How schools can engage the digital generation in PE

How schools can engage the digital generation in PE

A growing body of research has found that young people in Australia are increasingly sedentary, with some reports showing almost 90% of Australians aged 11-17 are not getting enough exercise.

Health guidelines set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend at least one hour’s worth of vigorous physical activity every day for children to ensure they keep fit. However, research from the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health only one in ten Australian teens are following these guidelines.

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has exacerbated health issues among Australian teens.

A recent survey found that an overwhelming number of principals and parents reported a decrease in physical activity due to the loss of sport in 2020. For an already screen-hooked generation, the shift to remote learning certainly didn’t help turn the tables.

Fortunately, some educators have found an innovative way to get kids back into shape.

Flinders University’s Associate Professor Shane Pill has been researching the video game principles that cross over to lesson plans. By observing his own children, he was prompted to reconsider the ways in which video games could be used to motivate young people to exercise.

One key challenge for PE teachers, says Assoc/Prof Pill said, is “how to get young people to commit to something that is sophisticated, complex, involves repeated failure, where mastery is a long way off – and have them thoroughly enjoy it”.

“An implication of this study for school principals is the digital game mechanics we describe in the paper for movement learning contexts can be translated to any subject to power-up student engagement,” Assoc/Prof Pill told The Educator.

“Specific to driving improved physical education on a whole school level, it is recognised that schools are concerned with education of the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of students”.

Assoc/Prof Pill said his experience working with schools shows that initiatives like NAPLAN often inadvertently narrow the strategic attention of schools to the cognitive domain of learning.

“Physical education is a subject explicitly focussed on the visible development of learning in all four domains of learning and should be central in the education of young people,” he said.

“However, often school leaders don’t see it that way, and we recognise that physical education has been ‘its own worst enemy’ when teachers use a limited spectrum of teaching styles aiming narrowly at the physical domain of learning and student attainment of prescribed motor patterns [techniques] or ‘step counts’”.

He says this reduces the teacher to provide of physical activity experiences which are often also available in community sport and recreation settings.

“Reports show that we have a movement crisis in Australia, with young people and young adults today on average less movement able and motivated to be active,” he said.0

“We need a physical education method suitable for this generation that grows up with digital play experiences”.

A primary school PE teacher who participated in Assoc/Prof Pill’s study found that his creativity was stimulated by approaching his lessons from the perspective of games.

“In his teaching he now has more options to engage and then extend student learning than he did in the sport-first paradigm he had previously been using,” Assoc/Prof Pill said.

The PE teacher found that each lesson became more connected to the next than when he was teaching a series of discrete units of sport.

“The big thing I have picked up is that physical education is about the ability to move and to understand. Otherwise, we are just physical activity providers,” the PE teacher said.

“Digital game design principles allow me to bring in the possibility for kids to understand themselves as learners and movers, themselves as collaborators”.