Newton’s First Law

“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force”(That pretty much sums up my view on teaching – every now and then we need some unbalancing to shift us out of our inertia as practitioners.)

I guess I should start this reflection on a couple of moments from my year with some context.

I haven’t been Head Teacher of my faculty this year. I’ve been filling in as ICT Co-Ordinator at my school, which has been a nice (but very challenging at times) change from being a curriculum leader.  My teaching load has reduced a little to accommodate the change of role, and all of classes are still PDHPE classes.

I’ve used the year to play around with some ideas on combining technology with a student-centred learning routine that used a variety of delivery pathways. Some worked, some didn’t. I’ll mention a couple where the process or the outcomes surprised me.

Episode 1 – “We all make choices in life, but in the end our choices make us.” – Andrew Ryan, Bioshock

I’ve always liked the idea of using game mechanics as a vehicle for engaging students with units of work. I play games, and they get me to engage in learning cycles not unlike the ones I want my kids i class to follow. Not gamification though – I’m still suspicious about the use of that concept in teaching and learning – it’s the fairy floss of games based approaches in my humble opinion – starts off great but can lose its appeal quickly when kids discover that there’s a finite amount of interest you can devote to tangible (and ultimately, relatively valueless) trinkets or badges. I’d really like to explore real life loot boxes or special powers that kids could win and use at school based on their progress through an RPG game called Learning, but I haven’t figured that out yet. It needs more adults to be gamemasters for that to happen, most likely.

More context. Most Fridays this year I’ve attended what we like to refer as guild meetings (we have a tag #TMFoghorn) at our guildhouse – Foghorn Brewhouse. By we, I mean like minded educator guild class people like Dean Groom and Lorraine Hawdon from the International Football School at Kariong. Our chats have given my plans real shape. All welcome. Fridays from 4pm.

Anyway, back to the game mechanics. Dean and Lorraine at IFS talked about using episodes to organise units of work – like following campaign mode in a game, with project work as the product. I’ve always liked the idea of choose your own adventure learning – covering outcomes based content and skills with an element of self-determination over the pathways you take. The first step and ultimate destination are the same for all players, but the individual pathways from inside the first door could vary.

I tried something along these lines, using a Google Form – well, a Google Form in multiple sections – that behaves like a choose your own adventure book. Fair warning – it’s a first go –  check it out if you want.

How can we stay safe in a world with drugs?

Episode 2 – “Laziness pays off sometimes” – Brendan Jones

Just this week my own lack of preparation actually paid off. If you’re a beginning teacher, don’t tell anyone I said that. Lesson plans rule, OK.

I was caught up in things at school (as you do) and realised that I’d forgotten to prepare for a Year 7 practical lesson. I’m not usually the “roll out the ball” type of PE teacher, but it was looking like the easiest solution. But, no – let’s ask Mr Google if he has any quick ideas on a ball games unit activity that I hadn’t done before. Fortuitously I rolled the dice and came across this…

I only watched the first 30 seconds, but an idea was hatched.

I used @thepespecialist ‘s idea (hat tip), using a gym ball and a variety of large and small, heavier and lighter balls. I also made a few modifications in scoring i.e. simplified to “your team wins if you can force the gym ball over the other teams throwing line”. Very simple.

The kids played and were literally 100% engaged. High fives all round, end of story, a half decent activity. Well not so fast. The coolest bit hasn’t been mentioned.

As per usual, using a game sense approach, I initially let the kids play with a basic set of rules to make sense of the game, intending to stop and talk refinement of their performance. When we stopped, I introduced the word “momentum” to our conversation. I was interested to see if (a) the kids had heard of the word and (b) how they might apply it to this setting. Not expecting much of response, I heard one Kid 1 say “momentum is when the weight and speed of something is added together and it affects moving”. Then Kid 2 said “it’s got something to do with Newton’s Laws, hasn’t it?” Another one goes “Once something builds up momentum, it can be hard to stop”.


That was unexpected

So then I asked “How does momentum apply to this game?”

Quick as flash Kid 1 says “Well the big ball will stay at rest unless it’s acted on by the ones we throw”.


Kid 3 says “For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, so if we hit the big ball with the little ball they will bounce off because of that”

Wow squared.

Another one goes “We can use momentum to stop the big ball too”

Games resumes, and the student talk in the game from then on was all about changing the momentum of the big ball, about what balls were more effective in affecting momentum. Not to me, mind – they were talking to each other.

I asked some kids later where they’d picked up their knowledge (because they had to have been exposed to this knowledge somewhere before my lesson) and one said “we learned about this in Science a while ago, but it never made sense to me before today…”

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on what this means for instruction and learning, but it instilled in me a renewed desire to try and connect PE with other subjects in a meaningful way. Build some cross curricular momentum, you might say.

Merry Christmas, and keep disrupting.

Share Button

Leave a Comment