Norwegian Students’ Experiences of Physical Education

One of our pedagogical cases showcases the Norwegian approach to youth sports. We identified ways in which some of the features of meaningful experiences are present in that system’s approach to youth sport participation. Tim recently met Lars Bjorke (@larsbjorke) from Inland Norway University. Lars mentioned a national study he was involved in, which is the largest that has focused on Norwegian students’ experiences of physical education. This provides the focus for this guest post:

We are a Norwegian research group in PE at Inland Norway University. Last year we conducted a national representative survey on how 3226 5th to 10th grade students (aged 10-16) experience Norwegian PE. This study was the first National study on PE in Norway and provides a useful overall picture of students’ experiences. In this blog post we will present some of our key findings, and discuss how teachers could address these by reflecting on their own practice, and providing a starting point for conversations with students.

First, a short glimpse into the Norwegian PE context. PE in Norway is a compulsory subject, taught in mixed-sex classes. It is the third largest subject measured in allocated teaching hours, and our curriculum is competence based, regulated by the national law of education.

So, over to some of our key findings. We provide a short summary of three key findings in our study and attach some questions as a starting point for reflection.

Finding 1

Overall, the study shows that PE is a subject that most students like a lot. However, the proportion of students that like the subject declines with increasing age. Furthermore, we found that boys like PE better than girls.

Reflective questions

How do these findings apply to your class? If they are similar, why might that be the case? And if they are different, what are the reasons for that? How can you as a teacher meet the needs of both boys and girls in PE? Or to take one step back; is it really the biological sex that matters or is it more relevant to see each student as an individual in their own right?

Finding 2

The content of PE tends to focus on ball games and fitness training. Dance, outdoor education and modern activities receive little attention.

Reflective questions

Is this representative of what you teach in your classes or do you have more variation? What is the rationale behind your practice – is it based on activities or learning objectives? What consequences do your choices about practice have for each individual in your class?

Finding 3

Traditional instructional methods dominate the subject. However, at the same time we found that the students call for more variation in both content and methods.

Reflective questions

What approaches do you use when delivering the subject? How can students’ voices be can heard when they call for more variation? Maybe you as a teacher are in the best position to decide choice of methods?

To conclude, we would like to offer two suggestions for how to approach our findings (with and without your students):

  • Based on democratic principles (which are central in Norwegian society and in most societies around the world) students’ voices deserve to be heard!
    • Think of ways that you can talk with your students about how they experience PE – e.g. orally, digitally or through written assignments
    • How can students’ voices inform your choice of both content and methods in the future?
  • At the same time, in order to have meaningful conversations with your students, a fundamental premise is for you to reflect upon how you experience and want to develop your own teaching. We believe that in reading this blog, you already show an ambition of developing yourself and your practice.

Norwegian Students’ Experiences of Physical Education: A Response

Many things come to mind from reading both the summary and report from Lars and the research group at Inland Norway University. One of the most impactful is that many students like physical education and this is to be celebrated. At the same time, the decrease in enjoyment that occurs as students get older is also perhaps cause for concern. Importantly, the report indicated that students themselves – not just teachers and other key stakeholders – would like more variety in both content and pedagogy. We don’t think this necessarily means cramming more activities or themes that are the same or similar to what is already being offered (e.g., more types of ball games) into often already crowded curricula, but changing what is offered and how it is offered based on what students find meaningful and relevant to their lives. For instance, in Justen O’Connor’s article, students spoke about the meaningfulness of surfing or even being in a mosh pit as being sources of meaning. If teachers are aware of what activities students want, that can provide a good platform from which to begin negotiations of the content of physical education.

When we reflect on how the findings from Norway can influence our understanding of the contexts we are working in, we come away feeling that things are more similar than different, despite the cultural, geographical, social, and political differences. It would seem that PE tends to be taught in much the same way in many places, with similar outcomes for children’s experiences of PE. The questions Lars posed for reflection are simple but very important and get to the heart of some of the major questions we should be asking ourselves and our students. They also highlight an inherent tension or dilemma: whose voice should be granted the loudest volume? Mine as the teacher (who makes decisions based on education, experience and professional judgment) or the students’? Teachers’ decisions are informed by education, experience and professional judgement but must ultimately be made in the contexts in which they teach, and particuarly with their students in mind. Students’ voices must be heard and responded to in authentic ways if physical education is to truly influence their lives beyond schools. Having an understanding of what a large sample of students want can give us some ideas about the types of experiences we should aim to be facilitating that would encourage ongoing engagement with physical education in ways that are meaningful to those whom we teach.

