Designing your gym class
From classroom organization to warm-up procedures, one physical education teacher provides a blueprint for a structured physical education program.
Bozena “Bo” Mielczak is committed to improving the image of physical education. She believes that education should focus on the whole child and place strong emphasis on physical education as well as classroom education.
“It is hard to believe, but I still see PE lessons with only four students moving at a time during most of the lesson. The majority of students cannot learn math by observing other students solving problems or waiting in line to use a math book.”
Bozena explains that physical skills are developmentally sequential and that most of them cannot be learned during one-lesson units, especially when observed instead of practiced. “With PE classes often scheduled only once a week, it is crucial that we maximize the student’s time on task. Class procedures are very handy not only for student learning but also behavior management. Procedures also make planning and implementing lessons easier for the teacher.”
Bozena Mielczak received her education at one of the seven Academies of Physical Education in Poland. “Since there were no discipline problems in communist society, there was not much I learned there about behavior modification. The emphasis was on time on task and teaching methodology. Actually, when I taught physical education in Poland, I was observed by PE specialists from the central office and the school principal. They would use a stopwatch to measure the movement time of a randomly chosen student.”
When Bozena mentored a couple of years ago and used this method of evaluating classroom management, her mentee was amazed to find out that her students were active only eleven minutes during a forty-five minute class period. The remaining time was spent listening to directions, transitioning through activities, and in waiting time.
Bozena taught physical education at Crown Point Elementary in Matthews, North Carolina for twelve and a half years and now teaches at Hemby Bridge Elementary in Union County. She uses her background experience to design a physical education class that makes the best use of time.
Bozena has developed procedures to keep her gym class running smoothly and organized. She has created standard processes for many segments of her lessons as well as other aspects of her work. Some of the strategies she puts into practice all year and others she changes periodically. “Procedures require time investment at first, but they pay off in the long run. It is like training an employee to do the job. The better they are trained, the easier the job of the supervisor and the better the work results.”
Setting up the gym classroom
Over the years, Bozena has put a lot of time and effort into designing her PE classroom. She uses a variety of signs and bulletin boards and arranges her classroom to serve the many processes that make up the day.
On the gym walls, Bozena has signs that list starting and stopping signals, rules, and consequences. There are action level signs by Curt Hinson, which place students on levels based on particular behaviors. And there are signs with Bo’s name and student awards.
At the exit doors, there are other signs. One reminds students of the leaving procedure: pick-up belongings, check homework board, and assess performance. The High Five sign is also by the exit and helps students assess their performance by “giving five.” There are three hands from which students choose to “give five.” The top green hand is excellent, the middle yellow hand is so-so, and the bottom red hand is not so good.
The walls are decorated with many other signs containing rubrics and pictures.
At the entrance door, there are three bulletin boards. The first bulletin board includes the date, daily schedule of classes (pre-printed for each day of the week), printed signs with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study standards for each grade level inserted in clear sheet protectors, and a listing the actual skill each grade level works on while implementing the standards. The second board is divided into sections for motor skills, knowledge, assessment, homework for that week, and a reminder to stretch while sitting during the lesson introduction. The third board lists the weekly PE schedule, procedures for warm-up, preparations for class, and nametag materials, including masking tape and markers for making emergency tags.
Bozena expands her physical education program by keeping up with four bulletin boards outside of the gym. “What’s in Our Classes” includes a description of present activities and photos. “Wellness” contains information about nutrition and exercise for the whole family. “What’s New in Media” has articles from the Sports section of the daily paper. “What’s in Our Area” provides information about sports, fitness, and recreation programs in the area.
Bozena situates her desk by the door where she has a sign-out board with hall passes and a pencil, a basket with PE Super Star slips, and homework record sheets.
Also by the door, in the corner, Bo has a clothing rack with hangers where students hang their clothing if they get hot. This is also where students neatly place their dress shoes when they are not wearing sneakers. Smelly shoes are placed along the cafeteria wall with socks tucked inside.
At the opposite side of the gym is the North Pole. Students are sent to the steps of the stage for misbehavior or conflict with other students. Students set the timer for three minutes and “cool down.”
Between the exit door and the North Pole, Bozena has put together a jump rope center with signs explaining the procedure for jumping rope and describing different jump rope steps. Each jump rope has colored tape at the handles that represents the length of the rope. Each length has separate hook and sign with color and length.
There is also a word wall with many words used in sports, PE, fitness, and games.
The first class of the year
All students watch Bozena’s PE Program Introduction PowerPoint presentation. The kindergarten and first grade presentation is brief; she skips several of the slides and adjusts her manner of speaking. Bozena confides, “Actually, I started using PowerPoint so I could remember what came next… after the sixth lesson on the same day, I had difficulty remembering what I had said already!” Because every teacher is covering the basics and conducting introductory lessons during the first week, Bozena knows that kids don’t particularly like this part. “But I emphasize that it is very important for them to know what to expect in PE class and what my expectations are of them.”
After students receive their oral instructions from Mrs. Mielczak, it’s time for a little action. Bozena teaches them warm-up procedure. Students form a single line and move around the gym on the basketball court line. See this diagram for a warm-up example. She creates a music recording prior the first lesson with a little help of Crown Point’s music teacher, Ms. Key. Using thirty-second time segments, K–1 students practice walking alternating with various locomotor movements such as jogging, galloping, skipping, hopping, sliding, and crawling. Students in grades 2–5 also incorporate sit-ups.
