Physical Education Curriculum Mapping

#PhysEd Curriculum Mapping

A few years ago, I blogged about a physical education curriculum design process I called “Purposeful #PhysEd”. Since then, I’ve been working hard on refining that whole process and making sure that my physical education curriculum is as effective and purposeful as possible.

Since it’s been a while since I last spoke about how I go about my planning, and since the new year has just kicked off, I thought I’d share what my current curriculum mapping process looks like.

PHASE ONE: WHY

Step One: Understanding Physical Literacy (And Physical Education’s Role In Its Development)

Ok, so first off, the purpose of a quality physical education program is to support the development of physical literacy, right? I mean, I’m not the only one who thinks this (*cough* PHE Canada *cough* SHAPE America *cough* UNESCO *cough*).

However, a lot of physical education teachers still do not feel comfortable when asked to define what physical literacy is. I don’t think they are to blame though: in my own experience, I’ve found that the way physical literacy was presented to me was confusing at best. That being said, there has been a lot of amazing advocacy work that has been done to help paint a clearer picture of what physical literacy is and what our role as physical educators can be in its development.

Check out this great video by OPHEA (which is part of their “Hands Up” video advocacy series):

Now, don’t get me wrong, that video is a great starting point. However, you’ll probably want to dig deeper into physical literacy in order to get a better understanding of what it is and how you can be supporting its development in your students.

To help get you started, here are some of the people who have had the biggest impact on my understanding of physical literacy (along with some of their own content you might want to check out):

Amanda Stanec – Physical Literacy is Not Physical Activity

Doug GleddieAn Introduction to Physical Literacy Praxis

Dean Kriellaars – Physical Literacy: The Gateway to Active Participation

Dean Dudley – A Conceptual Model of Observed Physical Literacy

Terri DrainPhysical Literacy: From Theory to Practice

PHASE TWO: WHAT

Step Two: Understanding Your National/Provincial/State Physical Education Standards

Ok, now that you have a better idea of what physical literacy is, it’s time for you to break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Luckily for you, most national/provincial/state physical education curriculum documents will do most of the heavy lifting here. Although they don’t all use the term “physical literacy” and although some put more/less emphasis in some areas than others, national/provincial/state physical education curriculum documents are usually pretty solid and will provide you with a strong framework that you can use to build your program around.

Three years ago, when SHAPE America published its revised “National Standards” along with brand-new “Grade-Level Outcomes” (GLOs), I made the decision to use their mapping/framework in my teaching.

I’ve spent time getting to know the GLOs, reflecting on them, typing them all out (with help from my friends), studying how they evolve from grade-to-grade and using them to help guide my teaching. Are they perfect? No. Do I have confidence that the GLO mapping is comprehensive enough to enable me to create a physical education program that will help my students develop the skills, knowledge, and understanding they need in order to continue to develop their physical literacy throughout their entire lifetime? Yes.

I think it’s essential for teachers using a curriculum framework such as SHAPE America’s National Standards and Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education to really know the mapping inside and out. Not just for the grades you teach, but for those you don’t as well. Many of us are in situations where we have our students for a set amount of years, take them as far as we can, and then have to hand them off to another teacher who will continue to help them along their way. Knowing both what your students need today and what they will need tomorrow is essential not only in terms of developing an effective physical education program, but also when it comes to developing the kind of long-term thinking we need to help those students in their physical literacy journeys.

It’s not uncommon to meet teachers who don’t know where to find their national/provincial/state standards. To help those teachers out, I’d love it if you could help me fill out this Google Sheet that we can share with such teachers to help them along their way. Thanks in advance!

PHASE THREE: HOW

Step Three: Outcome Triage & Unit Foundation

Now we start to get into the real nitty gritty part of this whole process.

With the goal of physical literacy development guiding your decisions (and your familiarity with the standards and grade-level outcomes easing them), it’s time to start mapping out your curriculum.

Starting with the youngest grade you teach, look at that grade’s GLOs independently from the other grades.

As you read through that grade’s outcomes, you’ll notice that some GLOs go hand-in-hand (even ones from different standards).

