Many educators reading this Blog will believe that this plea is easier said than answered but I continue to be passionate about sharing the message that every teacher, whether they realise it or not, has the ability to plan and deliver outstanding Educational Gymnastics both in the curriculum and as an extra-curricular activity. Remember that, for a multitude of reasons, very few pupils participating in Gymnastics will fully follow in the footsteps of Max Whitlock and become the next British Olympic Champion. As Shannon Miller (7x Olympic Gymnastics medalist for USA) recently said, "PE is not about creating world-class athletes; it is about creating incredible human beings." Schools, therefore, need not feel pressure to offer a Gymnastics programme which focuses on the technical skill development aspect of the sport. Alternatively, schools should aim to design and deliver schemes and units of work which appeal to, enable and inspire the majority with outcomes that prioritise wider learning, fitness and well-being over and above accomplishment of the sport itself.
There are a number of ways in which teachers can use Gymnastics Activities as a means to promote wider learning but the specific purpose of this Blog post is to offer some ideas as to how schools can explore cross-curricular links as a starting point to inspire Gymnastics lesson material. By approaching the designing of a Core Task (end product of a unit of work) from this alternative angle, teachers can develop Gymnastics plans based upon subject knowledge that they can be more confident to deliver and which are more relevant to all pupils.
The first example is inspired by the fact that the teaching team at my son’s Infant School map the curriculum learning under the umbrella of termly whole school topics. During the last academic year, for example, his learning experiences have been presented through the topics of ‘Towers, tunnels and turrets’, ‘Mission skyline’ and ‘The ugly bug Olympics’. For me, each of those topic titles immediately conjures up a wide variety of Gymnastics Core Task possibilities and potential lesson material. Pupils could explore shapes and balances based on the key words of towers, tunnels and turrets and then work on linking them together into short movement phrases. Similarly, ‘Mission skyline’ evokes the possibility of developing Gymnastics vocabulary based on take-off, flight, landing and reaching for the stars whilst pupils could explore methods of travelling like spiders, caterpillars, worms etc. through “The ugly bug Olympics’ theme. If your Primary School also presents learning through identified whole school topics, can you too consider how the termly themes could inform the way in which you deliver the PE curriculum through Gymnastics and other sporting activities?
Teachers can also look to the ‘School Values’ for inspiration when designing Gymnastics units of work. To provide a context in this case, I’ll use the example of my daughter’s Junior school where the six school values (kindness, responsibility, respect, honesty, resilience and ambition) are identified and defined through displays which surround the school hall. Considering this is the space in which Gymnastics lessons take place, there is significant opportunity here to use the ‘School Values’ as a stimulus to design Core Tasks with successful responses influenced by pupils understanding, application and demonstration of one or two values. Selecting ‘responsibility’ as an example stimulus for planning a Gymnastics unit, pupils could work in the same small groups across all lessons to compose and perform a group sequence which is developed according to identified individual strengths. Early lessons in the unit could consider what it takes to create and perform an effective sequence as well as what it means to be responsible and/or have a responsibility. Combining the learning from both discussions, group members could then allocate one another with relevant individual responsibilities to inform the creation and performance of a group sequence. For example, is there a group member with a good memory who could lead the sequence order and timing from the front or is there a group member who attends a Gymnastics club out of school that could suggest ability appropriate actions to determine the movement content of the sequence or is there someone who has a positive way with words that could take on the role of stepping out to observe individual and whole group performances to tactfully provide feedback/improvement points? At the end of the unit, pupils could reflect on, talk or write about their allocated responsibility and the resulting contribution they made to the final group composition/performance. With all that in mind, when you consider that responsibility is just one example school value, think of the scope for accessible Gymnastics lesson material that all six (or more) values could generate!
My final and most obvious suggestion for seeking cross-curricular inspiration is to identify opportunities to introduce or re-enforce aspects of other subject curricular through Gymnastics Activities. The possibilities in relation to this are endless so I shall merely scratch the surface of putting this suggestion into context by sharing the content of one particularly successful extra-curricular session that I led during the summer term. The aim of the session was to create and perform stable pair weight-taking shapes. For the pulse raising and warm up phrase activities, I deliberately selected actions which allowed me to focus the feedback and improvement points on showing clear and precise 90° angles in various body shapes. For example, we started off with marching on the spot so that I could direct gymnasts to focus on showing right angles at the hip and knee joint with every leg lift. Thereafter, gymnasts identified and focused on the right angles of each warm up action with increasing autonomy.
