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Inquire to Inspire: Making Mindful Movers in Physical Education

Teaching at the elementary level is an amazing adventure. My students get to see me from kindergarten through fifth grade and the start of their movement journey is in my hands. For years, I thought I could hand them all the keys to movement and skill development to magically transform them into physically literate individuals. When this failed to occur for students in my early years of teaching I was perplexed, frustrated, and sometimes quick to come up with a reason other than the fact that how I was teaching wasn’t working for all my students.

Inquire to Inspire: Making Mindful Movers in Physical Education

Fortunately for me this was the point where started exploring other teaching styles and had my interest peaked by discussions on Twitter. Andy Vasily discussing provocations, and showing how he created an environment for students to discuss and explore what they worked had me wondering, could I do this too? Mel Hamada’s #PhysEdSummit session on TGFU (Teaching Games For Understanding) had me convinced this could be what I have been looking for. I dived into the subject matter while soliciting others on Twitter for what books I should read to learn more.

As I read and researched, I began to experiment and explore how to make an inquiry teaching style work for me. I worked through lacking confidence in my ability to question students well; wondering if I am just rolling out the ball, and if this is really helping my students. The process was long and had ups and downs much like a roller coaster. Luckily throughout the journey I found more support in additional TGFU sessions in #PhysEdSummit 2.0 and 3.0. Built a friendship with amazing academics like Dr. Stephen Harvey and practitioners of inquiry based teaching like Andy Hair, Jorge Rodriguez, and Sarah Gietcher-Hartman. Some had never done it any other way, while other were on their own steps in the inquiry journey.

Inquiry based teaching focuses on using higher level questioning to help students discover, explore, and reflect on what is being learned. This teaching method asks teachers to question students to help them find a solution to a problem or strategy to a challenge. As shared in the book Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor Mackenzie states “ A strong inquiry community requires a balancing of control over learning between the teacher and the learner”. This means in most cases the teacher acts as a guide to help students discover information that helps them answer an essential question or problem. Some refer to this role shift as being the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage’. Inquiry can be broken down into four types: structured, controlled, guided, and free.

Structured inquiry has students following the teacher as the class explores the same inquiry topic (Mackenzie 28). In a PE setting this would be all students exploring effective passing strategies together sharing their ideas. Controlled inquiry teacher chooses topics and identifies the resources the students will use. This could be done by having students create a workout using certain apps or resources to find exercises that would cover all of the components of fitness. Guided inquiry has the teacher choose the topic or questions and the students then design the product or solution.

For this level of inquiry, students could be asked to select a skill of their choice and develop a plan of improvement utilizing outside resources and showing progress towards skill mastery. Free inquiry has students choose the topic without the goal of any true outcome. This would be students exploring and pursuing an activity of their choice that peaks their interest. As a positive inquiry environment is created the high levels of inquiry can be pursued.


In physical education, inquiry often is linked to game based teaching approaches such as TGFU, game sense, tactical games approach, and guided discovery. All of these teaching styles ask the teacher to use questioning to help students develop solutions or answers to tactical problems or a challenge of some-sort.

As these tactics are discovered by students, strategies can be developed to improve the chances of success for each student in the given “problem”. Inquiry in general is not asking yes/no or true/false questions, but to ask questions where students delve deeper into a question and can express why they answered that particular way. This process takes practice and will need constant refinement and adjustment based on each group of students. Also the individual responses might need more questioning to help a student dig deeper. A good start in the PE setting is to have an essential question for the lesson or the unit that students use to guide their thinking.

As I applied and experimented, I made some key realizations that have reaffirmed I am on the right path. No students are exactly alike, some students are fast and some slow. How they approach defense and offense can be affected by this. Some are tall while others are short, which changes what strengths they may have with an activity. Students need to discover what tactics and strategies might lead to their success. If I tell them a strategy it may not work for them, which can lead to them losing interest or confidence in the activity. Students want to be heard.

From class mind maps, to pair shares, to open questioning, kids want to share their thoughts and be heard. In a true inquiry setting all answers are accepted and have value, every comment can be built upon and unpacked. The journey to being a confident inquiry based teacher is not fast and is always evolving, but if you commit you will be rewarded with more mindful, engaged, and successful students. Inquiry is all about student voice and choice. If you want to begin or continue your voyage please check out the resource doc linked here.

Also, another GREAT place to start is to look at some of the lessons from OPEN (the online physical education network) and look over their Depth of Knowledge questions.


Seth Martin teaches K-5 Physical Education at Sierra House Elementary in South Lake Tahoe, CA. Seth has been recognized as the Governor’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sport TOY in 2010 a council headed by former CA governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is also the 2018 CAHPERD Elementary PE TOY. Seth is the President-Elect for CAHPERD. He has also become an OPEN national trainer. Seth has worked as a mentor for beginning teachers in his district. In addition he has served on various community committees and councils. Seth and his wife, Kelly, have two sons Brody and Merrick.


Need Resources?

Do you need a practical way to advocate for physical education and share the key benefits of physical literacy? If so, Cap'n Pete's Power PE has you covered!

By filling out the form below, you can download a FREE physical literacy visual that effectively communicates the 7 key benefits of becoming physically literate to students, parents, and administrators. The PE Poster: Benefits of Physical Literacy serves as a kid-friendly, easy-to-comprehend printable visual that you can enlarge to poster size that will immediately enhance your learning area! The great thing is this FREE download comes in both English and Spanish versions in 5 color schemes.


If you are searching for a way to articulate what your students are learning throughout the school year, Cap'n Pete has a solution! The Physical Education- I Can Statements: 6 Set Visual Bundle from Cap'n Pete's is an excellent way to get your students talking about what they're learning throughout the school year in a clear and easy-to-understand visual format.

You can download them from either of the following platforms:

Elementary/Middle School- Cap'n Pete's Power PE Website or Teachers Pay Teachers- Cap'n Pete's TPT Store

High School- Cap'n Pete's Power PE Website or Teachers Pay Teachers- Cap'n Pete's TPT Store

These colorful visuals make great posters and allow students to directly and personally connect with the standard-based outcomes you want them to learn during our daily PE lessons. The statements are brief, to the point and POWERFUL! This is a truly useful and impactful resource for a first-year teacher!

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