Sir, Dodgeball’s crap…


Save yourselves! It’s bleaching down out there!

It seems like quite a nice time to write this post as I watch the snow bucket down over the Northeast. We’ve not really got stuck into our boys’ core PE programme for what feels like months now. We’ve had torrential rain, frozen ground and now snow. The only thing missing has been the infamous Cramlington wind; which I’m sure will arrive (and stay) in due course. My earlier post about the opportunities, thrills and spills of delivering Dodgeball as part of your contingency lessons is now going to get hammered. You’ve taught all 11 variations that were mentioned in that post. You’ve added several of your own. And the kids have just told you; Dodgeball is crap. What do you do?

I’ll tip my cap at this early stage to Dave Best and Paul Steanson, who were teaching with me in the lesson I’m about to show off. As soon as Steana saw the activity we had set up he whispered to Besty “I bet he’s doing a blog on this”. He was right. Not to blow my own trumpet; but because it’s something I think might be useful to others (and I’m looking for suggestions for improvements).

Which activities are you already doing?

This was the original question we asked before planning our contingency lesson with a Year 8 boys’ population of around 85 kids. Orienteering (my favourite), Gymnastics and Basketball was the answer. They’re probably not the activities you would choose to put together in a contingency lesson, but as kids seemed to have missed loads of curriculum time already, we thought we’d give it a go. As a boys’ department, we’ve made the decision with all groups to try and either base emergency lessons around physical fitness or around one of the activities that a group would have been doing. We’d already done some 1/2 court 4v4 basketball delivered by our inhouse expert Dave Best (@besty_d) and wanted to try something new.

How did it work then?

I got in early (for once) and set up the sportshall with 16 stations in a circuit format. Stations were a mixture of Gymnastics challenges (vaults, springs, basic movements) and fitness exercises (bog standard burpees, push-ups, dumbbell exercises etc), with instructions on A3 paper stuck next to apparatus on floor. Each station had an Orienteering control punch…

…attached along with an instruction for locating the next checkpoint. Pairs of pupils were given an Orienteering checkpoint card…

…and chose their own start point in the room. After completing the challenge/exercise on the instruction sheet, pupils punched their card and located the next station. Stations were arranged in no particular order, so pupils had to be active in attempting to find them. The obvious flaw would have been that kids might just watch where the pair in front of them went – thankfully, activities seemed to be engaging enough to prevent this from happening. Pupils moved from station to station completing the set activity and punching cards to their heart’s content. Some managed to complete all 16 stations at which point we set them off from a different start point, asking pupils to start from the station they found most challenging (ooh, strangely enough for most of these kids it was the “perform a front somersault” onto the crashmat station!)


Initial plan of stations, activities and clues. At station 3, rather than a clue or question, there

was simply a “Dingbat” of a Belch and some Pod Peas – giving the answer “Burpees”.

Literacy & Numeracy

One of my minor grumbles when talking about Literacy and Numeracy in PE is that we generally tend to dumb things down. I mean no offence by this, but lots of us automatically say “Oh aye, we do loads of that. We put key words up and we’re always getting the kids to sort into groups of x…” Lets be fair; secondary school kids ain’t really going to massively boost their Maths and English potential by looking at some basic vocabulary and splitting into teams of 4. I attempted to make things a little bit more challanging, by getting kids to read and solve the problems on the instruction cards – the answers were all numbers – enabling them to locate the appropriate station. If kids went wrong, they’d eventually realise that they’d worked out a wrong answer somewhere. Could this bit have been done better? Yes, undoubtedly; but the instruction sheets were put together at about 11:30 the night before so I’ve got an excuse.

Right, so how successful was this?

If you’ve read the other blog articles on here, you should know by now that I don’t like to bullshit, so I’ll be as honest as possible. It worked pretty well. Kids were engaged; which was the main aim of this contingency lesson. It was done with a fruity set of our Year 8’s who are often like the proverbial “bag of ferrets” and for all 80+ kids to be active all lesson with no fights or kick-offs, it was a success on that score. Kids worked independently. There were a few occasions where pupils came and asked for help solving a problem, but in general, they were operating without much teacher-input. Being bluntly honest, I despise Orienteering; almost as much as I loathe teaching it. I’m crap at it and need to train/learn/read/steal more ideas in order to improve. This activity however, made me think about how we could use basic Orienteering skills in an engaging way. It’s made me think more about the activity and even inspired me to buy some new gear to set up in the Summer term and get the map guy in to re-map our site.

Could things have been done better? Yes. There was little differentiation on show. We’d have been smashed in by Ofsted had they been there. With more time to plan and create resources, we could have had different levels of challenge on each station. Skills/activities could have been linked to the NCPE descriptor levels and kids could have self/partner-assessed. We could have created QR codes for each station for kids to use their fancy Galaxy Tablet devices to view the problem to solve before finding the next station – this might have increased enagement. Pupils could have taken video footage of one another performing at each station – video analysis software (Ubersense/Coach’s Eye) could have been used to critique technique. These were all observations we made after the lesson, but the main thing was the potential such an activity carried.

There is scope to create similar kinds of contingency plans and this has become a priority in the boys’ development plan for this year. The process has just made us all think a bit more about what we’re doing when the weather’s crap and how we could be doing something better than we have been. This can only be a good thing. Have a blast at something similar. If you’ve got any suggestions, let me know.

…now, where did I put those pink dodgeballs?