A Tribute to the 2019 SSHRC Storytellers

Hey everyone, Steph here.  This is a bit of a different post than what you might be used to for us, but I wanted to take a moment to share some insights from a project I’ve recently taken on. If you follow the @meaningfulpe team on Twitter, perhaps you’ve seen our tweets about my recent success in the SSHRC Storytellers competition, where I was named a finalist and will be competing for a place in the top 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia in June. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at my three-minute video submission here.

The competition in a nut-shell: graduate students across Canada are invited to share a short submission outlining a research project that has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. While the submission can be any format you’d like (e.g. video, audio, written), it can be no more than 3 minutes or 300 words in length and must be presented in a creative format that is easily accessible and understandable by the general public (i.e. not in academic language). And let me tell you, this is not as easy as it might seem.

Last weekend I took the time to view all of the submissions from all 25 Finalists, and I wanted to share a couple things that struck me as I watched them. First, being a part of this competition and viewing the submissions from other Finalists has really opened my eyes to the potential of using diverse and creative research dissemination strategies. Journal articles and conference presentations undoubtedly have their place, but could we be more effective at sharing our research with our target audience if we go a step beyond that? I know for me at least, the answer at times is yes. A few examples from the Storytellers: writing a song that encapsulates the basis of your research project, creating a video that gives voice to the population your research is aimed at representing, or writing a poem that tells a story. Check out the 25 submissions here to see these ideas and more in action.

Second, I am amazed at how much I learned about a vast array of topics, each of which highlighted in only 300 words or 3 minutes. I had no idea how important (and valuable $$$) nightcrawlers can be, that incarcerated women in Canada are not being prepared with employment skills, that breast cancer rates are a staggering sixteen times higher for women working in areas with high pollution, or that Canadian filmmakers are starting to turn to crowd funding to be able to produce their films. Sometimes as researchers it can be very easy to get caught up in our silos and only pursue knowledge that relates to our own topic of study, but viewing my fellow finalists’ submissions made me realize the importance of broadening my horizons in this area.

Lastly, I just want to say how blown away I am by the high quality of work being produced by Canadian graduate students on a diverse range of topics. I may be biased, but I think we’re pretty amazing.  The 25 Finalists will be facing off at the Storytellers Showcase on June 3 at 9 am, Pacific time. The Showcase will be live streamed on Facebook via the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Facebook Page. If you’re in a time zone that has you up at that hour, check out our world-changing research!  See you in Vancouver, Storytellers!

Bildung – a student-focused approach to PE

Guest blog post by Jonas Wibowo & Claus Krieger

This blog entry has its origin in a meeting we had with Tim and Steph at the AERA conference in Toronto on April 5th 2019. We had the great opportunity to learn about our respective approaches to PE and found some similarities and links we would like to pursue and exchange. Specifically, we saw a lot of similarities in ideas about meaning and the German concept of Bildung. To possibly and hopefully enrich the discourse on Meaningful PE, we will try to introduce and outline the German concept of Bildung and briefly explain how it can be enacted in PE:

First of all, Bildung is an idea from the German epoche of idealism that refers to and draws from different theories such as anthropological philosophy, phenomenology, and others. Apart from the different theoretical approaches, there are some general assumptions that are crucial for the idea of Bildung: (1) Humans are open beings and not pre-determined; (2) Humans form their subject-world-relationship through cognitive, bodily and aesthetic processes; (3) Bildung describes a process that evolves from a situation of uncertainty and a lack of routine in a specific situation. By reflection and intentional action, it can lead to a change in the individual subject-world-relationship.

