! EdCamp Brooklyn representing!! There has to be a way that we can get a more representative crowd of who teaches our students represented. I don’t know the answer but we have to be more inclusive. That may mean going out and recruiting people.

Glow: The internet was reliable and the facilities to present were solid.

Glow: The people were friendly. Participate has some great reps. I connected with old and new PLN members. EdCamp NJ was well represented with over 10 people from our planning committee there.

Overall this was a great conference that I would recommend anyone go to!! If you are free to present and want to hang with me next year you can sign up here. Proposals are due by June 30. See you then! 


Between the World and Me

I just finished the Between The World and Me authored by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The book is written to his son about what it means to be black in America. He takes his us on a journey from his childhood and ends when his son is 15. His story has a brutal honesty that clearly has been attained through a boatload of reflection and reading. He does not pull any punches nor sugarcoat the facts. His portrayal of himself is not in any way shape or form lionizing or heroic. His straightforward explanation of life as a black man leaves no room for argument nor interpretation. This book is his story told through his lens mixed in with a boatload of American and African history.

He begins with his journey of what it was like living and attending school in Baltimore during the 1980’s. This time in his life really shapes how he not only views the world but how it affected his every action and reaction long after he became an adult. Mr. Coates tells his son how he avoided certain streets based on his knowledge of who was there and what could happen if he ventured there. The story that stood out to me was when a young adolescent pulled a gun on him.

“I remember being 11 years old, standing out in the parking lot in front of the 7-Eleven, watching a crew of older boys standing near the street. I stood there, marveling at the older boys’ beautiful sense of fashion. They all wore ski jackets, the kind that mothers put on layaway in September, then piled up overtime hours so as to have the thing wrapped and ready for Christmas. A light-skinned boy with a long head and small eyes was scowling at another boy, who was standing close to me. It was just before three in the afternoon. I was in sixth grade. School had just let out, and it was not yet the fighting weather of early spring. What was the exact problem here? Who could know?

The boy with the small eyes reached into his ski jacket and pulled out a gun. I recall it in the slowest motion, as though in a dream. There the boy stood, with the gun brandished, which he slowly untucked, tucked, then untucked once more, and in his small eyes I saw a surging rage that could, in an instant, erase my body. That was 1986.” (link)

That idea that he had no control over his body was a theme that popped up over and over again. It was obviously a message he wanted his son and the reader to understand. Black people in America have had their bodies taken away from them since the inception of American settlements. This occurred through slavery, rape, beatings, lynchings, jail, or police brutality. If the reader didn’t understand why People of Color were upset not only with America but the whitewashed history of America he laid it out rather plainly.

Another large part of the book was his time spent at Howard University. It seemed to me that his time there he was able to let down his guard and live life with the light-heartedness that I thought everyone had. (yes I realize that is privilege) He speaks of Howard University and the feeling of being part of The Mecca.

“The Mecca is a machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body.  The Mecca derives its power from the heritage of Howard University, which in Jim Crow days enjoyed a near-monopoly on black talent.”(link)

Mr. Coates often refers back to his time and family ties to Howard University with such fondness and love that it makes the reader want to experience this oasis.

While at Howard University, a place where he met his wife, he speaks about a man named Prince Jones. Prince was only an acquaintance yet the reader was made to feel that he was a great man who people loved. A man of god and goodness. Prince Jones is later revealed to have been murdered by a police officer. His death shook Mr. Coates to the core.

“Prince Jones had made it through, and still they had taken him. And even though I already knew that I would never believe any account that justified this taking, I sat down to read the story. There were very few details. He had been shot by a PG County officer, not in PG County, not even in D.C., but somewhere in Northern Virginia. Prince had been driving to see his fiancée. He was killed yards from her home. The only witness to the killing of Prince Jones was the killer himself. The officer claimed that Prince had tried to run him over with his jeep, and I knew the prosecutors would believe him.” (link)

Prince’s death showed him that there was nothing he could do to shield his son from losing control of his body. As a father, I can only imagine the pain and helplessness he had and continues to feel. As a humanist, I am appalled that people feel that way. That feeling is why I continue to read about what I do not know. I can’t ever truly understand what it feels like to be an “other” in America with no escape, however reading this book gave me the slightest glimpse and understanding that I was unable to grasp before.