Back to School

If you’re reading this, you probably either; a) have experienced initial teacher training in the past or b) are currently going through the process. This blog post is predominantly directed at those wonderful people currently grafting their way through category b). However, some of us category a) lot might appreciate a few little reminders of what we set out to do all those decades/years/months ago.
Now I really wanted to start things off with a nice, inspirational quote from the Capel & Whitehead classic “Learning to teach Physical Education in the Secondary School”. I can’t do this however as the minute I eventually got it back from last year’s ITT student, the current one got it. So I’ll start with my own…
“I teach because I love kids”; Chris Horner, 2004 on his 1st public speaking engagement as an NQT (Wath Comprehensive School Sports Awards).
Now this bold statement raised a few eyebrows. Mainly because lots of the 300 or so parents were not quite sure if that meant this baby-faced, hair-straightener-abusing prettyboy was fiddling with their kids. Of course not. I meant it then and I stick by it now, I love kids. If you don’t, why are you reading this? And what’s more, why are you interested in teaching?
I wanted to teach because of Steve Creek. Because of Steve Cooksey. Dave Ridley, Rob Moxon, Ian Evans, Sil Williams, Dave Bestford, Liz Hague and Eric Sampson. We all had our inspirational teachers at school. We’ll all remember them for the rest of our lives. These people inspired me and countless others in and around my generation and help shape our futures from a young age.
All of the staff listed above were/are fantasic teachers in their own right. All of them managed this without having instant access to ICT. None had an iPad. None of them used technology other than perhaps an overhead projector with acetates – remember those?! (The only one of them who used the term “app” was Liz Hague; simply because, as a cockney, it was her way of pronouncing the word “up”). These guys were/are good at doing their jobs and became good at doing so without the use of the technology we now make use of every day. It is with this in mind that I wanted to try and strip teaching back – and PE in particular.
Before I upset everyone, I’d like to mention that I really like technology. I like gadgets. Be it for personal use or in the classroom, I like things that can do fancy stuff – it’s great when some of these toys are useful in lessons. I tend to use some gadgets on a regular basis in order to enhance the learning experience for the kids I teach. Having said this, I am a little concerned that all I seem to hear about lately is technology in PE. At a recent PE teachmeet, I would estimate that around 30-40 of those 120 in attendance, were ITT students. I couldn’t help but feel that some of them might have gone home feeling a little bit baffled that they’d just sat through a few hours of PE specific CPD – without one single mention of a practical/activity based idea. They must have thought they’d stumbled upon an ICT convention rather than the collective bunch of jocks they were hoping for. I felt like a bit of a hypocrite having myself presented on the use of video analysis software, when really this kind of stuff is what I’d call the “icing” rather than the “cake”. Now this blog post isn’t about lesson plan ideas, activities or drills. It’s about the basics of teaching that those wonderful people listed earlier practised so well.
So, with this in mind, what can I pull together to offer unto the next generation of PE practitioners? I thought back to all those lessons I’ve been in throughout my youth, along with quite a few since. (I also enlisted the help of four of our most recent Northumbria University SCITT trainees.)
Relationships with kids
I can always remember a guy who taught me shouting “I’m not here to be liked!” Fair enough, but it doesn’t half make it easier if you are. Kids will respond much better to staff they like. If you don’t form positive relationships, you won’t teach well. PE obviously lends itself well to relationship building; extra-curricular activities are a great way of meeting the kids and finding out something about them. Oh and if you don’t like kids – don’t be a teacher
Class Management
I put together a class/behaviour management session with our ITT students this September. It’s not on every school’s priority list at the moment but it absolutely baffles me when I hear members of staff giving it “the big one” about their pedagogy-this, unpacking-that, scaffolding-t’other; when the kids are running rings round them because their class management is weak. Sort this out early doors (future blog on its way). Yr 11 were highlighted by ITT students as being a tough group of kids to crack. They’ve been at the school a lot longer than you, they know what they can/can’t get away with – it’s important to follow school policies and procedures.
Beg, Steal, Borrow, Observe
One of my biggest worries when I went through PGCE (and NQT) year was “What if I run out of ideas?” Most PE trainees will have shown a modicum of sporting prowess in at least one field. You will probably have done some kind of Level 1 coaching badge in order to blag your way onto the course. At some point however, you will either a) exhaust your “drills bank” or b) be asked to teach something you know nothing about. For me, this happened in Rugby Union. I could teach League standing on my head, but having despised the “other” form of the game for the 1st 22 years of my life, I had no idea what I was doing. What do you do? Get out of the office/workroom and watch others. Everybody. Watch as many teachers as you can; teaching as many different activities as possible. The vast majority of my lessons will contain something that has at least in part, been bastardised from something I’ve watched somebody else doing. As highlighted by Pete Hall (thanks Pete), nobody minds sharing their stuff with you. Whether it’s a lesson plan, an idea, a paper resource – people are there to help you during your early career – if they’re not helpful, they want sacking.
Experiment/take risks
Once you’ve been doing a job for a while, it can be difficult to keep reinventing yourself, your approach, methods or style. To be fair, we could all take a leaf out of Kylie and Madonna’s books here – if we can be as fresh and innovatve at 65 as those two, we’ll be OK. During PGCE year and into NQT, you are in a perfect position to have a go at something weird and wonderful. If it dies on its arse, so what? “Take risks, there’s no better time to do so” (Graeme Seddon). As we get older, we tend to stay well within our comfort zone – it’s an age thing, don’t play it safe during ITT.
Get kids active
Why do kids tend to enjoy PE? Because they’ve been cooped up in a classroom all day, listening, answering, writing. They want to run, jump, throw, kick, catch, hit things and move. A few years ago I was heavily criticised by an HMI (another bought-in mini-inspection) because my lesson was simply not active enough. I’d gone ridiculously overboard, trying to incorporate loads of paper-based thinking, planning and peer assessment into a Yr8 Basketball lesson. She came along, observed 20 minutes and hammered me because the kids weren’t getting a sweat on. I completely agreed with her and haven’t made the mistake since. PE is a practical subject. We do (like it or not) have a responsibility for getting kids active and encouraging healthy lifestyles. Some of our kids will use their PE lessons as their only form of activity in their lives. With this in mind, use lesson time appropriately.
Be Creative – make things Engaging
One of my pet hates is seeing a lesson on (insert generic invasion ball game here) – it’s on passing by the way – two lines of kids, standing still, passing the ball between them. I mean, come on; would you want to do that?! Do something different; think of what happens in a game situation. What could you do to make it more interesting? When I plan an activity, I’ll usually think “right, if I was a kid, would I enjoy doing this?” If the answer is “No”, scrap it because the kids will hate it. This obviously doesn’t just apply to practical lessons – if you’re trying to teach a theoretical concept, how could you make it more interesting? Think back to your science lessons with Sil Williams; what did you always ask? “Miss, can we do a practical?” Kids like to DO stuff, not just sit, read, listen and write. To quote my enigmatic friend Paul Taylor (and Confucius) “tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand…”
Decide who you want to be
One of my 1st bits of advice to ITT students is “don’t copy me or anyone else”. I even put it in the CLV SCITT Student’s Placement Survival Guide (available on request). It’s not like I’m the character-plagiarism police or anything, but you’ve got to find your own style. I cannot teach like Dave Paterson or Paul Steanson, so I don’t try. Likewise, if a student tried to emmulate my own bizarre mannerisms, the kids would probably wonder what the hell they were doing. As one of my informants tells me; “it’s important to feel relaxed” in lessons. You can’t do this if you’re acting like someone else. Try to pick out key characteristics of good teachers (people paid a lot more than me would call them “Effective Teacher Behaviours”) and assimilate them into your own personal style.
Use a structure and teach to it
I’m lucky teaching at my school in that the “Cramlington Cycle” has been around for several years. I can use the same structure in lessons as the rest of the staff. Kids get used to this and it makes it easier to establish routines. Sounds ridiculously simple, but at our place all lessons start with a “Connect” activity – a “bellwork” activity if you like. If kids have something engaging to do when they enter the room – it’s a nice little set-up for the rest of the lesson; not rocket science (unless you’re teaching rocket science). If your school (or placement school) doesn’t have a structure to lesson planning, maybe they should get one; you’ll have to establish your own. If they have a set structure, teach to it, it’ll probably make a big difference.
Get some strings for your bow
If you’re on an ITT programme right now, you got it more difficult than anybody who trained before ever did. When I trained, jobs were plentiful and you could almost take your pick. Naming no names, but some absolute nuggets from my course got jobs. In recent years, I’ve seen some of the best students I’ve encoutered struggle to land a permanent position. With this in mind, you need to be looking at what else you can offer. Do you know anything about educational issues? Do you critically evaluate your teaching? Do you blog? (There’s a few guys out there who do who aren’t even qualified yet). What can you offer a school that’s over-and-above your job description? In a world where jobs are at a premium, you’ve got to make yourself stand out. It’s not about being a bullshitter or a yes-man, it’s about being a desirable prospective employee.
Having just looked back at the points above, I genuinely could argue that most of it would be as applicable to qualified teachers as it is to ITT students. Maybe in the 21st Century climate of “embracing technology”, we shouldn’t neglect our bread and butter. Let’s use tecky stuff wisely eh? It can be so useful and make good teachers great. But if you’re not effective, it isn’t going to do it for you.
The best bit of advice I received from our ITT students-past was “enjoy it”. How apt that I finish with this then; we got into this profession because “we love kids”. I didn’t get into teaching because of anything else. If you enjoy working with kids and educating them – keep enjoying it. The minute that you stop – look at why you aren’t enjoying it and fix it – or get out.

