"Tapping into Student Creativity" by Jason Leach
Even after teaching for 25 years, I continue to be amazed by the imaginations of my students. For many years I focused on the same lesson plans weaving in a few new ideas here and there. One day, I watched Ben Pirillo’s Mini Golf Lesson on his YouTube channel and saw how he created golf putting courses out of PE equipment. That inspired and idea in me. What if my students created their own putting courses? So using a pile of PE equipment, I took a risk and challenged small groups of students to work together and build a course. I was amazed at the creativity and collaboration of the students.
The lesson was a success. Since then, I’ve been exploring how to tap into student creativity on a more regular basis. Let me share with you a few principles I’ve learned.
Inspire creativity with a great story. I enjoy sharing inspirational and informational stories about the origin of sports and games. By far, my favorite of these stories is James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
I tell my students how he wanted a new indoor game that would engage his students in the winter season. Naismith took two peach baskets and nailed them to the lower balcony of his gym. Using a soccer ball, through much trial and error, he came up with 13 rules and his students played the first game of basketball. Now, that innovative idea is a sport enjoyed by men and women all over the world. I regularly share stories like this so that my students remember that you never know how far a simple idea might go and they understand that every sport they play started with an idea.
Make space for student creativity. It’s easy to fall into the trap of teaching the same skills in the same way year after year. I got out of the ho-hum of teaching by adjusting my teaching so that students are given time for creativity. I was inspired as I listened to Jorge Rodriguez on Voxer talk about using Jigsaw groups to create tag games. I decided to take this idea one step further with my 3rd & 4th grade students. For a two-week time period, I used the last few minutes of class to allow kids, who I placed in small groups, to brainstorm ideas for new tag games. Then, they taught their classmates and watched their games in action. After each game was played, we had a time of reflection to listen to feedback, make any necessary changes and then play it again. I was able to sit back and watch as students were engaged in creative conversation, writing down ideas and making plans. Instead of making sure the kids did things my way, I was able to guide, encourage and cheer for things they came up with on their own.
Share your kids’ ideas. I was so proud of my students’ success and creativity with the tag games, I wanted to share their success with others. I reached out to some PE teachers I had made connections with through Twitter. I am very thankful to Jorge Rodriguez, Harvard Elementary, @PhysedNow, Bart Jones, Van Meter Elementary, @exercys, and Adam Llevo in Saudi Arabia. @MrAdamPE. I sent them videos of my students giving instructions about their tag game.
I had only requested that they ask their students for a bit of feedback about these tag games. To my surprise, I received a couple of videos of their students playing the tag games that my students had created. I will never forget the expressions on the faces of my students as they watched the videos of students from another city and even another country playing their games.
Say yes more than you say no. If a student has an idea that fits within the boundary of a lesson, I try to affirm that student’s creativity by saying yes or including their ideas when I can. For example, in an introduction to jump roping, my kindergarten class was using noodles to practice turning and jumping. I had instructed them to jump in place. A group of students asked if they could travel as they jumped. I had not thought of that and gave a hearty “Yes!” I was so impressed with their creativity that I took a short video and shared it on twitter.
Here are more ways I’ve allowed students to express creativity in PE.
Chinese Jump Ropes: After learning the basic jumps and the three levels, I challenge kids to create their own jumps and use their jumps to make their own jumping patterns. From this, I’ve been amazed to see kids create jumps that I’ve never seen or even thought of before.
Cup Stacking: After learning the competitive stacking sequences,
students are given opportunity to create their own stacking sequences,share with others and compete. This helps with students who lose interest in basic cup stacking.
Tapping into student creativity has changed how I teach and who I am as a teacher. From time to time previously, I would discuss with students how we might be able to change some games or how a game could be played with other equipment. But I would always be concerned about the time factor and the need to move on to the next unit or skill. Now that I have experienced the success of student creativity, it has completely altered my thinking and my teaching. I make it a priority to allow time for students to explore creative ways to put a newly developed skill into practice.
And I’m always on the lookout for new ways to include creativity in PE and allow students more opportunities to discover new ways to put their skills into practice.
So, how have you tapped into student creativity?
What are your big ideas?
Comment below so we can all keep tapping into student creativity!
Jason Leach has been teaching for Physical Education for 25 years. He is currently teaching his 12th year at Independence Elementary in Keller ISD. Jason and his wife Cindy have been married for 25 years and have two beautiful daughters, Melissa and Carrie. Melissa graduated from Texas Tech University and Carrie recently graduated from Howard Payne University. Jason and Cindy have a goal to visit has many National Parks has they can because they enjoy the great outdoor and going on hikes.
Follow Jason Leach on Twitter: @jkleach01