Bozena keeps this warm-up for the entire first quarter. She says, “It is easy for me to identify the students who have problems with these basic movements. Usually, I try to send an email their classroom teachers to request that teachers practice locomotor movement with their students during their recess.”
For older students, Bo modifies locomotor movement by changing directions or leading foot. For example, students may practice skipping backwards or turning around every couple of steps while sliding.
After students have been introduced to the warm-up segment, they are assigned to a space where they sit to receive their opening instructions and carry out closing procedures during every PE class. Bozena fashions four lines in front of her bulletin board wall. Eight students are assigned to positions on each line. She uses two-inch floor tape to mark out the lines and a permanent marker to number the positions. The numbers assigned to students correspond with their number on the class roster, which is in alphabetical order. “I have a grade book with a roster for each class, so one glance at the empty number on the line allows me to determine who is absent that day. I also see who is not wearing appropriate attire and record it.”
Bo has created a parent attire letter for students who come unprepared to class. Copies of the letter are located next to the door, so students can pick the letters up themselves and take them home to parents.
Once the students have been assigned spots on the lines, it’s time to select partners. Bozena shares some of her early frustrations with this process. “I tried to designate a part of each lesson that allowed students to choose a partner and taught them a procedure to do so quickly. But it still took too long and there was always Johnny or Sally that nobody wanted for a partner.” In order to make the best use of class time, students are assigned permanent partners for activities that require two people such as throwing and catching a ball. Sometimes students are allowed to change partners each quarter and sometimes they keep the same partner for the entire school year.
Bozena has created several games that make the partner matchmaking process fun and lively. One method she uses is to prepare several pairs of cards, one card with a math problem and the other card with its unique solution. For example, one pair of cards may have the math problem “2 + 2 = ?” on one card and the solution “4” on the second card. She takes care not to use math problems that have the same answers. The cards are shuffled and passed out to students. They each receive one card and try to find their partner by matching up the math problem with the correct solution.
Once students have found their partners, Bo records them in her notebook. “Occasionally, when we are practicing certain skills, I allow students to choose a partner that matches their fitness level. I also sometimes design a lesson so they can practice with different partners, like in my lesson plan on throwing a ball.”
During the first class of the year for grades 2–5, Bozena also assigns a Class PE Manager. The responsibilities of the Class PE Manager are to check out equipment for classroom recess, take care of gym equipment, and be a communication channel between the classroom teacher and the PE teacher. Bo meets once a month with managers for equipment clean up and repair. She also teaches them small group games to be played during recess.
If she has time left during the first lesson, Bozena practices starting and stopping signals with the students. She uses whistles and music while playing very simple games or doing basic movement. For example, students play with the balls and, on her whistle, must place their balls on the floor. “The main objective during the first couple of weeks is to teach the rules and procedures,” Bo explains.
A PE teacher’s day
“I come to school at least thirty to forty-five minutes before my starting time — after the Curves work-out on most of the days.” During this time, she updates daily information on the bulletin boards, prepares equipment for all classes, and checks school email. Then it’s off to perform bus duty. Each day, Bozena teaches six classes with a thirty-minute lunch break. At the end of the day, she has a thirty-minute planning time, when she cleans up, repairs equipment, and, once again, checks e-mail. Most of her planning, preparation, and paperwork is done at home.
Bozena begins class with warm-up activities and then teaches the new skill to be covered that day. These introductory activities take place in the front of the classroom with everyone together as a group. For other segments of the lesson, she divides the class up using stations, teams, groups, obstacle courses, and partners. For an example of how Bozena sets up stations, see her lesson plan Rolling a Ball or this diagram of stations.
Bo fashions signs with words and pictures for assignments or reminding cues from file folders that can be fit into slits made in the orange gym cones. These she stores in a box until they are needed.
She also makes use of video during the introductory activities and occasionally as station work. “I use Cirque du Soleil fragments as an introduction to climbing and jumping rope. I tell students to watch carefully because that is what we’ll be doing in a minute. Can you imagine terror in their eyes!” Bozena jokes. She emphasizes that video clips are shown for no more than three minutes so that students are spending their classroom time practicing skills rather than only observing.
Safety is a big issue in gym class. “I am very safety conscious,” Bozena says. “I seldom have accidents in PE classes. However, they are unavoidable, so are lawsuits.” She is a member of the Classroom Teacher Association with liability insurance.
To help prevent accidents, Bo often reminds students about safety considerations and uses numerous warning signs. For example, she has scooter signs that say “No stepping on the scooter” and basketball signs that warn “Don’t touch the board, net, or rim.” When beginning a new unit, Bozena will cover the safety associated with the activities.
“I use combination of three different philosophies: Positive Discipline, Assertive Discipline, and Love and Logic.” Bozena also employs a variety of incentives such as giving oral praise, awarding cloth pins to be exchanged for a PE Super Star slip at the end of class, sending pre-printed notes called “News from Mrs. Mielczak” to parents and teachers, posting names to the Sunshine Board, submitting students for the Principal’s Award, and holding a Fun Day.
Bozena finds that her kindergartners or first graders are intrinsically motivated. “They love exploring movement,” she notes. But as the students get older they seem to require more extrinsic motivation. “If I want most of the older students to perform their best — to produce overload and therefore improvement in certain skills — I have to add an element of competition to practice.”
At the end of the day
Bozena confesses that her husband and son tease her about constantly trying to perfect her practice. She takes their joking lightheartedly but stresses that it is part of her teaching philosophy. “I believe human beings need routines and order in life for a sense of security. Routines and order also help me to remember and do things right.”