jump to navigation

A minimum of 2 hours of fun and effective physical activity is a must each week in schools August 26, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
Tags: , ,

by Dr Christina Curry

I listen to stories all the time about terrible experiences people have had with physical education (PE) at school. The stories mainly feature: dreaded laps of the oval or standing in lines waiting to have a turn with sporting equipment, as well as the pressure of performing skills while everyone is watching, and feeling totally uncoordinated and humiliated.

Negative experiences in PE during school can result in a total dislike and avoidance of physical activity that is often carried through life. Physical inactivity contributes to the deaths of over 13,000 Australians annually and results in more than $1.5 billion in direct health care costs each year (NSW PA Audit, 2012). Parents and carers need to take some responsibility but as educators we also must play our part in contributing to a happier, healthier Australia.

Schools play a key role in providing positive opportunities for children to participate in physical activity. A report into the physical activity of NSW government primary students found just 30% of schools are mandating the two hours of planned physical activity each week (NSW PA Audit, 2012).

The ideal scenario to ensure all children participate in the required physical activity is to provide quality education in PE through the use of a specialised PE teacher, something I discussed a couple of years ago in a previous blog post.

Until the current NSW state government recognises the importance of a specialist PE teacher, we need to examine what schools can do to warrant generalist primary teachers building their confidence in teaching PE enjoyably and effectively. This action will play a major part in developing students’ lifelong love, and participation in, physical activity.

Let’s explore four ideas for how that might occur:

  • ensure all teacher education programs in universities are providing quality professional preparation of primary pre-service teachers in health and physical education (HPE) curriculum.

 This means supporting pre-service teachers who lack confidence and fear teaching PE. Often pre-service teachers model their own teaching on the style and method they experienced as students or while they were members of sporting clubs. (Morgan & Hansen, 2007). Those previous teaching styles and methods might not reflect best practices that build all students’ enjoyment and confidence in physical activity.

  • place a higher status on PE in schools through promoting the potential benefits of physical activity on overall health and wellbeing.

 Physical activity improves psychological wellbeing and is known to reduce depression; it minimises the likelihood of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Recent studies (Telford, Cunningham, Telford, & Abharatna, 2012) show physically fitter children perform cognitive tasks more rapidly, and that relatively short and specific aerobic exercise training interventions improve the executive functions of mental processing and strategically-based decision making.

  •  provide more professional learning to support and increase the confidence of generalist primary teachers to teach PE.

 In-school support to generalist primary teachers must guarantee PE is programmed in the curriculum, and that PE lesson plans are provided, as well as regular workshops, mentoring and quality resources. Such steps positively influence teachers’ beliefs about PE.

  • use Game Sense as a pedagogical model.

 As Australian schools move towards a national curriculum there is pressing urgency for high quality pedagogy that highlights the possibilities for learning through movement in PE. Such pedagogy involves redressing the division of the mind from, and elevation above, the body. Such views contribute strongly toward PE being relegated to a ‘low status subject’ in the school curriculum (Light, 2002). The isolation of PE from the academic curriculum is exacerbated by remarkably resilient, ‘traditional’ pedagogy for teaching the practical aspects of the HPE curriculum that just focus on sporting skills. To read more about the Game Sense approach to PE refer to a past blog post. As teachers of this critical part of the school curriculum we must ensure that the value of participating in physical activity is recognised and that school students’ experiences of PE are positive and enjoyable so that they come back for more, and stay healthy and active, throughout life.


Audit Office of New South Wales (2012). Physical Activity in Government Primary Schools.

Curry, C., & Light, R. (2007). Addressing the NSW Quality Teaching Framework in    physical education: Is Game Sense the answer? Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Asia Pacific Conference on Teaching Sport and Physical Education for Understanding.

Light, R. (2002). Social nature of games: Australian preservice primary teachers first experience of TGfU. European Physical Education Review, 8(3), 291-310.

Morgan, P., & Hansen, V. (2007). Recommendations to improve primary school physical education: classroom teachers’ perspectives. The Journal of Educational Research, 101(2): 99 – 108.

Telford, R. D., Cunningham, R. B., Telford, R. M., & Abharatna, W. P. (2012). Schools with fitter children achieve better literacy and numeracy results: evidence of a school cultural effect. Paediatric Exercise Science, 24(1), 45.

