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