For example:

Do a triage of grade-level outcomes into related blocks until every outcome has been placed. I usually have about 2-5 outcomes per block. Blocks that have 4-5 outcomes usually only happen if some of the outcomes within the block are very “light” (i.e. they do not contain a lot of content that needs to be unpacked and taught). Here’s a partial screenshot of my grade 1 unit blocks in my unit calendar spreadsheet:

Grade 1 Physical Education Units

Step Four: Unit Activity Selection

Once you have sorted through all of the GLOs for a grade and placed them into unit blocks, it’s time to look at each individual block and determine which activity will be best suited to help your students reach those outcomes.

Here’s how I do it: I look at a unit block and its outcomes and ask myself “what kind of situations could students be in that would require them to apply the skills/knowledge/tactics that would lead to them mastering these outcomes?” I write a list of the situations that pop into my head and then think about what sport/activity would generate as many of those situations as possible. Here’s really simple example:

Ok, so that one was a a little obvious. However, sometimes finding the right activity can be tricky. This is usually because there can be a lot of different options for each unit block. Although the activity is important and you want to ensure you offer a variety of activities throughout the school year, the real alignment happens when you start unpacking the outcomes in your unit blocks. You can learn more about the unpacking process in my “The Great Unpacking” blog post series (here’s part one, two, three and four).

The important thing here is that you look at the outcomes first and then determine the activity. Not the other way around.

Here are a few examples of activities I’ve selected based on the outcomes in my unit blocks for my grade six class:

Grade Six Physical Education Units

Again, these blocks/activities were based off of my own professional judgement and experience. The way you group outcomes and the activities you select may be very different than the way I did. That’s fantastic: every teacher should bring their own unique spin to physical education!

With steps three and four completed, you can now repeat the process with each of your other grades (don’t shoot me… I never said this was easy!)

PHASE FOUR: WHEN

Step Five: Determining Periods Per Grade

With your unit blocks created and activities selected, it’s time to start thinking about when you are going to teach these units!

The first thing I do is to get a rough estimate of how many physical education periods each of my classes will have throughout the school year. I do this by literally counting them out in the calendar, all while taking into account holidays, PD days, outings, concerts, etc.

Things, of course, happen throughout the school year. Unexpected field outings, concert rehearsals, and special presentations have a tendency of creeping up on us physical education teachers. That said, having a rough estimate of the amount of time you will get to work with your classes is important (and sometimes depressing… but that’s a whole other blog post) so do your best.

Step Six: Determining Periods Per Unit

Now that you have your unit blocks created, your activities selected and a good idea of how much time you have to work with each class, it’s time for you to decide how many periods you will need per unit.

Using a combination of professional judgement, experience and luck, determine how many periods you believe each of your units should last in order for your students to be able to reach all of the outcomes within that unit.

Personally, I make this decision based off of the number of outcomes within a unit block and the weight of those outcomes (i.e. how much content I predict I will be able to unpack from each outcome).

This step is by far the aspect of my physical education curriculum mapping that gets revised the most. Sometimes I realize that I assigned way too many/few periods to a specific unit. It’s a learning process that I am continuously trying to refine and improve. That’s teaching, right?

Here’s a screenshot of my grade 3 unit blocks with assigned periods:

Grade Three Physical Education Units

A few things you should know about this step:

  1. I have a counter at the bottom of the spreadsheet that calculates how many “left over” periods I have as I assign periods to each unit. I try to avoid completely filling up each and every period throughout the school year so that I always have some wiggle room I can work with (you can’t really tell I do this with grade three since there are only 2 extra periods, but grades 1-2 have a lot more). I use those left over periods to go over outcomes I feel we needed more time with. I’ll use them for additional assessment time. Most of all, I usually use them to provide students with “recharge” periods (i.e. students get to pick the activity) following intense units. Sometimes I can tell I’m really pushing the kids (and they are working hard) and it’s nice to wrap that kind of unit up with a “let’s just be goofy and play” kind of period. It means a lot to the students and it means a lot to me.
  2. I’ll take into consideration the content students have seen in previous years when determining how many periods I assign to a unit. For example, if a unit consists of outcomes that are brand new (i.e. skills/tactics/concepts students have never been introduced to before), then I’ll will assign more periods to that unit. If a unit consists of content have already explored in previous years, then I will assign fewer periods to that unit.
  3. You’ll notice that there are no periods assigned to the “Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility” unit block. That’s because I assess those outcomes on an ongoing basis throughout the school year, through each unit we explore. Assessment for those outcomes will be anything from quick student reflections, teacher observations and reports, and even peer-assessment cooked into other assessment tools students complete within the unit.