Movement and sports, seen as aesthetic processes, offer a unique way to form the individual subject-world-relationship. These processes require, however, space and time for students to find their own individual meaning in and through movement and sports. Physical education aims to provide these opportunities by designing educational settings in which it is likely that students‘ routines would be unsettled. If these unsettling moments are offered, PE teachers then need to give students responsibility and space for decision-making, e.g. by the use of open methods in cooperative or problem-oriented learning environments. Openness seems also necessary in terms of selecting content and areas of focus. Openness can be established, for example, by focusing the understanding of elementary movements in a certain sport rather than reproducing techniques. E. g. instead of teaching a gymnastic-style toe-stretching handstand, students could work collaboratively on the problem of how to stand stable on the hands or even walk on them. New and/or unknown or unusual sports, movements and activities may also be suitable for such Bildung experiences and processes.

Just as with the work done in Meaningful PE, we have been using pedagogical cases on the one hand and qualitative research of the subjective views of students and teachers on the other hand to substantiate and illustrate the concept of Bildung in PE – we would be happy to share further info – if interest exists – in  future posts.
Jonas Wibowo & Claus Krieger;

Bildung and/in Meaningful PE (response)

Quite often we come across ideas and concepts that have been around for a while in some places but take their time to reach our own worlds. Although we had heard the term Bildung before, we had not had the opportunity to engage with it or understand its nuances until we heard Jonas and Claus present on their research at the Research on Learning and Instruction in Physical Education SIG Invisible College at AERA in Toronto. It was clear to all of us that there were several areas – both realized and potential — of overlap and alignment with Bildung and Meaningful PE, as Jonas and Claus described in their post.

In their presentation, Jonas and Claus showed a video of a teacher working with primary students in a gymnastics lesson. Many of the students were highly engaged as they tried to determine ways to execute jumps off a box and onto a springboard. It appeared that the teacher was working very hard, even though it was not him that we saw or heard most of. That is, he was working very hard to be quiet, to stay out of the way of students, and to provide helpful ‘nudges’ to get them to think about the task and what they could do – not what they should do.

As we and others have written about elsewhere, ‘how’ to do meaningful PE is a bit murky. And this is where some of the ideas from Bildung strike us as being similar. So while many people might first associate the ideas of meaningful PE with the features (i.e., social interaction, challenge, fun, motor competence, personally relevant learning and delight) it is the pedagogies represented by Bildung that we see as being particularly resonant with ideas of Meaningful PE. For example, students are given appropriate degrees of autonomy to use their voices and make choices in their learning. The direction of lessons is quite open and based on how students are interacting with each other (and the teacher), with tasks, with equipment, and with their environments. Also, there is time provided for students to reflect on their experiences in order to identify what and how they are learning. In the video we watched, reflection was not provided as it typically is, in an end of lesson discussion forum. It was provided as students were moving in the forms of questions, prompts, and probes. Often this was quite brief, but importantly, it was effective in having students actively engage with what it was they were doing

Teachers who embrace the ideas of Bildung or of Meaningful PE seem to take on the role of activity-broker; a term used by Scott Kretchmar to describe what teachers can or should do to foster meaningful experiences for learners. Activity Broker stands in contrast to Activity Director and emphasizes teachers as negotiators in setting up movement opportunities for students that they find significant in their personal experience. Furthermore, the teacher needs to facilitate learning and Bildung actively and individualized in the sense of adapting and connecting to the students processes.

As we have said before, we have borrowed many of our ideas from other areas to try to create some coherent whole in the form of Meaningful PE. Our engagement with Jonas and Claus in learning about Bildung has added another layer to this. However, we have struggled to identify ways in which teachers can be intentional in providing meaningful experiences, and be forthright in prioritizing these experiences for learners. Bildung offers some promising avenues to explore as we seek to build more connections and capacity to provide young learners with meaningful experiences based on students’ own interests, needs, and lived realities.

Preliminary Principles of Meaningful Physical Education in Schools

Based on several pilot projects where we have experimented with pedagogies to support meaningful physical education, we have developed the following principles and ideas that might shape an approach to Meaningful PE. We are keen to point out that we don’t feel these are set in stone in any way: one of the main points of doing this work is to try them out so they can be refined based on teachers’ and students’ experiences and responses.

