Concept Based Learning and Physical Education

I recently worked with a couple of schools physical education faculty from primary-to-secondary school on concept based learning for PE. Concept based learning is programmed by 'big ideas' rather than subject specific content. It is informed by context and the 'real world' meaning attached to the skills, knowledge, and understanding presented to students. Intellectual quality is a dimension of teaching for effective learning, otherwise sometimes referred to as quality teaching. I have written about the Game Sense approach alignment to quality teaching as a productive pedagogy here)

Concept based learning places intellectual development at the forefront of the students learning and education experience. Students are involved in a 'three-dimensional' curriculum - concepts (understand), knowledge (know) and skills (do).

I have written previously about thematic curriculum for PE (see here) and there seems to be parallels between where a thematic curriculum lands and where a concept based curriculum lands. From what I have been reading, concept based curriculum 'looks like' this:

Where concept based PE starts to get 'fuzzy' for me is when we try to settle on the big ideas. If your philosophy for PE is that competence provides the confidence behind the agency towards being physically active, it seems to me to logically follow that you will place a programmatic priority on developing movement ability. For example:

If your philosophy of PE is centred on education through movement to develop personal and social skills, then you are probably attracted to the concept of humanistic physical education and the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility Model (TPSR) of Hellison to guide your design of student experience and your pedagogical choices.

Another way of potentially looking at concept based PE is to view the movement activities from a conceptual lens. I attempted this with tennis (available here) and model the idea for basketball in this example:

Concept based learning invites teachers to consider the realism or 'real world' context applicability to student learning. Concept based learning advocates suggest this promotes the "so what?" lens on what students are being asked to know, do and understand. Aligning the 'know, do, and understand' of each lesson is a key precept of concept based learning, as it is in teaching for effective learning frameworks. Very simply, in context based learning it should be made explicit to students that 'you order to understand...' 

I couldn't find a lot of recent research on concept based learning in PE. I found a paper by Chen and colleagues (2016) that looked at teaching energy balance education in Grade 4 and 5, concluding that compared to the control group, the concept based learning group showed significant increase in energy balance knowledge (see here for the paper). Wang and Chen (2019: ahead of print) examined concept based learning of the science of healthy living in PE, finding that compared to the control group who did multi-activity PE the science of healthy living students demonstrated significantly higher levels of knowledge and out of school physical activity (see here for the study).

Conceptual PE is a curriculum idea going back to the 1960s. It is not the same as concept based PE as it is a lecture-laboratory method. However, it does appear to show advantages over multi-activity PE:

After a week of intense focus on concept based PE I land on the idea that there are four enduring 'packages' the 'knowledge' of the discipline of physical education fall into that together make meaning of the discipline. I represent those packages in the diagram below with examples of teaching resources that help scaffold concept learning in each.

Having now 'read up on' concept based PE, I feel sport literacy is a model that aligns well with the precepts of concept based physical education. I have briefly summarised the concept of sport literacy in a previous blog available here and a keynote on sport literacy summarised in a blog here, if you are interested in the potential of the concept for sport teaching in PE. In a tertiary context, I like what has emerged in the outdoor education field to articulate what a student completing tertiary study in outdoor education knows and is able to do, as threshold concepts (available here). However, it is apparent that there is a dearth of research on concept based PE. If you would like to work on a project with the aim to publish, please let me know.


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