Doubled-up Dodgeball anyone?


Is Dodgeball any good? Well let’s be honest, how many wet-weather PE toss-off activities have a film made about them? You didn’t go to the pictures to watch “Danish Longball; the Motion Picture” did you?

All joking aside, after the great evening of shared teaching & learning in PE at the CLV Teachmeet last week, we came back to work this week faced with rain of biblical proportions. As good as we might think we are as PE teachers, we’ve never really solved the issue of what we do when it pisses it down. For our recent whole-school 2 day review, I’d planned a couple of wet-weather contingency lessons; all singing & dancing. But would they really be practical when faced with the mad rush of 90 kids piling into a sportshall? I think not. And more importantly, would the kids enjoy them?

So is it OK to use Dodgeball as a wet-weather activity, or is it simply sacking it off?

Well we do like our Dodgeball at Cramlington. The activity forms part of the “Games for Understanding” unit in Year 7 and reappears as one of the 18 options available for Year 11 to choose in their core programme. If we’re being brutally honest with ourselves, it started off as a bit of a fun, engaging activity, in which you could pay lip service to a few games principles – but really it was just something the kids loved.

The problem with any “fun” PE activity however is that if there’s no real substance to it, it can get tedious – both for you and the kids. Because of this, we started to come up with a whole variety of dodgeball based games. I’ve tried to outline these below:

1) Elimination: in its most basic form – if you’re hit or caught, you’re out. Keep this quick (2 mins max). Good for decision making like when to try & catch/when to dodge

2) Regeneration: more like the Dodgeball from the film. Make a catch and one player comes back in Good for encouraging players to attempt catches in order to bring back teammates

3) 4 Corners: rather than playing one team against another, split area into quarters. Teams then play opponents adjacent, opposite & diagonally across Good for encouraging spatial awareness & principles of attacking multiple opponents

4) Backboard Team Regeneration: if like us, you have basketball boards on your Sportshall wall, use these as “Regenerator Boards”. When a team is left with “x” number of players the team can attempt to hit to regenerator board to bring back their whole team. Good for; continuity of games, teamwork & more controversial tactics like sacrifice (deliberately “getting out” to enable your best thrower to have a shot at the backboard, bringing back the whole team.