My final thoughts on the book is that it was written in such a style that only awareness could be gleaned from it. He does not glorify the streets nor condemn it. His views on school and life are honest and unapologetic. His message to his son is clear and consistent. He, “…fears that whatever positive values he gives his son, however hard he encourages him to work in school and do the right thing, out on the streets his body, the color of his skin, will make him vulnerable to state-sanctioned attack.” (link) Between the World and Me is a book that will stick with me forever. You should read it too. 


7 of 9 Dimensions of Wellness: Cultural

This is the seventh of nine installments about how I attempt to teach the whole child. Last week’s blog reflected on how I teach Interpersonal Wellness in Physical Education and Health. It also discusses how I believe it is every teacher’s duty to teach the entire child. After writing my original blog on why I teach Physical Education and Health, I received feedback from Shrehan Lynch (@misslynchpe) that there are currently nine dimensions of wellness that are being taught at the collegiate level. Armed with that feedback and the encouragement of Mel Hamada (mjhamada) this has now morphed into a nine-part blog series. I fully expect that I am derelict in my teaching of several areas of wellness. This blog series will allow me to highlight those areas I need to improve.

This blog may be the most important blog in the series. Our country is in a state of flux right now. The hate and anger that has been festering in people has now risen up and showed itself to the world. Hate crimes are rising, hatecrimesnycfeb122017police are shooting unarmed People of Color at an alarming rate, and the White House is run amok with antisemitism. (link). The only positive I can draw from this is that we have the power to change the mindset of young America. We can do that by addressing Cultural Wellness in our classes.

“A culturally well person is aware of their own cultural background, as well as the diversity and richness present in other cultural backgrounds. Cultural wellness implies understanding, awareness and intrinsic respect for aspects of diversity. A culturally well person acknowledges and accepts the impact of these aspects of diversity on sexual orientation, religion, gender, racial and ethnic backgrounds, age groups, and disabilities.” (link)

Before we delve into how exactly I am teaching cultural wellness I must state that if we are not addressing this in your class that is a moral failure on our part. We no longer have the luxury of teaching children without understanding and including cultural wellness in our class. If we are ignoring cultural wellness we are harming our students. We may be using microaggressions, which are racist, without even realizing it. A microaggression is,“A statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.” (link) Unintentional racism is still racism though; just as ignorance of the law does not excuse you from the consequences of it.

I know the term racist gets white people hot under the collar. I myself was called it and it devastated me. What some people don’t understand is that our society is racist. Every time we see movies, magazines, news articles, and television shows we are bombarded with the racist messages. (link) This impacts teachers without us even knowing it. (link) I am not excusing our racism. I am just showing you that just because we don’t hate black and brown people doesn’t mean we aren’t racist. We have an implicit bias simply by living in America. I know for a fact I have implicit bias because I have taken the implicit bias test from Harvard University.

Cultural wellness is more than just racism though. Some of the ways students can be discriminated against is by, disability, nationality, ethnic or national origin
religion, belief or lack of religion/belief, sex, sexual orientation, age, being or becoming a transsexual person, being married or in a civil partnership, or being pregnant. There are probably many more groups of people that I am missing. The main point of this blog is that we can help raise the awareness that people are being discriminated against in the world. More than that there are students in your school that is being discriminated against.

I have to be honest though, my teaching of cultural wellness isn’t even close to the level it should be. I have taught for 11 years. I would say 9 of those years I wasn’t even aware of cultural wellness, either my own or my students. Once I became aware that I needed to look at how and what I taught from a cultural wellness perspective I have started to slowly implement it into my teaching.

The first way is by honoring the some of the designated months. So far I teach the history and game of netball during women’s history month. I teach chess, yes chess, during black history month. You can read more about that here. That is not enough though. I don’t do anything for any other months. I also don’t teach enough about black or women history outside of those allocated months. This is a weakness that I am attempting to remedy more and more every year I teach.

Other ways that I address cultural wellness in my class is by avoiding the term boys and girls. If that bothers you check your bias. The students are dismissed by color of clothing, birth date or the classic if you had fun line up. I will also say those who are boys or identify as boys get the equipment. That plants the seed that there are people who may not look like a boy who identifies as a boy.

