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On Dodgeball

There’s a Google Form survey going around on Twitter these days asking teachers to share their thoughts on the use of human targets in physical education class.

I’m not sure what sparked this survey to be made, but I know that it was made by good teachers who I trust, so it was most definitely made with the best of intentions.

The thing is, the existence of this survey bothers me.

The reason is that I can’t figure out why are we still talking about whether or not dodgeball (or other human target games) should be played in physical education class!

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The inclusion of dodgeball in physical education programs has been an ongoing debate ever since I started my undergraduate degree (and was going on long before that too). Is it really worth of a 10, 15, 20-year long debate? Are there not better topics we could be having discussions around that would help push our profession forward?

Here’s the thing: at the end of the day, you are the only person who knows what’s best for your students. If you feel like dodgeball creates a positive learning environment in the school where you teach, then go for it. If you feel like it helps ALL of your students value physical activity and want to a adopt healthy, active lifestyle, then great. I can’t sit here and tell you what to do in your class. However, if you are someone who uses dodgeball as part of their physical education curriculum, I’d love to hear your answers to the following questions (I’m not kidding, share them in the comments below):

1. What specific grade-level outcomes do you feel that dodgeball is best suited to be used as a medium to help your students reach?
2. Are all of your students actively engaged, focused and being provided with opportunities for deliberate practice through the game?
3. What type of assessment tools are you using during dodgeball play in order to keep track of student learning?
4. Do you often reflect on lessons in which you included dodgeball and think “Yes! That was a great lesson today! Student learning was evident!”?
5. When is the last time someone (of equal or greater physical strength than you) pegged you hard with a dodgeball? Was your immediate reaction “Ah ha! I can learn from this!”?

If you can provide me with good answers to questions 1-3 (I was kind of making fun with questions 4-5), I’d be impressed. Don’t reach: the reality is that there are no outcomes that are best targeted by having your students play dodgeball. Claiming that there are is a stretch and a half.

Listen, I get that there are times where you want to have your students engaged in physical activity through a game that they know and love (do they all really love it though? Or do you just love how convenient it is) I also know there are times where you might not have the time/energy to set up a larger, more elaborate game that is designed for learning (why is that? How could you avoid that from happening?) It happens. It shouldn’t, but it does.

So next time you need to roll out the ball, whatever the reason may be, here are a few games that are just as easy and just as loved as dodgeball… and that I consider to be better suited to reach specific grade-level outcomes:

Pinball

Pinball Diagramå

Shorthand Rules:
Divide the playing area into two zones. Divide the group into two teams. Each team is given an equal amount of pins. Teams set up their pins in the back of their zone. Add foam balls to the game. Players may not step into the other team’s zone. The goal of the game is to knock down all of the other team’s pins before the other team does the same.

Potential Grade-Level Outcome Focus*:
ES: S1.E13, S1.E14, S2.E1, S2.E3, S2.E5
MS: S1.M2, S1.M3, S1.M10, S2.M4

Matball

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Shorthand Rules:
Divide the playing area into two zones. Divide the group into two teams. Each team has a mat in the other team’s zone. Assign one player on each team to start as the catcher. The catcher starts the game on their team’s mat. Without stepping into the other team’s zone, players attempt to complete a pass to their catcher (who must catch the ball out of the air while on the mat). If a pass is completed, the passer goes join the catcher on the mat and becomes a catcher as well. The goal of the game is to get your entire team onto your mat before the other team does the same.

Potential Grade-Level Outcome Focus*:
ES: S1.E13, S1.E14, S1.E16, S2.E1, S2.E3, S2.E5
MS: S1.M2, S1.M3, S1.M4, S2.M4, S2.M5

Goalball

screen-shot-2016-02-27-at-9-38-46-am

Shorthand Rules:
Divide the playing area into two zones. Divide the group into two teams. Number each player on each team 1-X (where X is the amount of players on that team). Each team has a goal in their zone. Each team’s #1 starts as a goalie. Without stepping into the other team’s zone, players attempt to score by throwing the ball into their opponent’s goal. If a goal is scored, the #2 player on that team replaces the #1 player (and so on and so forth). A team wins once they have scored on all of the goalies from the other team.

Potential Grade-Level Outcome Focus*:
ES: S1.E13, S1.E14, S2.E1, S2.E3, S2.E5
MS: S1.M2, S1.M3, S1.M10, S2.M4

*Don’t know what these are? You should. Here’s a link you might want to bookmark: SHAPE America National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education (Google Sheets Versions)

Remember that high-quality, effective physical education starts with selecting grade-level outcomes, involves determining the required evidence of learning, and then moves onto designing learning activities that are aligned with mastery of the selected outcomes. You don’t just pick a game and then pretend it hits different grade-level outcomes.

For the record, I never have my students play dodgeball in physical education (or intramurals). Why use a game where I need to work really hard to justify why my students are playing it?

Also, I had positive experiences playing the game as a kid: I was good at it, it was high-intensity and it gave me an opportunity to hurt the kids that would bully me on the playground because I couldn’t speak French yet (I was a French Language Learner in school). To this day, I also remember the day in grade three when I got smoked in the face and did everything in my power not to cry because I didn’t want to give them any more reasons to pick on me. #superfun

Getting kids sweaty for a class is great, but it won’t serve them when they are in their 40s and have no idea how to take charge of their own health because all they ever did in “gym” class was play [EXPLICIT] dodgeball! So let’s be purposeful about the activities we include in our physical education curricula, the way we use the (very little) time we have PE, and the learning experiences we design for our students.

PS: Here’s SHAPE America’s position statement on dodgeball. In case you’ve never heard of them, they’re kind of a big deal.

Thanks for reading, sorry for the vent, and happy teaching!

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Joey Feith is the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com. He currently teaches elementary physical education at St. George’s School of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed your alternatives to dodgeball and will use those in my classroom.

  2. Patricia Zeuner : August 13, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    It appears your comment was not well prepared. In both of Joey’s suggested (and popular in the PE world) activities above, there is a clear winner and loser at the end of the game. Dodgeball is not the only way to teach winning and losing. Here are a few other games where not everyone wins… basketball, volleyball, tag, soccer, soccer tag, running races, tennis, badminton, …..

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