5) Terminators: as in the 80’s classic, Dodgeball terminators are difficult to get rid of. Each team has one Terminator. They cannot be “killed” by being hit with the ball, only by being caught out. I usually give each Terminator a Rugby contact shield for protection (if it’s with the littlies I give them some of the Velcro-on body armour & a cricket helmet as well – they love it). If your Terminator gets caught, they lose their powers – the player can be regenerated but the team no longer have a Termy. Good for team decision making, defensive tactics, positioning skills.

6) Kings/Queens: sounds like it could be a bit camp but disappointingly not. As in chess (highbrow eh?), the King is the key to your team’s success/failure. Bib up a player (or 2) from each team. If they are hit/caught, the whole team is out – this could result in instant win for a team or see no. for an alternative. Good for; team decisions, team defence, attacking strategy

7) Take-over: I usually use this in conjunction with 4 corners. If you allow the game to go on long enough, a team might be completely eliminated. Should this occur, the team that hit/caught the last player out takes possession of the defeated team’s quarter. Good for; adapting tactics to a larger playing area, spreading play, attacking from different angles.

8) 2-in: if you’re not playing “take-over”, this game gives you an option once a team has been eliminated. Two players from the eliminated team remain on court. If they hit a backboard other than their own, all players on their team are regenerated. Good for; decision making, individual target-striking skills

9) Skittles: as a by-product of an experience week project (ask @paulsteanson for more details!) we ended up with about 100 bowling pins. Any kind of object with the capacity to stand up/be knocked down would substitute nicely. Teams get a number of skittles which they must place around their court; they must be free-standing and away from walls etc. If a team has all their skittles knocked down, all players are eliminated. Good for; thinking skills, linking to other games above, group decision making, team defence.

10) Spies: teams nominate one player who will be the Spy. When in possession of a ball, these players can enter opponents’ area and attempt to tag opponents with ball. If they throw their ball of lose possession of it, they must return to their own area. At any point, the defending team can eliminate the Spy by the usual methods. Good for; sneaky tactics, planning, deception/faking, good teams will realise early that if they are in possession of all the balls, they are pretty much guaranteed to win

Bonus 11) Extreme Dodgeball: god knows why we call it this. Basically we use Gymnastics apparatus for creating barriers, crash mats for landing areas (the older kids get all Matrix when we play this version), springboards for extra height and so on. Good for; allowing teams to plan and position their own barriers/defences, introducing/linking jumping/rolling/diving skills

NEW! 12 – Ghosts: Can be played as 4-corner or (as we’ve recently done) in 6ths of a Sportshall. Teams have a skittle to defend. If this is knocked over, all players in a team are out. One player (the Ghost) remains in the game. The Ghost cannot be killed (he’s a ghost, he’s already dead), the Ghost cannot kill other players (he’s a ghost after all). The Ghost’s job is to hit a target (we’ve used the Basketball backboards again) to regenerate all his team. Nice to ensure continuity & avoid players sitting out for prolonged periods.

New! “The Stuntman”

Best when combined with 4-corner as it makes the playing area smaller. One player on each team becomes “Stuntman”. Give them some sort of protective equipment – we used Rugby contact armour & a cricket helmet. The Stuntman actively tries to take hits from opposition throws. If he/she is hit, the thrower is out. I found this made throwers more selective in terms of where they were throwing – not simply trying to chuck the ball as hard and fast as possible. Also good to encourage defensive play as Stuntmen could help protect weaker players. Ridiculous fun.

So why bother?

There are a ridiculous number of variations, combinations and mash-ups that you can create. The point of this post is simply to make you think about how one simple activity can take on a whole new purpose if you put a bit of thought into it.

Dodgeball has often saved us from the Crammy weather, we repay that debt by trying to use the activity for learning and not just playing.

Hopefully the games briefly outlined above will let you start thinking about how you could use Dodgeball in order to develop skills and attributes other than dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.


A, B, C


Right, first things first; I pinched the vast majority of this from the excellent post below…


I have often been left frustrated at the fact that in several lessons, I’ve been unable to get information from the kids without “spoon-feeding” them. This can be painfully apparent when questioning a group and trying to think up challenging, probing questions and being met with flat responses. You often end up giving away cheap answers after panicking that the lesson has lost pace and you need to get a shift on.


Some might suggest that the solution to this is to pre-plan structured questions, to pose at specific points in the lesson. This is certainly a good habit to follow and questions to specific groups/pupils should be made explicit in lesson plans, but it doesn’t help when a kid stares at you blankly after exhausting their response-capacity with a 3-word answer. You could then get after the kid and ask “why? How? Can you tell me more about…?” But it’s now up to you to painfully draw out some form of communication from the kids. And if we’re genuinely honest with ourselves, we can get a bit bogged down at this point.

Enter the stolen idea

So, here’s where the idea of using A, B, C comes in. I’ll admit, after reading the article above, I scrapped the idea of using the ball. I’ve often seen or read about throwing the ball/bit of paper/other inanimate object to designate the next speaker – it all comes across as a bit like a cheesy sales rep training course to me, but hey, whatever works for you.

I also changed the meaning of A, B, C to “Apply, Build, Challenge”.

