As I arrived at St George’s Park on 5th July, I was struck by the venue and worked hard to remain casual when I realised we’d be in the company of sporting talent in the form of the England U19 Men’s football team (Norwich City were also in residence but my Ipswich Town supporting household wouldn’t forgive me for referencing them in a sentence about sporting talent). As a first time delegate who knew few others, I began to settle in by observing the ‘The PE and School Sport Street’ stands over lunch and soon found myself engaged in introductory conversations with other lone delegates.
A one to one clinic discussing the latest edition of ‘Safe Practice: in Physical Education, Sport and Physical Activity’ led nicely into my first Interactive Learning Session as a delegate - ‘To consult or not to consult’. This session proved to be a fantastic opportunity to meet other people striving to have a positive impact on Physical Education through the provision of a variety of professional learning opportunities. It was also a starting point for putting faces to names that I frequently come across in the afPE newsletter and PE Matters journal.
After a short break between the daytime and evening programme, the entertainment started with an opportunity to meet other first time delegates at pre dinner drinks and the three-course dinner that followed provided a further opportunity to meet new PE colleagues and network further. The meal culminated with the afPE Awards Presentation and, having had my nerves tested by the roaming magician asking to borrow my wedding ring, I soon decided it time to retire for the evening to get a much needed rest ahead of my two Interactive Learning Sessions the following day!
Battling with increasing excitement and nerves in equal measure, I inevitably woke early on Day 2 but, having used the opportunity to set up my workshop space ahead of time, found that I was able to relax (a bit) and enjoy the dance performance that opened the day’s programme. Of all the Keynotes that followed, Becky Adlington’s talk about her journey to Olympic Gold was undoubtedly the highlight and a wonderful slice of inspiration to lead me into delivering my sessions.
Up first was my ‘Every second counts – making the most of the warm up in Gymnastics lessons’ session. At the start, I was quick to point out that it was not my aim to fill the hour by sharing 20 or so Gymnastics warm up activity ideas because that approach would result in delegates taking those ideas back into their own settings where they would be repeated over and over with little consideration for each different lesson or unit outcome. Alternatively, my purpose was to share a process of structuring Curriculum Gymnastics into schemes, units and individual lessons which places emphasis on promoting learning opportunities throughout the warm up activities just as much as any other part of a Gymnastics lesson. We explored and discussed a few practical activity examples from the Cambridgeshire SOW for PE because I adopted the shared method of structuring learning when writing the 14 Gymnastics units of work it contains. As part of that, we debated the value in using warm up games like the ‘Bean Game’ or ‘Traffic Lights’ as pulse raising activities and also looked at the extensive learning and fitness benefits that result from including ‘Conditioning Phrases’ as part 2 of the warm up in every Gymnastics lesson. Following on from this, I introduced the ‘Principles of Progression in Gymnastics’ – my Educational Gymnastics specific model for planning progressive/differentiated learning.
With all that done, delegates had a brief chance to consider how the theory behind the session could have a positive impact back in their own setting by relating it to a recent or upcoming Gymnastics unit of work. This gave me an opportunity to check that delegates would leave the session with a clear understanding of the process thus allowing them to apply it thereafter to identify, develop and/or create an infinite range of lesson and unit outcome relevant Gymnastics warm activity ideas. The closing thoughts of the session addressed the session learning in the context of the conference title ‘Moving hearts, mind and muscles’ as well as identifying the fact that the planning process explored is not exclusive to Gymnastics i.e. delegates could apply the theory to plan a wide range of Physical Education activities and potentially other subjects across the curriculum too.
My second Interactive Learning Session, “Mixing beanbags with Gymnastics – a recipe for enhanced learning and increased fitness” followed after the lunch break. In this session, I similarly introduced the structure for planning learning in Gymnastics that I adopted when writing the Cambridgeshire SOW for PE Gymnastics units. This included presenting a high quality lesson structure which I then followed during the session as a means to demonstrate ways of incorporating the use of beanbags as a teaching tool to enhance a wide range of learning and fitness aspects across all 5 sections of a lesson. For example, in the warm up we identified how beanbags can be used as a means of non-verbal communication to enhance pupil focus and concentration whilst also promoting thinking skills and, in the key task activity, we explored a range of ways in which beanbags can be used to promote competition, accuracy of technique, clarity of shape, ease of rotation, body tension and extension etc. The flip chart photo above shows the full range of ways in which the delegates identified that the involvement of beanbags can have a positive impact on the pupils’ experience in Gymnastics across a lesson.
The purpose of this workshop was not to suggest that teachers should incorporate the use of beanbags into Gymnastics lessons 100% of the time. Instead, my aim was to show delegates how they could plan in the use of beanbags to enhance Gymnastics lesson activities specifically in relation to each lesson and unit outcome. For example, a lesson in which the teacher is aiming to develop pupils’ ability to hold balances for 3 seconds might incorporate the beanbags by getting pupils to rest and keep them on their heads (or other body parts) during their performance of balances. We did discuss, however, the benefits of having the box of beanbags handy at all times in order to be able to improvise by, for example, placing a beanbag between the feet of a pupil whose performance quality of an action would be improved if their feet were together. Again, as I wanted to be confident that the theory behind the session would have an impact on the delegates’ practice back in their own setting, I used the closing minutes of the session to encourage them to think of a recent or upcoming unit of work and how they could incorporate beanbags into those Gymnastics activities to enhance learning and/or fitness specifically in relation to the lesson/unit outcome. The concluding thoughts identified how beanbags could be used in Gymnastics lessons to move hearts, minds and muscles with specific reference to the ‘The difference Physical Education and School Sport makes to whole school improvement’ afPE poster (pictured above).
Despite some underlying nerves, I thoroughly enjoyed delivering both my Interactive Learning Sessions. The feedback at the close of each session was encouragingly positive and I felt particularly proud when one delegate later found me to say that she learned a lot despite working for many years as a PE Consultant with a specialism in Gymnastics! I confess to being a tad late to my final Interactive Learning Session which introduced the ‘This Girl Can!’ resources as I treated myself to a hot chocolate and a few minutes reflection during which I attempted to switch back into delegate mode.
The conference closed with a hugely entertaining talk by Andy Cope which centered upon recognising happiness in the here and now. The fact that I was able to return to the station in a taxi for four when I had arrived in a taxi for one was certainly a moment of happiness for me and I mean more as a representation of the opportunity I’d had to meet like-minded people than being able to share the fare although both were pleasing!
Now, a couple of weeks on, I am looking forward to potentially working with some of the PE colleagues I met at the conference over the next academic year. All in all, it was a fantastic event both from the perspective of a first time delegate and workshop leader. As such, I am very much looking forward to the afPE National Conference 2017 – whether I shall attend as a delegate, an Interactive Learning Session presenter or both remains to be seen but I am underway with scribbling down a few workshop submission ideas already!