  • Ideas about meaningful PE align with social constructivist theories of learning, where learning is viewed as a social process grounded in active inquiry and exploration, with learners making sense of knowledge through reconciling new experiences with those from the past. Teachers and students should work together, sharing responsibility for choosing the content of PE. For example, outcomes from our pilot research lead us to recommend that teachers shift from the authoritarian role of “instructor” to a more liberal role of “activity broker” by providing students with autonomy in their learning (Beni, et al., 2018). This follows Kretchmar’s (2006) argument that teachers should help students discover their “personal playgrounds” through providing opportunities for deep play (extended engagement encounters) in learning environments conducive to exploration and experimentation. This means that the Meaningful PE is not limited to, for example, games content: it is appropriate across all PE subject matter (games, dance, gymnastics, aquatics) and can be linked to the particular outcomes and expectations described in official curriculum documents across a variety of contexts.
  • The features of meaningful PE identified in our major review of literature (Beni, et al., 2017) guide teachers’ decisions about planning and instruction: (1) social interaction, (2) optimal level of challenge, (3) fun, (4) improving motor competence, (5) personally relevant learning, and (6) delight. Tasks are selected and/or designed based on their potential to help students engage with or experience the features of meaningful PE. From our pilot research, we recommend that the features be thought of as integrated rather than as a checklist.
  • Teachers employ strategies that support students in exercising autonomy. For example, students collaborate with teachers to make decisions about the type and nature of tasks they will engage in (and for how long). Pilot testing showed that students highly valued experiences where they felt supported in making autonomous decisions about how they engaged with PE content, including: selecting specific tasks based on personal level of interest or challenge; contributing to group composition decisions; modifying tasks to tailor the level of challenge to individual skill levels, and; identifying tasks to be assessed in culminating activities (Ní Chróinín, et al., 2018). When students are allowed more control of their own PE experience it allows them to carry out activities they find meaningful in their own right, and engage with tasks that have relevance for their lived realities.
  • Students are encouraged to identify short- and long-term goals for their learning. Pilot testing showed that goal-setting facilitates personally relevant learning for students where they can identify ways to transfer learning to their lives outside of school.
  • Teachers engage students in reflective processes (e.g., journalling, probing questions) during and after PE lessons. Reflections allow students to identify the nature and extent of the meaning they make in PE and make sense of their experiences (O’Connor, 2018), while also serving as an assessment tool for teachers. Students who participated in pilot testing described the public posting of the features of meaningful PE (e.g., on a poster) as being particularly helpful to identify how they made meaning in PE.

Next Steps for Meaningful Physical Education Practice and Research

The LAMPE blog has been a little quiet recently but we are hoping to add some new content over the months ahead as our projects develop. We have several things on the go and wanted to update readers on what we are doing and why.

As you may know we continue to add to our suite of pedagogical cases focused on meaningful physical education, where we are trying to create somewhat authentic representations of what meaningful physical education looks like or could look like in action. We still have a few of these we are hoping to post in the coming months.

Our work focused on university teacher educators’ practices has taken some twists and turns in promising directions. We have worked with Richard Bowles (@rbowlesoola), Maura Coulter (@MauraColt) and Doug Gleddie (@doug_gleddie) to see if the LAMPE practices Déirdre, Tim and Mary worked to develop could be understood, expanded, and refined to other teacher educators working in different courses and different contexts. We’ll have some updates on the outcomes of that work soon but for people who might be going to AERA in Toronto in April, PHE Canada in Montreal in May, or AIESEP in June, you can get a sneak peak as we’re presenting bits and pieces of the data at those conferences. We’ll update our presentations page in due course. It has been fantastic to expand the LAMPE team and learn from and with each other on this arm of the project.

