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.

Using metaphors to think about the features of meaningful experiences

The LAMPE team has been away from the blog for a while but that does not mean we have stopped our work in unpacking and articulating pedagogies that promote meaningful experiences for learners. We have expanded our work to involve other teacher educators who work in universities in Canada and Ireland, as well as exploring what pedagogies that promote meaningful experiences might look like for teachers using them in schools. In discussing LAMPE pedagogies with others, the features that we have explained at length seem to resonate strongly with others: social interaction, challenge, fun, motor competence, delight, and personally relevant learning. However, they resonate in different ways.

One of the things we have tried to argue for in some of our work so far is to avoid using the features as a checklist as we feel this can limit the potential of promoting meaningful experiences. Instead, we suggest that the features are integrated, with each working off the other. A metaphor can be a useful tool to explain how at least some of us think about the integrated nature of meaningful experiences.

Tim likes the metaphor of a watch or clock mechanism, where each of the features is represented by the different wheels that work together inside the casing.

The watch mechanism metaphor allows different features to be emphasized in different ways: the larger wheels represent features that take on greater significance for the teacher or teacher educator. For example, Tim tends to prioritize relationships in his philosophy of teaching, and so the feature of social interaction represents the largest wheel in the mechanism. When positive social interaction occurs, it can drive learners to challenge themselves more because they may feel they have the support and help of their friends or peers, and feel safe to make mistakes in the classroom. Increasing the level of challenge can produce more competent movement, which in turn may lead the learner to have more fun, and see greater relevance in physical education. Importantly, no matter the size of the wheel, they all play a part in making experiences meaningful.

This is one example and we are interested to hear if others have similar or different metaphors that may help explain they way they think about the features of meaningful experiences.

PHE Canada Research Forum in Review: Part 3

By Stephanie Beni

While other members of the LAMPE team have been busily investigating meaningful experiences and LAMPE pedagogies in the context of teacher education, over the past year, and in follow-up to our recent review of literature, I aimed to examine my own experiences of enacting pedagogies designed to promote meaningful experiences in elementary physical education.  Working in a small school-based setting that combines privately and home-schooled students, I taught a unit of sixteen striking-and-fielding game lessons while planning toward meaningful experiences through the use of the six features outlined in our previous posts (social interaction, fun, challenge, motor competence, delight, and personally relevant learning).  Through personal reflections, responses from a critical friend, and student questionnaires and interviews, I was able to identify a number of ways my pedagogical decision-making was being influenced by my prioritization of meaningful experiences.

For example, I found that my ability to prioritize meaningful experiences hinged upon my commitment to adopting the philosophy underpinning the importance of meaningful experiences, as well as a solid understanding of each of the six features.  For instance, I allowed my decisions related to the role of competition in the meaningfulness of students’ experiences to be guided by this philosophy.  When I noticed that many of the features were being compromised when winning became students’ top priority, I chose to eliminate certain elements of overt competition (such as score-keeping) to favour positive social interactions and opportunities to engage in personal challenge instead.  Even students commented that this reduced emphasis on competition enabled them to focus on other important things including skill development.

The study also offered support for the role of autonomy-supportive strategies in facilitating meaningful experiences.  I aimed to offer students opportunities to make their own choices at times and be involved in decision-making processes by, for example, allowing students to design their own games and skill development activities in select lessons and to make modifications to their level of challenge through, for example, altering the equipment they would use or choosing between striking from a tee or a pitcher.  Students responded favourably to this level of autonomy.

While readers should be mindful of the unique context in which the lessons were taught as well as their games-based nature, I suggest these findings offer preliminary insight for other physical education teachers (and PETE educators) on the use of these six features to plan toward and facilitate meaningful experiences in elementary physical education.

PHE Canada Research Forum In Review: Part 2

By Déirdre Ní Chróinín

Tim and I have recently published a paper outlining pedagogical principles of Learning about Meaningful Physical Education (LAMPE) we have developed in our physical education teacher education programmes. At the recent Physical and Health Education Canada conference Tim and I presented on our experiences of implementing LAMPE pedagogies. We identified critical incidents from across a one-year period of implementing LAMPE pedagogical principles in our PETE courses from data sources including teacher educator weekly reflections, critical friend responses, non-participant observations, and student work samples developed in lessons. We shared decision-making moments that illustrate how we drew on LAMPE pedagogical principles in our teaching to support our students learning about meaningful physical education.

The first incident we shared occurred during a station-based teaching activity when some of the students in Tim’s class started playing around with the hula hoops in unintended ways during the transition between stations. Tim drew on LAMPE principles to help him and his students reinterpret what might be perceived as being off-task activity and positioning participants as co-constructors of an activity they were finding value in (i.e., they were having fun, interacting positively with each other, challenging themselves and developing some skills.

In the second incident Tim’s students were struggling to implement the rules of a games-based activity which they described as ‘boring’. Tim drew on the LAMPE principles to direct students to make changes to both the challenge and social interaction elements of the activity to better align with features of a meaningful experience.

In the third incident Déirdre developed a peer observation activity in response to student uncertainty about the practical implementation of meaningful physical education. Déirdre drew on LAMPE principles to develop an activity in which students engaged cyclically in planning, teaching, observing and reflecting on how to teach physical education framed by the features of meaningful physical education.

These examples of moment-to-moment and day-to-day decision-making illustrate the value of LAMPE pedagogical principles in guiding our decision-making to support student learning about meaningful physical education. Drawing on LAMPE principles resulted in a shared language of learning and a more coherent learning experience for our students.