Childhood favorite finds new purpose in Spirit Challenge-winning activity
By adding a new twist to a backyard game, Portland (Mich.) High School physical education students push themselves to exercise in a healthy fitness zone by re-connecting them with what many high schoolers consider a childhood past-time: the frisbee.
Portland P.E. teacher Andy Pulling’s Fun Frisbee Fitness lesson keeps students moving, uses national standards, can be duplicated at any grade level and teaches the importance of teamwork along with fitness. Pulling’s lesson ranked as one of six winning submissions in last fall’s IHT Spirit Video Challenge, and his superstar lesson is the March Lesson for IHT Spirit.
“It’s just a kids’ toy at the secondary level,” Pulling said. “But when we teach them how to play ultimate frisbee or do frisbee golf, it’s kind of like their youthful excitement comes back to life.”
‘They just eat it up’
The Fun Frisbee Fitness lesson works as an introductory lesson in a unit that includes ultimate frisbee and disc golf. The lesson takes the backyard game of “Kan Jam” – where players simply take turns throwing frisbees at a target, looking to acquire points – and adds an active element to it.
“It’s a high-energy game the way we have it set up,” Pulling said. “The original game is just a backyard game. It’s pretty laid back. We’ve added some agility to it.”
Pulling’s original lesson included simply playing the backyard game after going through a dynamic warm-up, though that didn’t last long.
“At first we simply played the original game, and I noticed pretty quickly that, ‘man, there’s no fitness here,’” he recalled. “We added in some rules to adapt it, and that got the kids exhausted in barely two minutes, so we added in some rounds and making them shorter.”
The tweaks to the standard game have been embraced by students. Over the course of a 45-minute workout, students go through numerous 30-second circuits where they throw the frisbee at a target and run to switch places after each throw. Pulling sees his students hustling, working together as a team and, most importantly, enjoying putting themselves through a workout that improves their cardiovascular fitness.
“They just eat it up and don’t realize how hard they are working,” he said. “As a teacher I push them a little bit harder because I know they’re enjoying this activity. At the end of it, they’re sweating, they’re laughing, they’re enjoying it.”
Pulling attributes a degree of the unit’s success to the consistency in format students have become accustomed to.
“We know students learn better when they can predict what’s coming next,” Pulling said. “Having that same structure in your lessons, so if you’re doing a heart rate check at the beginning of the lesson, do it at the beginning every single time.”
He introduces the unit by presenting students with a standardized rubric that outlines everything he wants students to learn from the lesson:
- Manually calculating maximum heart rate (MHR) prior to activity
- Dynamic warm-up including aspects of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program testing
- Understanding of game rules and expectations
- Manually calculating heart rate during activity and tracking the fitness zone in which each student is exercising.
“We have a learning routine that we stick to every day,” Pulling said. “Our classes can do this with our eyes closed because it follows our format. We go through our warm-up; we always have an introductory phase where we do the first heart rate check and discuss the knowledge component of what’s going to happen in the lesson and then we just get right into it.”
Focusing on Heart Rate with frisbee fitness
Pulling began including heart rate in his program several years ago and has increased his focus every year. All of Portland’s ninth graders take a semester of PE every year, and over the course of 18 weeks they become intimately familiar with heart rate, target heart rate zones and how long they need to exercise at an elevated heart rate to maximize the cardiovascular benefits.
“We do heart rate in a lot of different lessons, so when we get to this unit, they know how to do that and where they should be,” he said. “The talking points in the rubrics have all been refined so they are a little bit more simple, the kids can see it and understand it.”
Students haven’t been the only learners in the process. By shifting the focus of each class, Pulling found a better way to motivate students to maximize their effort. When tasked with achieving an individualized goal as opposed to the score of a game, students work harder.
“Now the motivation is really the self-motivation, the self-drive of ‘can I challenge myself to get into my healthy fitness zone?” he said. “And, ‘what can I do to keep it there?’ That’s how I get my students to understand. You change the approach from who’s winning to ‘what am I doing to be healthy?’ They really learn to own their health and physical fitness.”
Teaching the value of an active lifestyle
Pulling’s known he wanted to teach since he was an eighth-grader listening to a college professor deliver a career-day presentation. Once he identified teaching as a passion, he’s tried to use his platform in physical education to help students learn to enjoy being active.
“P.E. teachers, I think, are pretty inventive,” he said. “We do a pretty good job of getting kids moving.”
Pulling tries to use that inventiveness to connect with students who have yet to find their passion for physical activity, students who may be struggling in a classroom environment. In many cases, he said, the students respond to the change of educational scenery the gymnasium offers.
“I can take them into the gym and get to know who they are and figure out what types of activity they enjoy and have them doing it,” he said. “Then you start to see them start to value activity and then that light bulb goes on and they realize that they do feel better or they do eat better or sleep better now that they are doing these active things during the day.
“I’m no miracle worker,” Pulling concluded. “But every once in a while, you get these kids that are really struggling with events and school and we have this little magic wildcard that they haven’t been introduced to properly. When they are, they value it.”