The main objectives we are pursuing with meaningful physical education have shifted from sites of teacher education and into schools. We have been able to do this with funding from the Irish Teaching Council and from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. In Ireland we ran a pilot study using ideas from Stephanie Beni’s and Ciara Griffin’s work, working with several teachers to try to make meaningful physical education an enacted priority in their physical education classrooms. We are analysing data from that work and hope to share that soon. This in turn has informed what we are doing in Canada, where we have begun working with two cohorts of teachers in Ontario (led by @StephBeni) and Alberta (led by @doug_gleddie and @JodiKuriger), introducing features and pedagogies of meaningful physical education to them. Our aim is to work with teachers to refine and modify our current ideas based on their experiences and the realities of working in schools. Our communications with @andyvasily on his blog, podcast and twitter give some idea of what this might look like – the work Andy and his team are doing at KAUST has been invaluable in offering innovative ideas and new directions for meaningful PE. Over the next few years we hope to add cohorts across the several different sites we are working with, using teachers’ and students’ experiences with hopes to create a coherent idea of how meaningful experiences might be provided with intention and regularity.

In the next post, we’ll share some preliminary ideas shaping our approach to meaningful physical education in primary schools. As always, any feedback or suggestions are most welcome, particularly from teachers who would like to share their experiences.

Responding to students’ engagement with LAMPE using reflection on- and in-action

We recently had an article accepted in the journal Professional Development in Education where our focus was on being intentional in accessing and responding to PETE students’ engagement with their learning about meaningful PE. Déirdre and Tim had felt that prior to the study, many of their ideas about students’ engagement with their learning came from casual observations of students’ body language (e.g., smiling, looks of boredom). While this has some value, it comes mainly from our own lopsided interpretations and we felt this did not go far enough to really get a sense of what our students felt about their learning – their aha moments, times of joy, their struggles, confusion and so on. Specifically, we wanted to find out how our students were engaging with the pedagogical principles of LAMPE (described here) by being more intentional in how we accessed and responded to their engagement with their learning about teaching.

Some of the things we did to be more intentional included: frequently using exit slips and other sources of written reflection that contained both open-ended and pointed questions about students’ learning; focusing small and large group discussion on students’ learning about meaningful PE, and; observing students making adaptations to the principles of LAMPE.

One of the interesting outcomes of this research was seeing how we responded to our students’ engagement using aspects of reflective practice. In particular, we came to see how Déirdre and Tim did this differently but with similarly helpful outcomes. For example, Déirde tended to use students’ responses to their engagement with their learning to shape her reflection on-action – that is, how she reflected on lessons after the fact. This informed her planning for subsequent lessons. In contrast, Tim tended to use students’ responses to make decisions in the moment – reflecting in-action (and using the watch mechanism metaphor).

We don’t see much point in advocating for one type of reflection over the other but our work shows that different teachers/teacher educators can benefit equally from using various types of reflection they see as being helpful for their work and for their students’ learning. This allowed us to be more intentional in how we accessed students’ perspectives on their learning, and while we don’t feel we achieved the same extent of student voice in PE done so well by, for example, Eimear Enright and Mary O’Sullivan , we are certainly doing it better than we did before. Importantly, this has allowed us to go back to our own ideas, planning, instruction, and assessment to refine some of the things we have been working on around meaningful PE based on what our students have been telling us.  You can access the full text of the article on the PDE website here or the accepted full-text on our Publications page here.


Over the summer we have been developing some pedagogical cases, where our main purpose is to showcase what meaningful experiences look like or could look like in physical education classes. The cases are not meant to be interpreted as ‘ideal types’: like those in two texts of pedagogical cases (Armour, 2014 and Casey, Goodyear & Armour, 2016), they are based on composites of real situations, data, and excerpts we have experienced or accessed.

Beyond providing snapshots of meaningful experiences in action, we also hope that teachers or teacher educators might find the cases useful for certain types of professional learning. For example, you might want to access the cases by yourself, to think about ways in which the case resonates with or applies to certain pedagogical situations you have faced. You may be teaching a course for pre-service teachers or facilitating a workshop for practicing teachers, in which instance the cases could be used for small group activities or similar. Whatever takes your fancy, you are welcome to use the cases to fit your purposes. We have provided some suggestions on the main Pedagogical Cases page. We just ask that you acknowledge the work, and if you are up to it, please provide us with some feedback so we might get a sense of how the cases were helpful or can be improved.

We hope to add more cases every few weeks until we have built about a dozen or so. Three have been posted as a starter. There are cases representing primary physical education, youth sport, and physical education practice in a general sense. Some have been developed based on posts from friends and colleagues (which we acknowledge), and who have helped us think about new and different ways to promote meaningful experiences in physical education. Others are from situations one or more of our team experienced or observed, and others have been inspired by things we have come across in our reading of texts or online.