Step Seven: Determining Weeks In Your School Year

This step is usually done at the same time as step five (“Determining Periods Per Grade”). As you count each period you have with each of your grades, keep track of any special events, holidays, or PD days that take place within the school year.

Make a list of the weeks within the school year, making sure to number each week (e.g. first week of school is week #1, second week is week #2). Using your notes from before, keep track of which weeks may have no classes or partial classes.

That’s a terrible way of explaining it, so here’s a screenshot from my unit calendar:

Physical Education Curriculum Map Weeks

Step Eight: Creating The  Calendar Template

The unit calendar template itself is pretty straightforward: rows for each grade and columns for each week.

Personally, I like highlight the weeks in which terms end in blue as a reminder for once I start mapping units into the calendar. I also shade the weeks where I know we don’t have any school (e.g. the holiday break and spring break).

Here’s what my empty calendar template looks like:

Physical Education Unit Calendar Template

Step Nine: Mapping Units Into The Calendar

With the calendar template created, you can start mapping your unit blocks into it. Here’s how I do it:

  1. I see my classes twice a week, so each week counts as two periods. That being said, I use the week list I create in step seven to determine weeks where I might not see my classes twice. That’s why some four period units might spill over into three weeks.
  2. I take into consideration gym availability when mapping my units. I know that I do not always have my gym during the weeks leading up to the holiday break (because of concerts), so I’ve learned to map units into those weeks that do not necessarily require the gymnasium.
  3. I try to have at least three units in each term (on top of the ongoing “Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility” unit for that term). This helps to avoid any given unit having too much weight in my students percentage grade. I also try to make sure that those units’ activities are as varied as possible (e.g. I wouldn’t plan three games-based units in a row).
  4. When possible, I try to map similar units among grades at the same time (e.g. if grades 1-3 have jump rope units, I try to plan them all at the same time in the school year). Yes, this helps somewhat with transitions between lessons. More importantly, this has to do with special guests I have come into my lessons (e.g. dance specialists, jump rope crews, gymnastics coaches, etc). I’m lucky enough to be at a school that has a budget for off-campus or special guest activities, so I try to get as much bang for my buck as possible (i.e. paying a special guest for a single day rather than several).

Here is what my curriculum map looks like once it is completed (you can click on it to view it in full size):

Physical Education Curriculum

PHASE FIVE: REFLECT

Step Ten: Revising Your Curriculum Map

So as I mentioned, when you create a curriculum map there will be a 99.9% chance it isn’t perfect. You’ll want to reflect on each unit as you teach them and take notes as to how you can revise your map for next year. You’ll learn about new activities that might replace some of those you selected. You might realize that some units need more time and others need less.

All of this is not only ok, it is normal and necessary. A curriculum map should be a living document that evolves over time just as you and your students do as well. The most important thing you can do is to schedule time every now and then to reflect on how things are going, how you (and your students) feel about your curriculum, and howo your map can be made better.

You won’t ever regret having done so!

Final Thoughts

So that’s how I went about creating my physical education curriculum map. Honestly, it is the absolute most useful tool I have ever used in my teaching. Every morning, as soon as I get to work, I launch Chrome, click on my “Unit Calendar” bookmark and have my unit calendar ready to go at all times in its own tab. That tab stays there until the end of my teaching day. I use it to help me plan, assess, reflect and revise on a daily basis. I guarantee you that if you go through the process of creating your own unit calendar for your physical education program, you’ll be doing the same.

Yes, as you have probably noticed by this point, all of this is a metric crap ton of work. That being said, it is work worth doing and it is what my students deserve. Don’t ya think?

If you use a different process to map out your physical education curriculum, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to share your process in the comments below.

Thanks for reading 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.

  • Awesome Post Joey, thanks for the detailed breakdown. I love seeing your process. One small thing I do is record my lessons/activities by week on a simple paper calendar as we go through the year. I usually find as I go through it, there are things I didn’t remember happening until I review it. It’s been really helpful for me to go through it as a planning tool the following year – you could do the same thing through google sheets with your setup.

    • joeyfeith

      Hey Ben! Thanks! Yeah, I’ll keep track of how long each unit actually took and use that info. Quick question: at what point do you determine which outcomes you will be focusing on in your lessons? How are you sure that you students are mastering the outcomes they need to master in order to develop the skills/knowledge/concepts they’ll need to continue to develop their physical literacy throughout their lifetime?