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Physical Education Can Promote Global Competence

By guest blogger Rich Keegan

Recent advances to the studies of neuroscience have shown that the brain functions better through the use of exercise and play. Therefore, physical education is a great way to introduce global learning concepts by using movement and games. These activities, paired with focused reflection time, are essential when delivering new and engaging ways for students to learn. Rich Keegan, author of "Global Games for Diversity Education," and a physical education teacher at Squadron Line Elementary School in Simsbury, CT shares his approach.

Traditionally physical education classes have not only focused on how to move, but also have emphasized teamwork. This, in conjunction with my interest in helping students develop an appreciation for global learning and diversity life skills, are the basis Global Games for Diversity Education. The premise of the book is to use various games from around the world to help students practice ten different Diversity Life Skills. These skills promote empathy and understanding and reinforce the idea that we are all more similar than different. The ten diversity life skills are: 

1. Listen to someone else's perspective.
2. Challenge your own beliefs.
3. Treat everyone fairly.
4. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
5. Confront inappropriate comments.
6. Learn from each other's differences.
7. Accept people the way they are.
8. Come to a compromise.
9. Focus on what you have in common.
10. Make the experience enjoyable.

Many times, these diversity life skills are already a part of a school-wide goal. At my school, respect, responsibility, and kindness are the guiding principles for behavior. Creating a global frame work for these same principles has been a seamless connection for our students to make. The Common Core strategies of demonstration, presentation, explanation, and written expression for reflection can also give deeper meaning to all activities and games.

Getting Started
When I begin a unit in a Physical Education class or with various recreational groups, l am often asked, "Why are we learning about diversity and different cultures?" I give a brief explanation, noting that we are living in a global economy where we will have to understand, respect, and accept various peoples and ideas in order to live and work in an ever-changing world. We talk about how the Olympic Games have been used to bring people from all over the world to play, compete, and share common interests in a peaceful way.  We then play our first game which is a Singaporean version of Rock, Paper, and Scissors.  The Olympic theme is played as background music as participants compete against each other for two to three minutes with students trying to ascend to either the bronze, silver, or gold podium. This activity has always been a fun and enjoyable way to get students to interact with each other and have a mutually shared experience, which is also a goal of the Olympics.

We then do an activity called Ethnicity Mingle, which has learning outcomes of getting to know each other's names and acknowledging the diverse population we have in our class. During this activity each student is given an index card. On one side they write their first name in big letters, and on the other side of the card they write the country or countries that their family identifies as their country of origin. Students who do not know anything about their ethnic or cultural background choose a country they would like to travel to or they write the word unknown. Students then mingle with each other sharing their name and country. We conclude the activity by doing celebration high fives, acknowledging everyone's different backgrounds. Students' self-identified countries will also be used throughout the unit when I choose various games and activities.

After these kinds of activities, I ask short reflective questions that lead students to the Diversity Life Skills they will be learning throughout our time together. These skills are written on an easel and displayed in the area so that all participants can see them. An example of a question I ask after the previous activity could be, "What did you notice about us as an entire group?" Inevitably someone from the group will share, "We are all are from somewhere other than America." When students are then asked to chose a Diversity Life Skill they used during the last two activities, usually the most discussed and practiced skill chosen is, finding what you have in common with others. In a school setting, having the students do their own research to choose games and activities from their country has been a very effective tool for learning more about a country.

A final introductory activity and reflective piece that sets group norms is an activity called Ways of Life.  I looked at common themes from the world religions of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Some of those themes are: respect, taking care of others, and forgiveness. Groups of four or five participants are given eight common themes written twice for a total of 16 cards. The cards are placed on the ground face down. Similar to the matching card game, one person at a time from each group runs to the cards and turns over two different cards looking for a match of common themes. If a match is found, the cards are placed face up; if a match is not found, they are placed face down. Each member of the group has a turn running and turning over two cards looking for a match. When a group finds all the matches, the game ends. Each group then picks a common theme to use as a guiding principle for our group norms for the rest of our time together.

I also recommend using A Teachable Moment, by Jim Cain, Michele Cummings, and Jennifer Stanchfield as an excellent resource for other reflective tools that are engaging and fun for a wide range of ages and learners.

Positive Outcomes
Over a five-year period on end-of-year physical education student surveys, the diversity and global learning unit was consistently rated by students as among their top three positive experiences. It is these positive experiences that can lead students to live more successful and productive lives in an evolving global economy.

Integrating global learning and diversity life skills into physical education, camp, and before and after school programs can be a fun and engaging way to introduce children of all ages to diversity and global learning objectives to meet the needs of all our 21st century learners.

Follow Rich and Asia Society on Twitter. 

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