In Practice

I introduced the A, B, C activity with my AS Anatomy & Physiology group a couple of weeks ago. I’d set a 10 mark question at the start of the lesson, then taught the lesson as usual; reviewing at 15 (ish) minute intervals allowing the kids to bullet point more ideas for their answer.

During these mini-reviews, I asked a simple question simple, leading question to a lower TG student like; “identify a positive effect of aerobic exercise on Osteoporosis”. After allowing the student time to respond, I then directed the spotlight on another student, asking them to Apply this idea/concept, Build on it/expand the previous answer or Challenge it – this fitted in nicely as the 10 marker required the kids to “critically analyse”. By moving from student to student, the questioning/conversation was able to keep developing as the kids could pick what they wanted to talk about next. The only times I removed this choice was when I really wanted to bring in an opposing theme/idea; I simply picked a higher ability student and asked them to challenge what had just been said.


The great thing about using A, B, C is that you can adapt the requirement of each letter to suit your goal that lesson; A could be Adjust, B could be Because? C could be Create Hypothesis (for really bright thinkers!). It is simply giving your students focus when being asked to respond.

All I’m after now is a nice display to put next to my board that I can keep pointing to…

Assertive Hinge Questions

It is with some trepidation that I write this blog entry. Not only do I admit to being no expert in this area of teaching & learning, but with all the jargon flying around, I could easily violate my “no bullshit” policy if I don’t tread carefully.


I’d encountered “Hinge Questions” years ago. I always shrugged and passed them off as common sense really. The idea that at key moments in lessons we should judge whether or not the kids “got it” through questioning; well, I just supposed it was something I did automatically.

Hinge Festival

But when I learned a bit more about hinge questions, I realised a didn’t really understand the concept fully. We recently took part in the Cramlington Autumn Staff Conference, run over the two INSET days before October half term. Tricia Wright from CLV delivered a session on Assessment for Learning (or was it Formative Assessment?!) which highlighted the need for quality hinge questioning during lessons.

Tricia’s key messages were simple yet thought provoking; the question posed should be difficult, the question format should be simple (multiple choice works best) and teachers should be able to gauge instantly how many/which kids do or don’t answer correctly. Perhaps the key to the whole concept is that teachers should plan for what happens next depending on possible responses to the question.


I had also been doing a bit of reading about whole-class Assertive Questioning. After INSET led by Geoff Barton (@RealGeoffBarton), I realised I was asking far too many “what” questions in lessons and nowhere near enough “how” and “why”‘s. Assertive questioning involves posing a tough whole-class question; asking students for their responses, listening to and thanking students for their responses and reasoning – but being careful not to give away the answer. After giving students opportunity to identify and discuss similar/contrasting answers, the teacher then asks the class to formulate a whole-group answer upon which they agree. It’s a consensus you’re after as it’ll not always be easy for all the kids to agree with one another. Only when the whole-class answer is agreed do you reveal the answer you were after. The master at this is Ken Brechin at our place. If you’ve ever been in CPD led by him, you’ll know what I mean.

In practice

I tried combining these two concepts during a GCSE theory lesson to start with. It felt like the safe route as one of my groups only has 15 kids in it (puts feet up & smokes cigar); it is relatively easy to do whole class discussion with them simply due to numbers – and the fact they’re good kids.

The lesson was on exercise methods (from the OCR syllabus – not to be confused with the less wishy-washy training methods later on) for encouraging active, healthy lifestyles. After a Connect activity, new info (video input) and a carousel of activities including mix/match, “blag-it”, and a mistake spotting exercise; I decided on the hinge question below:

Which of the following is not a method a SEDENTARY person might use to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle?

a. Going swimming regularly

b. Attending a Spinning class
c. Doing a sprinting session
d. Pilates sessions
Pupils firstly answered this on mini-whiteboards enabling a “show-me” situation. Once they had decided on their own answer however, I asked them to write underneath WHY they had come to that conclusion. As anticipated, some of the kids had simply taken a guess. Others came up with a whole host of interesting theories. I questioned a cross-section of the group as to why they had made their choices and noted down some responses on the whiteboard. These notes then provided the platform for others to challenge or build upon their peers’ responses. Whilst still in “Ken Brechin” character, I just listened to the kids arguing/debating and thanked them for their thoughts. Once they’d all blow-out, I agreed with one pupil on their suggestion that “not”, “Sedentary” and “healthy, active lifestyle” were key words in the question. This then opened up another class discussion, during which I again let the kids hold court.
Hunger Games
Once the discussions had dies down again, I asked the kids to nominate a spokes person – a bit like a “tribute” from the popular, ultra-violent Suzanne Collins kiddies novel “The Hunger Games”. This spokesperson would provide me with the correct answer – but also with an agreed, reasoned justification as to how they got to the correct answer. They chose Jake as the sacrificial lamb, bless him. Two further minutes were allocated for agreeing upon a final answer and the justification.
Although the group did indeed pick “C” as the right answer, their justification was a little shaky. They hadn’t really understood what Sedentary meant or that sprinting was really a specialist type of running suitable for sport-specific training. This meant that although they’d “got it right”, they hadn’t done it through the right methods.
Back to the Drawing Board
I’d got a fall-back slide in my lesson PowerPoint with the definition/example of the word Sedentary and also some pictures of “normal” people at exercise classes/spinning/aerobics etc. I’d also got a few images of Usain Bolt training. This was the first real bit of teacher-led stuff in the lesson as I pointed out who would be most likely to use the exercise methods we had been learning about and pointing out the differences between athletic training and exercise for healthy lifestyle. Through further Q&A, I was satisfied that the kids now “got-it” and moved on.
The process might seem long-winded but to be fair, the whole process took around 15 minutes max and covered the crux of what the lesson was about. Also worth pointing out was the one thing I hadn’t really expected (ish); that the kids would agree on the right answer, but not know why.
Worth trying again? Definitely. As I get better at the questioning techniques, I’m sure it’ll develop into a common feature of my lessons.