You can access the Pedagogical Cases page by clicking on this link or by accessing it through our main menu on the website.

AIESEP 2018 In Review

The LAMPE team has been on hiatus for the last few weeks of the summer, but with a return to classes and regularly scheduled programming, we hope to post more regularly about the work we have been and are doing at the moment.

To provide an update of our most recent work, we returned not too long ago from the AIESEP World Congress in Edinburgh, UK where we had the privilege of presenting in numerous sessions.  Links to the slides from these presentations as well as the accompanying papers can be found on our Presentations and Publications pages or by clicking on the links below.

We kicked off the conference by hosting a workshop at the Primary Physical Education Pre-Conference through which we provided a general overview of the MPE approach, shared some examples and insights from our own work both within teacher education programs and primary physical education classrooms, and invited participants to engage with some pedagogical cases to consider how the MPE approach might be applied to each. We hope to refine these cases to share on the website in the coming weeks. The slides from this presentation are available here.

In a symposium entitled Being a self-study researcher in Physical Education: Exploring the interplay of practice and scholarship, Dèirdre shared some of our insights from a study in which we synthesized and reviewed data across five of our previously conducted self-studies to help us understand how Meaningful Physical Education has served as a vision for our practices as both teacher educators and classroom teachers.  In this presentation, we shared the ways our visions have developed and continue to change over time in terms of their range, focus, and distance.  Slides from this presentation are available here.

In addition, Stephanie shared some insights on using the features of meaningful physical education to guide teaching and planning decisions in primary physical education.  In this presentation she shared about the importance of the role of reflection both in and on action in prioritizing meaningfulness in her classroom.  Further, she shared about the ways students themselves experience the features of meaningful experiences in both the short term and long term and how this realization has influenced her own perceptions of meaningfulness.  Slides from this presentation are available here.

Of course, no conference would be complete without a little sight seeing.  In addition to a busy conference schedule, we managed to find time to scale Edinburgh’s Salisbury Crags.  It’s safe to say the LAMPE team climbed to new heights this summer!


Funding award: Meaningful Physical Education in Primary Schools

Before Christmas the LAMPE team (Déirdre Ní Chróinín and Ciara Griffin, Ireland and Tim Fletcher and Stephanie Beni, Canada.) received some good news that we were awarded €3,300 by the Teaching Council in Ireland as part of their Research Support Framework. Déirdre Ní Chróinín and Ciara Griffin attended the award ceremony on January 18th 2018 at the Clayton Hotel, Liffey Valley in Dublin. The LAMPE team is delighted to receive this funding which allows us to expand our research programme in primary schools.

Why this research? The premise of our application was that promoting personally meaningful engagement is one way that teachers can provide students with transformative experiences that will influence their commitment to lifelong physical activity (Ennis, 2017). Over the past four years we have developed an evidence-based framework of pedagogical principles and strategies that help teachers to foster personally meaningful experiences for young people in primary physical education (PE). We call this innovation ‘meaningful PE’ (MPE). The MPE framework is built on the following features: social interaction, fun, challenge, motor skill learning, delight and personally relevant learning. This research will provide new insight into how teachers can use these features to promote meaningful physical activity experiences for children in physical education.

What will we do? This research will provide an opportunity for five primary teachers from the Munster region to work together in a community of practice to try out the MPE framework of pedagogies and share the experiences of children in their classes. Goal-setting and reflection processes will help the children to make sense of their physical activity experiences grounded in personal and everyday realities (Ennis, 2013). The teachers will complete a reflective diary entry each week about their teaching and the children will complete a workbook about their learning in lessons. A member of the research team will observe some lessons and conduct interviews with the teachers and children at the end of the physical education unit.

What will the outcomes be? Findings will help us understand how to help teachers use these pedagogies so they can be shared and implemented more widely at the national and international level. Ultimately we hope that meaningful physical activity experiences for children in physical education can positively influence commitment to physical activity participation.

To learn more about the project, be sure to follow the LAMPE blog.