Teaching Games for Understanding @ Home

With COVID radically changing the way that education is being delivered, one of the biggest challenges for physical educators is how do we engage our students in meaningful games when they are learning from home? For anyone who has taught remotely in the past year, you will know that your students quickly tire of fitness activities, yoga, dance and all of the other “follow along” activities that seem the easiest to implement from a distance. 

During my time teaching from home I quickly realized that what my students were missing the most about school was the fun of playing games. It got me thinking about how I could replicate this is some way for my students so that they could not only play games in their home, but learn something too. For anyone who follows this blog, you will know that I am a big advocate of games based approaches to learning, leaning heavily on models like Teaching Games for Understanding, Game Sense and borrowing ideas from Constraints Based Coaching. Throughout my learning into teaching with this approach I learned about the Pedagogical Principle of Games.  

Pedagogical principles of Game-based approaches are one of the foundations of a games curriculum model for developing decision-making and skill performance in games (Bunker and Thorpe, 1982). The main four pedagogical principles are Sampling, Tactical Complexity, Representation and Exaggeration.

When considering how to adapt the teaching of games for students at home, these four principles guided my thinking. I began to think about how I could modify and adapt some of the games I usually play at school to work in a home setting. Some questions I asked myself were:

  • How could I provide opportunities for my students to experience (sample) different types of games at home?
  • In what was could student use the things they have at home to represent the types of games they may be able to play at school?
  • What opportunities exist in the home environment that could allow students to engage in an exaggerated learning focus for an activity?
  • How could I “gamify” my activities to encourage students to “level up”?

With students being at home and not necessarily having access to all the same equipment I began to think about how I could modify some of the games I normally plan at school, so that students would be able to participate no matter their living or equipment situation. When thinking about providing students with a sample of the types of TGfU games they normally enjoy in the gym it seemed that Target Games would be the category that needed the least modifications for at-home play and allowed students to play by themselves. Striking and Fielding and Net & Wall Games could be done with modified equipment and only one other person, but invasion games was probably going to be the hardest. In this case my intention was to focus more on skill development.

Ring of Fire

One of the games I have played in the past at school as part of my Target Games unit is Ring of Fire. It’s a simple game where students work on their ability to get an object close to a target, while avoiding obstacles. Normally I use bowling pins and bean bags at school, but at home encouraged students to use socks for throwing. You can download the Ring of Fire Game Sheet here to see how the game works in more detail.

One of the most amazing things was seeing students all around the world playing this game after I shared it as part of a webinar I presented back in the summer. As you can see by the tweet below, Pat Hughes in Vietnam (now China) played this game with his students back in April.

Want More Games?

If you are interested in discovering more TGfU games that were modified for At-Home learning I have a video course on TGfU @ Home which is available in The PhysEd Library.

Membership to The PhysEd Library gives you access to:

  • Over 50 hours of online courses, each with Certificates of Completion
  • Searchable Games Database full of purposeful games. Each game contains modifications, assessment criteria, and teacher questions (Note: We are currently in the process of adding Physically Distanced and At-Home modifications to ALL games in the database)
  • Resource Toolbox full of premium assessment tools, templates, rubrics and visuals to enhance your teaching.
  • A community of committed physical educators looking to improve their practice.

While teaching at home is not ideal for teachers or students, there are ways that we can make it purposeful, engaging and give students a sense of normalcy. Adapting games that they love to play at school and offering them opportunities to do these at home not only helps them feel connected to school, but also provides them the opportunity to learn and develop their skills solving similar problems to those they would if they were playing in the gym.

Bunker D, Thorpe RA. Model for the teaching of games in Secondary Schools. Bulletin of Physical Education. 1982;18:5–8. []

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