Blag it…

“Blag it” is an idea I’d had for a while since seeing a colleague use something similar for revision sessions with A level kids.

I got a mark scheme for some AS level Anatomy & Physiology questions on effects of warm-up/cool-down. We use ExamQuest at our school (, if you haven’t got it installed already and have a spare £90ish, you need it!

For the question I decided to use, there were 12 potentially acceptable answers. I printed these answers off on cards, with a pack of 12 for each table of four.

The AS kids had not “learned” anything yet, they were attempting the task blind as a short starter activity. Using a stopwatch, students in each group had between 20 seconds and 1 minute (according to differentiated ability groups) to try and explain or “blag” how the answer on their card would be of benefit to a sport performer. Students were not allowed to “pass” or repeat what they had said – they had to fill that time with information they thought was relevant. For example; you might turn over a card saying “reduced blood viscosity”. How might this benefit a performer?

The concept behind the activity is not revolutionary or even nearly-new, but it reinforces a message I keep trying to get across to the kids “you might not know, but what do you think?” For some reason our kids seem to resign themselves to saying “I don’t know” and then moving on. I always find it frustrating when this happens in exams or mocks; the students leave a question blank or write a couple of lines, but when you question them (properly), they KNOW quite a lot of the answers.

Used as a connect/starter activity, Blag it works well with A level students; it can be funny, it can get them thinking and talking about the lesson ahead, it can get kids out of their comfort zone – which can seem strange bearing in mind they’re just talking to their mates.

The nice thing about the lesson from here on in was the fact that by attempting to “blag it” in the starter, the kids were already familiar with the key words & concepts, even if they didn’t fully understand them yet. When the “proper teaching” started, students could compare what they came up with and the “real answers”.

During this lesson, I went back to the cards as a review activity in the last 10 minutes. Students had to pick 3 cards they found difficult/impossible to Blag at the beginning of the lesson & try again with a partner. I wandered and listened in to what was being said – admittedly I focused on the lower ability students to make sure “they got it” – it was noticeable that the kids sounded more confident and genuinely had things to say. I’ll probably try this again as a review activity in the near future.

“Illegitimi non carborundum” PST

Sporting role models: responsibility for helping the next generation

Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, talking (mainly ranting) and philosophising about the role of PE & school sport outside of promoting healthy, active lifestyles.

It seem to now be commonly accepted by the masses that physical activity is “good for you”. The government’s media campaigns, however misinformed/misdirected they are, do seem to have been assimilated into the psyche of the general public. I swear there are more joggers (or is it “Yoggers? I’m not sure if it has a soft J”) on the seafront and more people using the gym after 5 at our school. This can only be a good thing and I’m happy about the contribution that understated and often unrecognised PE/school sport has made.

As we constantly remind the kids however, PE isn’t just about getting better at sport. For me, the values, morals and life skills encouraged by PE and sport are invaluable and aren’t always evident elsewhere in school or society.

Last week a kid came to Dodgeball club, a newly formed lunchtime recreational activity for our Yr7 & 8’s. About 2 minutes in, he took a shot to the left leg. He stopped, looked around, picked up the ball and carried on playing. Now you might question whether he knew the rules of the game (to be fair, I might have quickly gone over the rules & he might not have heard them), he might have thought that the ball had bounced, or he might have not have felt the contact. I caught his eye and gave him the international gesture for “you’re out lad”, at which point he exploded with rage and shouted “I’m not f***ing out! It never hit me!” Now I am getting on a bit. My eyes aren’t what they used to be, but I had no doubt as to what had happened. He was cheating and he knew he’d been caught. The lad stormed over to the side of the room, kicked over a bench, the proceeded to punch the wall and give me the “right, you’re going on my secret kill-list” stare. I’m old school. I threw him out. Should I have calmly tried to diffuse the situation? Yes, probably. I should have used some of the tactics I shared with our ITT students during a behaviour management session last week, but I didn’t.

I caught up with the lad the next day. He was very apologetic. I apologised for throwing him out without trying to resolve his obvious grievance. He’s a decent kid. Why then did he lose the plot so aggressively & unnecessarily? Cue lengthy discussion (rant) with wife.

I am a big fan of role models. I had some corkers. Steve Cooksey, Gary Cooper, Eric Sampson, Ian Evans, Dave Ridley and the late, great Steve Creek. Along with most of the nation, I accumulated more this Summer in Mo Farah, Katherine Grainger, David Weir & Ellie Simmonds. When I talk to kids about inspirational people, it’s usually someone from sport that springs to mind.

Lately though, we seem to be swamped with negativity in the form of false sporting idols. The biggie for me is Lance. I was a huge fan of his during his cycling career. I read his books. I love the charity work he does. Simply for not dying and coming back from the brink, I still respect him. But after USADA finally published the findings of their investigations, I simply couldn’t hold up Lance Armstrong as a role model any longer. “Win at all costs” isn’t a sentiment with which I feel affinity. I have been lucky most of my life to feel that I am good enough to be satisfied. Am I the best at sport? No, that’s why I’m teaching PE instead of playing for YCCC or the Rhinos. Am I an outstanding teacher? No, but I think I do my job well and the kids get good value. I could go on. I try and help kids realise that they need to be the best they can be, but nobody should insist they are “the best”. It’s unrealistic; as Highlander said “there can be only one”.