The greatest impact in my class is during our circle time. This is a restorative justice practice where one person is speaking while the rest of the class works on active listening. This is a time where the students can share anything with me. They are able to tell me about their personal lives. This allows the group to get a different perspective on their classmates. Students can see their similarities and differences in a controlled and safe environment.

Health class allows me to address cultural wellness explicitly. My favorite lesson for 1st grade that I tie into racism uses the Dr. Seuss video Sneetches. I use Edpuzzle and show the video with questions embedded into it. The video will stop automatically and we can discuss the questions as a class. Click this link to see the video and the questions. Another great video to discuss race with 6th graders is the TED talk with Mellody Hobson titled Color Blind or Color-Aware. The students use Edpuzzle to individually reflect on the talk and then we discuss it as a class afterward. Click this link to see the video and questions we discuss in class.

Another great resource to discuss racism comes from the show What Would You Do? This episode shows a white man, a black man, and a white woman all the same age and dressed similarly stealing a bike from a park. The video shows different people’s reactions to them. It is a great conversation started about implicit bias and racism. If you would like to see the video with the questions I use click here.

There is so much more to say and write about cultural wellness that entire books have been written about it. One book I would highly recommend you buy is Social Justice in Physical Education: Critical Reflections and Pedagogies for Change. It is written by some heavy hitters in the Physical Education world. I would say this is my bible for how to learn more about cultural wellness in physical education.

My final thought on cultural wellness is that we need to be aware of what is going on in our town, our state, our country, and the world. Hate, fear, and prejudice is still rampant in our country and around the world. There are concentration camps where gay men are sent to (link), Our President and Vice President do not support the LGBTQIA community (link), and Roe vs. Wade is in it’s most precarious situation since its inception (link). The only way we can fight hate is by having our children become humanists. “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” (link) The beauty of humanism is that it doesn’t run counter to anyone’s religion nor is it anti-religion. It is simply the idea that ALL people deserve personal fulfillment and that we ALL need to work toward making the world a better place. Hopefully, I have given you something to think about. Thank you for reading my most important blog yet.

6 of 9 Dimension of Wellness: Interpersonal

This is the sixth of nine installments about how I attempt to teach the whole child. Last week’s blog reflected on how I teach Intellectual Wellness in Physical Education and Health. It also discusses how I believe it is every teacher’s duty to teach the entire child. After writing my original blog on why I teach Physical Education and Health, I received feedback from Shrehan Lynch (@misslynchpe) that there are currently nine dimensions of wellness that are being taught at the collegiate level. Armed with that feedback and the encouragement of Mel Hamada (mjhamada) this has now morphed into a nine-part blog series. I fully expect that I am derelict in my teaching of several areas of wellness. This blog series will allow me to highlight those areas I need to improve.

Physical Education has a special place for Interpersonal Wellness. It can either set the stage for a vast improvement or make a child completely vulnerable and harm them to the core. “Developing interpersonal wellness means learning good communication skills, developing the capacity for intimacy, and cultivating a support network of caring friends and or family members.” Link

We teach communication skills in a variety of ways. There are the classic blindfold games where students must take directions from their teammates as well as non-verbal games where students have to communicate without making a sound. Other times students have to communicate where they are going or what is happening during the game. Every teacher works on that communication.

The communication I tend to focus on is the way my students interact with each other socially. Physical education is an area where conflicts arise constantly. Students are constantly making contact with each other. This could be a tag game, a sporting activity, or simply running close together. This invasion is just one way that conflict can arise. I have changed my teaching strategy so that students must first speak with each other before they come speak to me about a problem. If the situation is not resolved I will step in and help out with peer mediation. This is one way that we can teach our students how to respectfully interact with each other. When students are able to speak with each other and solve problems they are able to establish and create friendships.

One of the greatest ways we work on interpersonal wellness is through the use of cooperative games. Dr. Vicky Goodyear has some great resources that I have used that can be found here. Dr. Ash Casey is a cooperative games expert and has a book entitled Cooperative Learning in Physical Education. According to Dr. Casey, “Cooperative Learning is a dynamic instructional model that can teach diverse content to students at different grade levels, with students working together in small, structured, heterogeneous groups to master subject content.”

