The Evolution of the Concept Curriculum

Concept Curriculum

Although only fairly new, it is time to discuss the evolution of the Concept Curriculum and consider how we can best provide personally relevant learning, nurture physical literacy and deliver meaningful and Positive PE experiences for all.

The Launch of the Concept Curriculum

On July 14th 2021, Craig Bartlett, Lauren Williams and I launched the Concept Curriculum via the PE Scholar website in a live Zoom presentation. In it, we set about explaining why we felt PE teachers might want to consider adopting a concepts approach. We highlighted the current state of PE, included national statistics and discussed the potential we felt that PE had to deliver a more positive and meaningful experience for all. Finally, I ran through the pedagogical model, adapted from Julie Stern’s ACT model, that could be used to effectively deliver conceptual learning.

The Response

Upon publication the feeling of pride was matched with vulnerability. Our vision was out there for all to see and read, but I was astounded by the positive response. It was clear that our feelings and frustrations were resonating with so many teachers from around the world. They too saw the potential of PE and understood that we were failing to meet the needs of so many.

I received a large number of messages from teachers who had also grown tired of waiting for change and could see first-hand the negative impact a sport-driven, technique focused and performance obsessed curriculum was having. So many amazing physical educators were looking to implement change in their own settings and it was a genuine honour to help where I could.

Those that had implemented the Concept Curriculum sent some wonderful feedback. Students were seeing the value in PE as the learning was relevant to them, and some previously unengaged students were starting to flourish. PE was finally enabling more students to succeed and teachers were seeing the impact.

The Debate Project

That being said, the Concept Curriculum wasn’t without a few critics.

There were some that felt I was putting conceptual learning before the physical activity, removing competition, failing the more-able, delivering learning that had no place in PE and was attempting to shift too far from the real purpose of PE. Most perceptions were misconceptions, but some comments were fair.

The Concept Curriculum rightly started some important conversations, particularly on Twitter. So much so that I was asked to be a part of a conversation/debate around conceptual learning in PE with Greg Dryer. I have huge respect for Greg and deeply value his opinion. Whilst I was aware we disagreed on the how, I knew that first and foremost we agreed on the need to deliver positive experiences in PE.

I am proud of participating in the debate and standing up for my vision of PE, but I can’t deny, at times, feeling uncomfortable at the nature of the critique. It’s understandable that if you publish your work, you leave yourself open for others to challenge, and challenged I was. Though our experiences as current teachers are real and tangible and should not be dismissed as ‘anecdotal’. PE teachers are on the front line; we are living the struggles we know exist in PE. Finding a problem is easy, providing a solution is much harder.

Towards the end of the recording I felt that Greg and I had found a consensus that conceptual learning has a place in PE. It was some of the concepts I had employed he disagreed with, and he was right.

I didn’t get much sleep the night of the debate. I couldn’t switch my brain off from all of the things I wish I had said, everything that was said and, most importantly, how I could use this experience to further the evolution of the Concept Curriculum.

The Evolution of the Concept Curriculum

I stand firm in my belief that conceptual learning in PE adds genuine value, meaning and relevance and can harness the full potential of PE, physical activity and school sport.

However, upon reflection, in my attempt to deliver life skills I had gone too far. I had included learning that had no real place in a PE lesson. An example of this would be the lesson on depression, signs of mental illness and anxiety as part of the mental health unit. Whilst well intentioned, this is not our area of expertise. I still stand by a huge majority of the lessons that make up the Concept Curriculum but will be updating some of the concepts that make up the Concept Curriculum to bring the learning back into ‘our lane’.

One of the most challenging criticisms to hear was that physical activity was lost with a Concept Curriculum. I can understand the misconception, but that was never the intention. Physical Activity is and has always been central. In my experience a concept curriculum does not remove the physical activity, nor does it shy away from competition, developing competence or challenging the most-able. However, I do intend to make the physical far more explicit by exploring pedagogical models that better incorporate the ‘P’ (physical) as well as the ‘E’ (education) in PE.

One area of research that I have spent a fair bit of time pondering was the idea of transfer. The research suggests that in order to deliver meaningful PE it needs to have personal relevance. This was further supported by Ash Casey in his blog from 2018 on meaningful experiences in Physical education and Youth Sport. The original application of the ACT model was well considered and appropriate and I still strongly believe it works within PE. It serves as a powerful model in which to deliver conceptual learning. However, I do concede that the evidence that teaching life skills will transfer to other situations is weak. By teaching resilience that does not mean that a student is therefore resilient later in life. This is in no way an admission that we should not be teaching carefully selected concepts, including resilience, but I will consider a pedagogical model that focuses less on the long- term transfer and more on present day growth and application. I still hope for transfer into the future as well, I don’t think there is anything wrong with hope!

The Concept Curriculum Community

I feel a great sense of responsibility to those of you that have bought into my vision for PE. The fact that so many schools around the world have adopted the Concept Curriculum or other ideas suggested in ‘Is PE in Crisis?’ means a great deal to me. I will never get my head around just how many students now have a more positive self-identity towards physical activity because of it.

I want to assure anyone that has already purchased the original Concept Curriculum or decides to purchase it tomorrow or anytime in the future, any improvements or updates I make to the Concept Curriculum you will receive the updated version free of charge.

The Concept Curriculum is not complete, nor will it ever be. But please know, if you buy it once, you are part of the Concept Curriculum Community and I am taking you all along this learning journey with me.

For those that have implemented the curriculum, I welcome your feedback and will be in touch shortly to hear your thoughts. You are a key part of the evolution of the Concept Curriculum.

Imagine the legacy we can leave in PE. The students that will grow into physically active adults because of the decisions we make today. I am so excited for the future of the Concept Curriculum and wish to thank everyone that has played a part in this movement to lead positive and meaningful change in PE. We truly are leaving a legacy.

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