The Healthy Schools LAB will heighten awareness and understanding of issues and opportunities surrounding health and wellness in the K to PhD education system and contribute to the collective development of a healthy, active society.
It’s now been a week since World Health day and over here at the Healthy Schools Lab we’ve been spending some time (appropriately) diving into Alberta Education’s Draft K-6 Physical Education and Wellness curriculum. There has been a fair bit of press on the new draft, but other than a few comments about consent, there has not been much on the PE and Wellness front (let’s just state right off that having a curriculum acronym of PEW is not a great start…).
Before we share our initial reactions to the draft, perhaps it would be helpful to provide our collective background and experience in physical and health education.
One more little bit before we get to our review. We feel very strongly that getting the physical and health education curriculum ‘right’ is extremely important. Why?
#1 – We know that the content in our physical and health education programs can be critical to helping students (parents, Albertans, etc.) to BE healthy. For example, in Canada, an estimated 14%-25% of children and youth suffer from significant mental health issues (School-Based Mental Health in Canada: A Final Report).
#2 – Education can not be considered “whole-child” unless it includes education of the physical. “…physical education is important because movement is joyful, pleasurable, provides intrinsic satisfaction, and can be personally meaningful and central to the human experience” (Blankenship & Ayers, 2010).
#3 – As we’ve written before, the joy and meaningfulness that can be found through physical and health education are inherently valuable in and of themselves. When the driving force is creating meaning, guess what? Health and academic benefits also come along for the ride.
Whoops. One LAST little bit before the review (promise!). We purposefully restrained ourselves in this post to stick to a high level overview of a few key aspects. 1) Issues with the structure and usability. 2) The fact that we feel that aspects/ omissions in this curriculum actually move us backwards. 3) The lack of transparency. That being said, there are some positive aspects to the draft. It explicitly includes activities that are land-based. A new focus on risk and adventure is consistent with research evidence and the draft highlights the importance of social and emotional competencies. Our plan is to follow up over the next months with more detailed reviews of the draft, but for now – our initial thoughts…
The current structural framing or architecture and design that is indicated in the Guiding Framework document, is said to provide a “systematic and logical arrangement…” (p. 22). Unfortunately, the presentation of extremely long knowledge sections, a lack of grade level comparisons to comprehend scope and sequence and the limited information on what the organizing ideas actually are (combined with the non-existing connections across organizing ideas), are a few illustrations of the many challenges for usability, implementation, and understanding.
Let’s dive into format for a moment. It is essential to the usability of a curriculum to be able to understand the big ideas that drive ‘knowledge, understanding, and skills & procedures’. However, we are not provided with critical front matter content to help decipher the grounding components of the curriculum (and subject area). It becomes a massive challenge to scroll through copious amounts of information to see how guiding questions (GQs) and learning outcomes (LOs) progress through K-6. In a word – it’s inaccessible. The format should allow readers to see connections and an integration of concepts across organizing ideas (including those GQs and LOs) to allow for teachers to use their expertise for pedagogical implementation.
Additionally, two previously separate curriculum areas (physical education and health education) have been combined in this recent draft. Little has been shared about how they are being connected and are expected to align. We do believe that bringing these curriculum areas together can be an asset and a powerful way to teach core competencies (that are a feature of the draft curriculum) and the key themes being promoted with this draft. However, the following are not apparent in the current format and disseminated information:
A breakdown of LOs to emphasize the necessity of MOVEMENT alongside wellness related outcomes is needed to paint a clearer and larger picture of what this curriculum is all about. The format does not allow for clear integration of concepts as it could (i.e., character development through active living; safety alongside movement skill development; healthy eating connections to safety; healthy relationships impact on character development…). Overall, the picture is not clear.
Speaking of clarity… We feel that clarity and connections between the outcomes are lacking. The snapshot of the draft curriculum is not truly representative of the content found in the larger draft. It is misleading and needs revision to reflect what’s truly in the content. Furthermore, the overall draft needs to clearly consider teaching the whole-child (including the cognitive, affective, physical, and spiritual being). We see a lack of whole-child focus which is necessary to ensure learning environments support holistic child development. We need to care for children’s physical selves alongside the other domains and the lack of movement-based outcomes/clarity around them is a concern. Although we are pleased to see some concepts added into this draft that were lacking in the previous curriculum, as noted in the introduction, aspects are still very unclear, unconnected and missing.
We would argue that the draft K-6 curriculum does not align with current educational research in the field of physical and health education. The current K-12 Physical Education curriculum (2000) and the K-9 Health and Life Skills curriculum (2001) were quite strong (internationally recognized) and are still relevant, innovative and evidence-informed. As we engaged in our review of the new draft curriculum, we noted a shift away from current research towards learning outcomes that actually move us backwards within our field. Here are a sample of the areas we feel missed the mark and need revision to align with current research:
The consultation process that Alberta Education followed for the draft curriculum leaves us with a lot of questions. First off, we’d like to know how the members of the ‘Independent Curriculum Advisory Panel’ were appointed. From our perspective, it would have been important to have a minimum of one member with expertise in the area of healthy schools and health related curriculum. In Canada, we have no shortage of highly qualified, experienced people who could have filled this role.
Similarly, we wonder what the process was to vet and select ‘advisors with subject area expertise’. Despite asking the question, we have no idea how these advisors were chosen. Was there a ‘call’? Some form of process to determine the best advisors such as: Practical experiences in schools? Expertise and experiences at the K-6 developmental levels? Demonstrated and relevant research expertise in health and physical education? Prior curriculum development experience?
Some transparency and accountability would go a long way here. Again, Alberta (and Canada, if the choice was to bring in outside expertise), is blessed with a wealth of organizations and people with expertise and experience in these areas. Where was the consultation with the Health and Physical Education Council, Ever Active Schools and Physical and Health Education Canada – all highly regarded organizations with a rich history of supporting curriculum development? We also are members of a group of post-secondary educators from across Alberta who all teach physical and health education (the super easy acronym of ATEPHE – Alberta Teacher Educators of Physical and Health Education) and certainly would have found the time to help if asked (and still would!).
We are trying to remain positive that the government is open to revision and meaningful changes to the draft curriculum – for the benefit of students in Alberta – the future of our province. We are not just concerned with the structure/usability, the omissions and lack of evidence-based content, and the consultation process (or lack thereof). As stated earlier, we will continue to read and provide critique in the months ahead. However, we are also looking down the road to 2022 and wonder if teachers will receive the appropriate professional development they will need to implement a new curriculum?
A curriculum that will be revised to support the development of the whole-child.
A curriculum that will be organized for usability and accessibility.
A curriculum that will be based in evidence and move our province forward, not backward.
A curriculum that will be informed by those stakeholders who have so much to offer.
A curriculum that is not pathogenic, but salutogenic.
The Healthy Schools LAB.
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