The John Terry/Luis Suarez/football racism fiascos. I cannot understand how, in 2012, we’re still dealing with issues around racism. It is senseless. What upset me most about these cases was the stance by the clubs and their supporters in backing the players accused. I’m all for “solidarity brother” but unfortunately the public show of support backfired hugely. Fans were abusing Anton Ferdinand & Patrice Evra via social media, death threats were reportedly received at the QPR training ground and the FA were impotently useless in their attempts to convince the watching world that their respect campaign was working. How would a school have dealt with claims such as this? Full investigation, parents brought in for a meeting, major consequences should the accused be found guilty. These things simply didn’t happen. Suarez was banned for 8 games, Terry for 4. Basically, the FA’s decision reflected that put together, two counts of public racist abuse is just about as bad as Paulo Di Canio pushing a referee over. My view is simple; an ugly problem from the dark days of football resurfaced, it should have been swiftly and surely destroyed with massive sanctions. The point being, not only are John Terry and Luis Suarez role models, so are the FA. They all acted badly and as a result our kids are exposed to the worst kind of negative publicity.

I used to be a massive football fan. Recently however, I’ve become more disenchanted by the day with the professional game. Kids all over the world dream of becoming a footballer. I read an excellent interview with Reading captain Jobi McAnuff in which he describes meeting with local 8 year olds. The first two questions he was asked were; “what car do you drive?” and “how much do you get paid?” What a ridiculous state of affairs when the two things kids associate with footballers are cars and cash.

I look at the amount of “simulation” that goes on in matches. Let’s call a spade a spade, it’s cheating. It’s accepted in the game. It isn’t punished. Every now and then someone gets a yellow card, but it’s accepted. If a kid dived in a school football match and faked injury, I’d drag his arse off & put someone on who wanted to play, acting’s for the drama lot.

I watched a game last week in which a linesman awarded a throw-in against a defender trying to keep the ball in play. He rushed towards the official and launched a tirade of abuse, it was clear that the outburst started with “F*** off!” What happened? Nothing. The official in question stared blankly ahead, like the driver who cuts you up then ashamedly pulls up alongside you a mile down the road at the roundabout. Again, what would I do if that happened in a school game? The kid would certainly not play any further part in that game & probably any others for letting the school down so badly. Again though, sanctions are applied rigidly in schools, why not in a situation where the stakes are higher & the publicity greater?

Ashley Cole. The man gets his own section. A mercurial talent, of that there is no doubt. As a purely athletic role model, he is great. However, Mr Cole unfortunately seems to court controversy as a hobby. His latest faux pas resulted in him calling his governing body a “bunch of tw**s”. Had I publicly said about my headteacher & governors, I’d have been sacked on the spot – probably never to work in education again. Lots of our kids saw the offending tweet, lots of them talked about the incident in school that week. All of them saw Ashley Cole’s inclusion in the England squad only days later. I accept that an official apology was made. I also doubt very much that Mr Cole had the gumption or remorse to make such an apology without the heavy encouragement of his management firm. Apology or not, there was simply no punishment. Good message to kids? As long as you say sorry, you’ll get away with it.

Sport is a massive part of my school. The badge on the kids’ chests mean a lot to me. Representing that badge is more than just being a good player or a good performer. It’s about being made of “the right stuff”. Out-of-date sentiment? Possibly, but if we’re not instilling the values of respect, fair play and honesty, then who is? As teachers, coaches and role models ourselves, we need to ensure that what we preach is the right message & kids understand it. We need to encourage kids to look towards the Brownlees, the Johnny Peacocks and the Jess Ennises rather than towards the more obvious, glamorous and the misleading. We do that and we’ve cracked it.

Delivering PE Controlled Assessment



At our school, staff are given the opportunity to join a Professional Enquiry Group (PEG) as part of our Wednesday afternoon CPD slot.

The “PEGs” have been around for a couple of years now at CLV but I must admit that I honestly just did not buy into the idea first time round. Too many buzzwords, too many bullsh***ers. (Blue sky thinking, looking through lenses, driving, scaffolding, unpacking etc).

However, fast forward to this current year and I have genuinely developed an interest in the area of differentiation – particularly in relation to PE controlled assessment. I decided to use this interest as the focus for my new Professional Enquiry. I presented my PEG last week to staff who were unfortunate enough to sign up to my session… Including the boss.





Our exam board is OCR and I must admit I was glad when they scrapped the old coursework because it was crap. We were constantly chasing bits of missing work; with lots of kids, it was simply a last minute job which meant nothing to them.

Cue the introduction of Controlled Assessment – both B452 & B454 units. The first is an “Analysing Lifestyle” assignment, requiring kids to compile data about a chosen individual (usually someone who isn’t that healthy, so they’ve plenty to write about) and then make sense of this data through written evaluation & recommendations.



My Focus


My kids bombed. Despite a couple of what I thought were thorough preparation lessons & adequate time to collect data and then write-up; results were poor. It was obvious that the kids simply had not fully understood what needed to be written into the assignment. Lots of these students were the kind who, in the past, would have generated masses of pages of detailed coursework; but when faced with 2 hours of unprompted writing, they bombed.

I wasn’t expecting perfection; plenty of my cohort had target grades of “D” (and a couple below), but even my geniuses had a shocker. Anyway, I had to ask “what the hell have I been teaching them?”. It was time to go back to the drawing board and look at how we delivered the preparatory phases of controlled assessment. This became the focus of my PEG project. The question I chose was “How can we effectively differentiate and deliver Controlled Assessment?”