On completion of the warm up activities, I showed the gymnasts a whiteboard half filled with stick men images of the shapes we had so far explored with the right angles marked on in a different colour. I then initiated a discussion to gauge whether or not the gymnasts had any idea as to the purpose of focusing on right angles in a session that we hoped would result in stable pair weight-taking balances. To guide them to a conclusion, I asked them to think about their classroom space to identify objects that have many 90° angles, to consider the purpose of those objects and how the right angular design makes them effective in achieving that purpose. Having noted that tables and chairs have many right angles and that this design allows them to provide effective support, we translated that into the fact that pair weight-taking shapes will be most stable if built on a base position which has many right angles. With that information, the gymnasts then worked in pairs to come up with additional individual static shapes showing many right angles that could later form stable base positions for weight-taking balances. During this activity, gymnasts had access to the school Ipads in order to photograph one another’s shapes so as to provide feedback on the accuracy of the 90° angles and, once performing a new shape precisely, gymnasts were invited to add their idea to the whiteboard.
Before gymnasts were allowed to begin exploring using these shapes as base positions for pair balances, we considered all things safety associated with taking the weight of another person. To then ensure gymnasts were ready to explore pair weight-taking ideas freely, I led them through a few given examples including v-sit on box shape to emphasise how to safely distribute the ‘top’s’ weight over the contact points/right angles of the base position rather than placing all weight in the middle of the ‘base’s’ back. We also investigated the straddle sit position as a base position for the ‘top’ doing a front support with their hands on the floor and feet on the ‘base’s’ shoulders. When in the base position, gymnasts soon discovered the importance of keeping their back perpendicular to their legs i.e. showing a precise 90° angle at the hips and, much to the frustration of the more flexible gymnasts, the effectiveness of restricting the leg split in the straddle to a right angle to create the most stable base position.
With all that information on board, the pairs of gymnasts then worked freely and safely to create a plethora of original pair weight-taking shapes using the base position suggestions collected on the whiteboard as a starting point for developing ideas. Many pairs naturally focused on showing shapes with right angles in the ‘top’ position as well as the ‘base’ position, a few examples of which are shown in the pictures above. It was a shame to have to stop the gymnasts in full creative flow for the cool down and the maths based learning initiated/re-enforced during this session could definitely have been extended into multiple sessions or, in curriculum terms, a full unit of work based on exploring right, straight, acute and obtuse angles through the performance of Gymnastics actions. Considering this idea is based on only one small element of one other subject curriculum, I ask you to imagine the full extent of opportunity to seek cross-curricular inspiration for the planning of Gymnastics Activities when regarding the entire National Curriculum.
In detailing three cross-curricular routes through which to plan Gymnastics Activities, I am by no means presenting an exhaustive list of the opportunities that lie within this concept. The truth is that, as someone who no longer works in the heart of a school day in day out, I don’t have the best access to the full range of possibilities. It is those of you currently working at the business end of school life who have the best expertise to identify what inspiration lies within cross-curricular links to plan Gymnastics Activities relevant to your pupils’. Consequently, my second plea is to those that hold the PE and Sport Premium purse strings. Where funding is to be allocated to support the delivery of Gymnastics Activities, please be aware that Level 2 coaches are hard to find, expensive and approach delivery from a heavily skills based perspective which will appeal to the minority rather than majority of pupils. Accordingly, to maximise the wider learning opportunities that Educational Gymnastics has to offer, my advice would always be to use the funding to up-skill the teachers themselves in order that they have the ability to apply a basic Gymnastics skills base to their in depth knowledge of the school, its ethos/values and curriculum. Where opportunities to seek high quality Gymnastics professional development such as this are limited, however, consider allocating £36.34 of your PE and Sport Premium to purchasing the British Gymnastics Core Proficiency Resource Pack. With this resource, you’ll have immediate access to 80 Gymnastics skills presented across 10 themed and progressive badge strands detailed over 40 work cards which include preparation activities, safety considerations, teaching points and extra challenges. That combined with dedicated planning time in the hands of teachers who can think in cross-curriculum terms could be all that is needed for schools to fill a massive gap and successfully play a key post Olympics role in facilitating Gymnastics opportunities for the many young people inspired by what they witnessed in Rio.