One of my favorite activities had the students perform tasks as a group with an individual projectile. If one person couldn’t perform the task the entire team started again. Before they could start the task again I had the students get together and attempt to figure out why the group didn’t succeed. The idea was to create tasks that forced students to work together where there was no losers or competition. It also forced the students to work together. The superstar couldn’t take over. It is not about the individual success of one student on the team but the success of every student on the team. The discussion piece also allowed the group to work on communication skills.

You may have noticed that my students talk to each other a lot. Every opportunity they get to speak to each other works on their interpersonal wellness. My students and I work on how we speak to each other. We discuss the tone of voice, clear presentation of facts, and finding solutions to problems. Is there any more important skill than communication to help ensure future relationships?

Earlier in the blog, I mentioned that physical education can also harm our student’s interpersonal wellness. I remember vividly one class I had a student throw the ball off the face of another student on purpose. I have read other anecdotes of students with power exercising it by harming, either physically or verbally, LGBTQIA students, students of color, or students with disabilities just to name a few. If teachers do not step in and address this harm we are neglecting our students Interpersonal Wellness. Students will not learn how to regain their power during these situations unless we give them the tools and support to fight back. More importantly than that, if we do not address it we condone it.

My final thoughts on interpersonal wellness are that Physical Education can create the perfect atmosphere for creating and sustaining friendships. I just finished listening to Andy Vasily’s Run Your Life episode 52 with Scott Kretchmar. They talked about creating joy in the classroom. What better way to have human interaction than with joy? I personally want my students to enter my gym and have a shared positive experience. Interpersonal wellness is a huge part of that.

5 of 9 Dimension of Wellness: Intellectual

This is the fifth of nine installments about how I attempt to teach the whole child. Last week’s blog reflected on how I teach Financial Wellness in Physical Education and Health. It also discusses how I believe it is every teacher’s duty to teach the entire child. After writing my original blog on why I teach Physical Education and Health, I received feedback from Shrehan Lynch (@misslynchpe) that there are currently nine dimensions of wellness that are being taught at the collegiate level. Armed with that feedback and the encouragement of Mel Hamada (mjhamada) this has now morphed into a nine-part blog series. I fully expect that I am derelict in my teaching of several areas of wellness. This blog series will allow me to highlight those areas I need to improve.

This week we will be analyzing the what, how, and why I teach Intellectual Wellness. “Intellectual wellness is engaging the individual in creative and stimulating mental activities to expand their knowledge and skills and help them discover the potential for sharing their gifts with others.” Link That definition is a good start but what are the knowledge and skills of? Let’s take a look at the definition of intellect. Intellect is, “…the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively, especially with regard to abstract or academic matters.” Link That is more in line with how I view intellectual wellness because it incorporates metacognition and growth mindset.

Now we know the what let’s take a look at the how. The content knowledge starts with terminology. My youngest students (k and 1) learn what the locomotor movements are, the areas of the basketball court, angles, animals, offense, and defense to name a few. These all occur naturally within the games and activities. As my students get older they learn about the FITT principle, rules of different sports, origins of games, and history.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Our games and activities are filled with problem-solving and decision making. Some teachers may not even realize how much intellect we are addressing just by having the students play in structured activities. It is extremely difficult to stay within the rules and parameters of the games that we set up for our students. Not only do our students have to figure out what to do they have to rule out all the things they can’t do as well.

An easy example of this is the game of Sharks and Minnows. The goal of the game is for students to get from one side of the gym to the other without being tagged by the people in the middle. It is a game that every level of student from K-12 grade loves to play. During this simple game, the student who is attempting to cross the gym has to map out a plan of where they want to go. They have to avoid any obstacles as well as stay within the boundaries. That plan gets changed as soon as they start moving depending on where they taggers go, who is in their way, and what pathways are now available for them. They also have to figure out what angle to take in order to avoid a tagger who may be faster than them. There also may be the need to juke a defender in order to get them off balance and surpass them. All of those decisions are made without most students even consciously being aware that it is happening.