Dr Christina Curry is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

A Geography of Hope. August 11, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Social Ecology.
Tags: , , ,

Dr Carol Birrell

 A few weeks ago when I was picking up my grandson from his pre-school, he was keen to show me their latest display on a large noticeboard in the centre of the indoor classroom. On it were posted pictures of extinct or near-extinct species of animals with accompanying statements listing surviving numbers and original numbers. It was enough to depress me in an instant! However, what dominated my thoughts was the impact on these young children of such devastating information. I had to ask myself, how do they manage such information, if it is barely possible for me as a mature adult to manage it?

Educator David Sobel has a solid critique of education that may do more harm than good:

 Lurking underneath ‘environmentally correct’ curricula is the assumption that if children see the horrible things that are happening, then they too will be motivated to make a difference. But those images can have an insidious, nightmarish effect on young children whose sense of time, place and self are still forming… what’s important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it and feel comfortable in it, before being asked to heal its wounds[1].

 In this contemporary world of impending planetary disaster, of economic and political collapse, of rampant fears around health, disease, invasion and war, to list just a few, we are immersed, in fact, in a culture of ‘doom and gloom’. No person is immune to it.

  I came across an expression in relation to this, but in fact its antithesis, that resonated deeply and that I wish to explore further, called ‘A Geography of Hope’. Wallace Stegner, an American author, coined the expression to address the value of ‘hope’ as an idea as well as a place.[2]

 I initially trained as a Geographer and taught this subject in high schools and primary schools for over 20 years. However, I am not sure of the shape of A Geography of Hope, of its look or feel, but I know it is something I need, both as a teacher and more generally, in my life. In the face of this powerful statement, I wish to explore it as an antidote to the pervasive negativity that infects all of us, our students included. And I want to ask the question,

 ‘How do we cultivate A Geography of Hope in our classrooms?’

 I believe this is crucial in our education systems in this moment of time. It demands a shift from negativity, of despair and disempowerment, to a vision of hope that can be owned and embodied in our classes. It is not a positioning that is trying to avoid the truth, to disguise reality under some sort of ‘Pollyanna’ ruse. It may be seen as essential to our mental/physical/emotional/spiritual health and hence to our learning and pedagogical practices.

 David Orr gives us some pointers here:

  ‘The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.’[3]

Take one example of what I would incorporate under the notion of A Geography of Hope: that of the fostering and understanding of beauty in our lives. How could we bring ‘beauty’ more into our classrooms? Of course, we could have more living plants, creatures, art works, images of beautiful natural scenes, poetry, music, planted in the everyday lives of our students (Alas! Far removed from university classrooms!!). It may also reside in our own beings, as a geographic location with its points of longitude and latitude clearly demarcated. If I can hold a map of beauty in my being, in the world, in others, in plants and animals, in the not-so beautiful, and hold that as a central fulcrum in my classes, then it has a tangible presence and can exert influence. It is the ‘still point of the turning world’ in T.S. Eliot’s poem from which waves continue to move outwards[4]. Beauty gives us hope.  

Some recent research in Finland inspired me. People were encouraged to write letters to friends about beauty in their everyday lives- this took place in a small Arctic village over one year. The researcher states:

 ‘Beauty, in these letters, became as if a verb: a continuous, open-ended process of articulating the ways in which one is interwoven with and conditioned by one’s surrounding environment. Articulating beauty in everyday life was proven a practice that sustains sensory attentiveness, openness and imaginative interest towards the material world [5].

Imagine if that kindy noticeboard took beauty as its environmental theme!

 My grandson Sam stops me to take in a particularly stunning sunset, a softly rounded smooth rock, a mosquito on his arm, a strange word that tickles his fancy. He continues to cultivate in me, this notion of beauty and through it, unmistakably, a notion of hope.

 When I begin to contemplate the contours of A Geography of Hope, I am thinking about love, joy, awe, friendship and beauty. I want a classroom brimming with these! Is it possible? I can only hope!   


[1] Sobel, D. (1996) Beyond Ecophobia, The Orion Society, Great Barrington, MA

2 Stegner, W. http://www.angelfire.com/journal/worldtour99/hope.html accessed 5/8/13

3Orr, D (2004). Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Island Press, USA.

4 Elliott, T.S. Four Quartets http://www.coldbacon.com/poems/fq.html accessed 8/8/13

5 Rautio, P. (2013)  Children who carry stones in their pockets. Children’s Geographies, DOI:10.1080/14733285.2013.812278

Dr Carol Birrell in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

%d bloggers like this: