Creative Physical Education

catherine cameron participaction
Catherine Cameron
Ambassador, Active Living

ParticipACTION is a proud member of the Live Right Now Advisory Board.

I recently received a tweet from a follower letting me know he had posted ParticipACTION's new posters in the school where he teaches in Manitoba. To be more precise, Blue Jay Bridge (Mr. Bridge as he's known within his school community) teaches physical education to students in grades five through nine at Henry G. Izatt Middle School in the community of Whyte Ridge in Winnipeg - and he's determined to help every one of them get the physical activity they need for good health.

Featured last February in the Winnipeg Free Press, Henry G. Izatt has been recognized for their innovative approach to physical education - one that emphasizes fun and inclusiveness. Physical education is mandatory until the end of grade 12 in Manitoba and it's a move I applaud wholeheartedly but one that has also created new challenges for schools with limited space for physical activity.

Although Henry G. Izatt is located in an active community where many students participate in multiple sports throughout the year, this is by no means the case for all students. In response, the school offers a multitude of extra-curricular activities to engage as many students as possible. As a result, and according to Blue Jay, the school will often have two, three or even four volleyball teams of a given gender or grade. While some extra-curricular programs come at a modest cost ($25/student), many of those that don't involve referee costs, such as indoor and outdoor track and field and badminton, are available to students at no cost.

I applaud their inclusive approach because all too often kids who want to participate but don't make the teams, get left behind or left out altogether. I see this all the time, hear about it from parents and students, and experienced it first-hand when my older daughter didn't make any of the teams she hoped to upon starting junior high school. Something else I like: Blue Jay teaches his students the meaning of terms such as "cardiovascular" and "endurance" and all of his grade five students for example, understand target heart rate zones and how to measure their heart rates against them.

At Blue Jay's school, in order to offer program diversity, they bring in self-defense instructors, zumba and hip-hop instructors, and come next month, will be welcoming a professional juggler who will introduce students to juggling in their physical education periods - something a little different and no doubt a skill that will serve every student well for life!  Keeping the fun factor high, the competitive factor low, and offering a wide variety of programming has increased participation among students who in the past, haven't enjoyed physical education and activity.

Proof that administrators and teachers can make things happen, the school saw an opportunity and converted an unused classroom into a fitness room. Now filled with exercise balls, free weights, resistance bands, treadmills and stationary bikes, it does double duty as both a space for physical education classes and a space where staff can get active on free periods, at lunch hour, and before and after school.

Blue Jay's leadership as a physical education teacher doesn't stop at school. He's submitted content to a new Canadian website called (a site for physical educators that encourages "rethinking") and in September, participated in a Skype conference with a class of students in grades seven and eight in New Zealand, addressing their questions about training for rugby players. Also at an international level, he's been working in collaboration with a physical education teacher and her grade 10 students in China - something he'll be doing again later this school year.

Keen to merge technology with physical activity, his grade five students will be using iPods to videotape each other's volleyball skills (bumps, volleys, and under-hand serves) to assist them in determining which skills they've mastered and which ones could use some work. My hope with this approach is that the use of technology will appeal to and engage students who might otherwise not be so keen on physical education or activity. Sometimes all it takes is a hook... and technology has plenty of pull.

Henry G. Izatt Middle School also offers outdoor education classes in which grade nine students participate in activities such as cycling, hiking, and camping at a nearby reserve. Adding to the school's good fortune they're also located along the Trans-Canada Trail. Perhaps Blue Jay says it best: "We were destined to be an active school!"

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