That is where metacognition happens. A knowledgeable teacher will ask the students questions that force them to think about why they did something. A simple example of this could be the teacher asking the student why did you get tagged? This forces the student to analyze their actions and decisions. That is the beauty of TGFU (teaching games for understanding) and inquiry-based teaching. We are teaching our students to think about thinking.

That is also why it is so important that I give my students time to reflect during class. I use Seesaw for my students to either write or video reflect on the class, their choices, the game or make a connection to the outside world. If the student can not connect our lesson to something outside of class that opens the door for us to discuss the why behind what we did. I want my students to ask why. They have the right to question anything we do in class.  

This brings us to the polarizing idea of Growth Mindset. At its core growth mindset is the idea that we can always get better and that when an outcome doesn’t occur in the manner that we would have preferred we look at why it didn’t. After analyzing why we didn’t achieve the desired outcome we try to figure out if we should attempt to solve the problem again in the same manner or change our approach.

That is a simplistic definition but for the purpose of this blog, it will have to suffice. Some students just give up when things don’t go their way. That is when we hear statements that have negative self-talk or the student just stops trying. I step in and explain that most people stink at anything when they first try. These students look at their peers who excels at dribbling skills and do not realize how much practice went into that level of proficiency. The intellectual wellness part of teaching is having the student figuring out how we can raise their level of skill to a place they want it to be. This may be correcting form, practicing more, or understanding that certain things we just won’t be that great at no matter how many times we attempt it.

Another part of intellectual wellness that I teach is having the students become open to new ideas. I am constantly introducing new games and activities that the students haven’t played before. This not only keeps things fresh for me but also encourages them to try new things. Imagine if we only ate the food we liked when we were eight years old! I would never know the deliciousness that is sushi. That is the same for ideas. If we are not open to learning how will we ever grow our intellect? The key here is that it has to be fun and driven by the student. Anytime we force humans to do something we run the risk of them pushing back simply due to the fact that they were forced to do it.

We can’t discuss intellectual wellness without including creativity and critical thinking. Intellectual wellness is a skill that needs to be practiced. Teachers frequently state that their students aren’t creative or critical thinkers. They want the answers handed to them. Fortune 500 companies complain that college graduates lack those skills. Link If we don’t give the students opportunities to be creative or critical how can we expect them to master those skills? I allow my students to create games and activities. Once we have played their games or mine for a round or two I ask how can we make the game better. That question allows the students to work on their creativity and critical thinking. Dr. Harvey gave me the idea to have the losing team in a game have the ability to create or change a rule that either gives the losing team an advantage or the winning team a disadvantage. That right there is a critical thinking home run.

I have written before how I allow my students to create games or activities outside of class. They share those with me via Seesaw, Google docs, or a simple drawing. They know that I reserve the right to tweak their game as I see necessary for either safely or to marry it to a grade level outcome. If you would like to read more about this idea click here.

One final area of intellectual wellness that is never addressed is a sense of humor. I attempt to show how humor can be used in a variety of ways. I make fun of myself to model how not to take yourself too serious. I make corny dad jokes in class. If you don’t know what dad jokes are click here. My favorite thing to do is yell at my students that there is no smiling or laughing in school. It is a foolproof way to get them to start laughing and smiling. The bottom line is that humor falls under intellect.  “From a psychological perspective, the humor process can be divided into four essential components: (1) a social context, (2) a cognitive-perceptual process, (3) an emotional response, and (4) the vocal-behavioral expression of laughter.” Link  If we look at the second essential component humor is thinking. A sense of humor is disarming. It helps ease tension and bring people together. Humor is an underrated tool in life. If more of us laughed at ourselves and with each other, the world would be a better place. 

Intellectual wellness is something that every teacher regardless of subject area addresses. In Physical Education some may undervalue it. Those who do not understand Physical Education may believe that we do not address it all. The truth is we address intellectual wellness in a way that is unique. We teach with and through movement. It is how our brains work best.

Peter Strick at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center of Syracuse, New York, has documented another link. His staff has traced a pathway from the cerebellum back to parts of the brain involved in memory, attention, and spatial perception. Amazingly, the part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning.” Link

Case closed.