In the Hewitt gym, fifth and sixth grade students gather in small groups, eager to get to work. Some begin conducting research on the rules of track and field while others review their notes and excitedly plan out a series of volleyball drills. Still others find space to spread out and record videos of themselves performing a basketball or soccer warm up. Physical education teachers make their rounds through the gym, occasionally pausing to chat with a group or answer a question as students make progress on their Sport Specific Training Projects. These self-directed, student-led projects are a chance for the middle schoolers to showcase everything they have learned about athletics and physical fitness over the course of the year.
The Sport Specific Training Project takes inspiration from the Sport Education model, a research-based approach to teaching physical education that guides all of Hewitt’s P.E. classes. The model encourages students to take ownership of their learning by giving them opportunities to act as athletes, coaches, teachers, and trainers. At Hewitt, physical education teachers introduce their students to the skills, techniques, and rules of a new sport and then empower them to lead warm ups, demonstrate correct form, and oversee fair play for their peers. This approach to teaching aligns with Hewitt’s K-12 commitment to providing meaningful, hands-on, and student-led learning experiences across disciplines and grade levels.
After spending the 2020-2021 school year developing their knowledge of health, fitness, nutrition, and sports, fifth and sixth graders devoted the final weeks of their P.E. classes to the Sport Specific Training Project. True to the Sport Education model, the students were responsible for every aspect of the project, including choosing their topics, conducting research, creating a digital portfolio of training videos, and developing the learning standards and objectives they would use to assess their own work. The students began by deciding what sport they wanted to build their team’s portfolio around as well as what age group they wanted to target with their training videos. Whether creating content for younger students, their own peers, older teens, or adults, each group had to be mindful of using language and designing activities that would be developmentally appropriate for their respective audiences. In this way, students engaged in the real-world experience of creating content that would appeal not just to themselves or their teachers, but to viewers beyond their classrooms.
After settling on activities they were personally interested in — including soccer, dodgeball, karate, and dance — each team began collaborating on their digital portfolio. Though everyone was tasked with making a series of videos that addressed warm-ups, skills practice, fitness routines, strength training, and challenge activities, each team had complete creative freedom, and their resulting videos were an expression of their unique personalities as well as their athletic expertise. Working with a real and specific audience in mind, teams developed soccer drills focused on agility, basketball workouts to build arm strength and stamina, and fun and increasingly difficult physical challenges that required viewers to use the foundational skills that were introduced in earlier videos in order to succeed.
As they developed activities that would be both demanding and engaging, the fifth and sixth graders also recognized the critical importance of making sure their audiences understood the ways physical activity impacts every part of our bodies. Hewitt's P.E. curriculum is designed to help young people develop the tools they need to live a healthy and active lifestyle, and we regularly engage our students in conversations about how sports and movement affect both their minds and bodies. These discussions help students gain a deeper understanding of the role physical activity will play in their lives beyond school, so it was important to them to include information about the physiology and psychology of sports in their videos. Using their research as evidence, teams made sure their videos communicated the importance of stretching to increase blood flow to muscles, how cardiovascular fitness can improve mood and fight anxiety, and the power of warm-up routines to help athletes focus and concentrate on their sports.
Hewitt teachers assess their students’ progress through feedback that explicitly connects to clear learning standards, and throughout this project, student teams assessed their own work using learning standards they had created for themselves. Because effective learning objectives reflect not just what students know, but also what students do with what they know, fifth and sixth graders developed standards such as: “We can coach our students to pass the soccer ball with the inside of their foot using correct form,” and “We can teach our students the basic rules of volleyball so that they are able to set up and run their own games.” By articulating their own goals for their projects, students took full responsibility for their learning and were able to recognize when they were not meeting their standards. Teams regularly checked in on their own progress and, if they were not meeting their goals, had the chance to make adjustments to their projects or ask a teacher for advice on how to change their approach to a particular video.
The Sport Specific Training Project gave fifth and sixth graders the opportunity to lead their own learning while immersing themselves in work that was both challenging and joyful. As they developed a more nuanced understanding of their selected sport’s technical rules and physical and psychological benefits, students refined their own knowledge, gained newfound confidence in their athletic and coaching abilities, and increased their appreciation for the role sports play in a healthy and active lifestyle. Given complete creative authority, students embraced the opportunity to think about unique and engaging ways to present their research and workout routines, and each team designed, recorded, and edited videos that represented not only their expertise but also their authentic and enthusiastic selves. Through the lens of sports, middle schoolers drew on their leadership, problem-solving, and collaboration skills to produce work that met their own high standards and left them feeling proud of their accomplishments.