1st tip – Don’t Cheat:


I re-read the rules regarding controlled assessment and made sure I wasn’t about to break any major laws by altering the way in which I introduced the next assignment. We’d had some exemplar work sent back from the moderator from the previous year – which included a 20/20 piece. There is nothing to suggest that pupils should not be shown examples of good quality work during the preparation phase of the controlled assessment process – so that’s what I based my project on.



Chunk it:


I split the assignment into 22 sub-sections and then found the relevant bits in the “perfect” assignment we’d got from the moderator. I photographed each relevant snippet from the assignment and blew up the paragraph of text onto A3 paper, together with a number corresponding with relevant part of the assignment. These A3 sheets were then positioned round the outside of the room.

The kids were each given a checklist which included a Y/N indication for each of the 22 key areas of the assignment. Pupils indicated whether or not they “got it” on the checklist before moving on.





Have a Go:


The next activity sheet required the kids to “have a go” at the areas they had highlighted as “N” or not understood. This was based on the principle of “you might not know, but what do you think?”





After attempting this activity, the kids were released from their desks to go and actively find the key information/examples from the 20 mark snippet sheets around the room.

The kids seemed to enjoy this. They didn’t simply go straight for the “right answer”, nor did they blindly copy down an exemplar quote, but rather they asked one another about what they had written, they found others with similar weaknesses in their understanding and attempted to solve problems themselves. The activity didn’t rely on me telling the kids what to do next, they were finding out and theorising for themselves.

Above all, the activity felt like the kids were doing it themselves – rather than me simply telling them what they should be doing. After all, differentiation for me is all about allowing the pupils to access the material for themselves and find out what it is they know and don’t know.



The Results:

The table below shows the raw marks for the 22 students in my group. Columns 1 and 2 show the mark/20 followed by % grades for each piece of work.  As you can see from the table, the group’s average % score for the 1st Controlled Assessment was a tad over 52%. The average for the 2nd Controlled Assessment, following this lesson was over 82%. An average increase of 30% per student is not to be sniffed at. I’ll not try and claim that it was all down to this style of delivery – CA2 is generally accepted as being a bit easier to engage with, but still, the results were excellent.





Where next?


I’d certainly like to differentiate this further by using a wider range of examples. We do have some weaker/middle/top exemplar work that’s now been moderated. It would be great to use a similar process with these pieces of work and let the kids judge where their efforts would fit in and allow them to monitor progress. It certainly isn’t the perfect system but it has potential to be tweeked and adapted to suit any assignment. Watch this space…



Presentation Mat – link to the “PEGs Mat” used in presentation


Using iPad/iPhone in lessons – Coach’s Eye

For the last few weeks, I’ve been making use of an app called “Coach’s Eye”. This app created by TechSmith is available for download currently priced at £2.99 from Apple’s App Store. I believe it’s also recently made it onto the Android platform but, not being a user, I don’t know much more about this.

The idea is a simple one; teachers/coaches can use video analysis software to provide either instant visual/verbal feedback to students, or fiddle with video clips to add graphics and more in depth analysis to the visuals.

For me personally, Coach’s Eye means that you can honestly make use of technology in just about every practical lesson imaginable. For too long, PE departments have been peddled expensive, elaborate technology & software like Kandle or Dartfish to name but two. Now I’m not going to bash these bits of tech; they are sophisticated, innovative and can allow experienced users to perform all kinds of wizardry to wow and engage even the most sceptical of audiences. However, if like me you work for a living & don’t usually have a spare few hours to spend creating, tweaking and computer-screen-staring, you might never make it past the most basic functions of the programmes.

I used Kandle for the 1st time in my previous school, 7 years ago. The only thing it ever got used for was the time-delay playback function. This allowed kids to see what they had just done on a projector screen and hopefully then evaluate/improve their performance. This for some reason was always in gymnastics. Unfortunately setting up a video camera, projector, screen, laptop & cables was a right pain in the arse. And the £2000 cost for the full Kandle package didn’t really seem justified.

Now compare that to Coach’s Eye. The App is £2.99. It allows users to capture video or import existing footage from the camera roll. Once captured, the footage can be slowed, paused and with the use of the jog-wheel function, rolled on frame by frame. You can record audio commentary onto the footage for verbal feedback and also draw graphics directly onto the visuals on screen. It’s a bit like a poor-man’s Alan Hansen-esque analysis diagram. The finished analysis video can be uploaded to YouTube, sent via email or Twitter all via the inbuilt “share” function. The whole process can be as quick as 2 minutes; great if you are wanting to show kids what they are doing in a lesson/game/skills practice. I’ve started taking a pair of headphones to plug into my iphone so that kids can clearly hear the commentary – it can be a bit quiet when played on a windy field.

You can take your time with Coach’s Eye and create more complex analyses, but for me, this kind of goes against the beauty & simplicity of the software. It isn’t designed to be that expensive bit of kit that gets wheeled out when Ofsted come sniffing. It’s real day-to-day useful technology.

The way I’m using Coach’s Eye is pretty much Teacher-driven. Some institutions may have invested in iPads or other generic tablet devices en masse. At Cramlington we operate a scheme whereby all students in Years 7 & 8 have opportunity to obtain a Samsung Galaxy Tablet. This kind of mass usage would allow kids to create their own Coach’s Eye analysis videos & share them with others in the group. Not something we’ve looked at yet but a distinct possibility in the near future. We also employ a fantastic team of web designers who create apps & programmes in-house; I might ask them to look into creating a similar (non-Copywrite-infringing) programme for our kids to download and use.

For now, I’m still learning. I’ve included a link to an early attempt at using C.E. in a badminton lesson. The audio was recorded post lesson – the original commentary for the lads involved was pretty crap to be honest. Enjoy.

Badminton Coach’s Eye