It’s an early December morning when Fresno State Physical Education Senior Josh Garza and his classmate enters Mr. Schmall’s sixth-grade classroom at Freedom Elementary in Clovis, Ca. After a short pep talk, 30+ students assemble out of the classroom and into the brisk autumn air. In an orderly fashion, he leads them over to the blacktop where the sports equipment he set up just half an hour earlier awaits.
It’s one of the coldest mornings of the season, yet you couldn’t tell by the excited smiles and bouncing energy that radiates from these young students. Being greeted by Fresno State students for early morning exercise is a common routine for them at this point, as the Fresno State students have been coming to Freedom three times a month since the beginning of September.
Through Kinesiology 122: Nontraditional Games and Outdoor Education, physical education seniors were given the opportunity to teach physical education to the fourth, fifth and sixth graders from Freedom. A total 22 Fresno State students took on the task of instructing 300 student from Freedom. About two to three Fresno State students each took on a classroom that had roughly 35 students each. Each session began with warmups and stretching exercises, designed to keep the kids moving.
This semester was the first time Fresno State students were able to teach other students, and it was all under the direction of Dr. Jenelle Gilbert, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and instructor for Kin 122. In past years, students in this course taught each other nontraditional games in order to obtain classroom management skills, but this method lacked real-life teaching opportunities for these future physical educators.
Gilbert realized that having her students teach elementary-aged students was the true test for them to master their teaching methods. As a result, she started the discussion that would later form the collaborative partnership between Fresno State and Freedom Elementary. With the ‘go-ahead’ from faculty chair, Dr. Scott Sailor, and Clovis Unified, the nontraditional games pilot program kicked off in September and proved to be a success.
“This is the very first semester that we’ve done this, and so far, it’s been really positive,” said Gilbert. “We’ve really gotten good feedback from the school, from the teachers, and from some of the parents and kids that I know. The feedback from the teachers has been overwhelmingly positive. They have really seen the benefits. Their kids are focused, enjoying themselves, and having fun. My Fresno State students are also really enjoying the experience. They’re frustrated at times, as all teachers are, but it’s a normal part of teaching, and the benefits far outweigh any little frustrations they may have.”
On a grassy field on the north end of campus, senior Roger Ortega is teaching students from Natalie Waers’ sixth-grade class how to play the game of lacrosse. To score a point, an individual must use a large stick to throw their ball at the opponents net in order to gain a goal. As the game wraps up, Ortega instructs the energetic group to form a huddle, which they do almost immediately, amidst hushed giggles. He ends the lesson by giving the young kids a pep talk, filled with positivity and encouragement, as the students listen intently.
Ortega, who hopes to one day specialize in physical education for special needs students, said this was his first time teaching 6th graders, but the whole experience teaching each grade level has helped him tremendously with his future career goals.
“Through this course, you get a lot of hands-on experience,” said Ortega. “You get to learn from your mistakes before you actually go out and become a teacher. I’ve really enjoyed that so far.”
Prynaaz Dhillon, a sixth-grader in the class, said she really enjoyed the time spent with Fresno State students because it gets her physically moving and active with her classmates.
“[They] are really nice and teach us how to do fun stuff in a hands-on way,” said Dhillon. “And it really shows us how to have fun with our friends.”
As for Waer, she says she has seen a big difference in her students since the physical education program began, including behavioral and learning changes. For students with a lot of natural energy, the 40-minute class, held from 8:40 a.m. to 9:20 a.m., helps them refocus their energy before getting back in the classroom.
“Every Tuesday, regardless if they know the schedule or not, they ask if they’re going to be out here,” said Waer. “They really look forward to it. I think it helps our students because they are encouraged to be active, and it is great because they love to be outside. I noticed that it encourages them to work together. They listen and they’re engaged. Just from that, you can tell that they respect the [Fresno State] students that are out here teaching.”
A core element of this course is the method of teaching nontraditional games, which theoretically levels the playing field for these group of young students. Games, not commonly well-known in the U.S., are played including, corkball, pickleball, takraw, lacrosse, bocce ball, skyros and beachball, to name a few. What makes these games interesting is that it is new to the students, so everyone starts on the same playing field.
“The thing that I try to emphasize with my students often is inclusion,” said Gilbert. “We’re always talking about how can we modify and meet the needs of our learners. Some will be high-skill and some will be low-skill. We also have to consider the physical limitations that somebody may have. That’s real world, so you need to make sure you can adapt and meet the needs of all your learners.”
For senior Nikki Diaz, the learning process has been two-fold, for herself and her students.
“This was my first experience working with children,” Diaz said. “It was difficult in the beginning, but then you get used to it and you have to deal with every situation that’s thrown at you. Every time we come out, it’s different. You can have someone with a boot on their leg and you have to figure out a way to change the game or use modification to get them involved. With [nontraditional] games, no one really knows about it, so they have to be engaged and help their classmates out.”
On the other end of campus, Garza is on the blacktop teaching his sixth-graders the rules of pickleball – a game that combines the elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. He first has the young students bounce a wiffle ball on a paddle, testing their balance and agility. For some students, the balls go flying down the blacktop. They chase after the ball, followed by a trail of their own laughter. For others, concentration is written on their face as they work to keep the ball bouncing on the paddle.
For Garza, being able to survey the different moods and abilities of the students is an important factor for his future as a physical education teacher. He said being around kids is essential to his learning process and it’s something he finds enjoyable.
“I like it because you’re in the setting of what you’re actually going to be doing,” said Garza. “You can only learn so much by sitting in a classroom and reading books, but it’s actually getting involved and doing [it] that gives you actual experience. Now I really know what it’s like to be in the teacher setting at a campus.”
He said this experience at Freedom has instilled his desire to one day work with younger kids in the physical education realm.
“At first I didn’t know if I wanted to teach younger kids, because I wanted to teach middle or high school, but younger kids are actually more involved and active and want to learn,” said Garza. “They just love having you teach them new things.”
Gilbert said the program will continue into the spring semester, possibly with other local elementary schools on board. The fourth session of the program wrapped up earlier this month, but the confidence and skills gained by the Fresno State and Freedom students through this experience has been insurmountable.
“The State of California states that kids, grades 1-6, need to have 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days, so with us coming out here, we’re helping the school meet that quota,” said Gilbert. “My ultimate goal is to have these Freedom students learn some skills and engage in their fitness. For my Fresno State students, I want them to have really good, real-life, relevant teaching experiences.”
For more information on the nontraditional games and outdoor education course, please contact Jenelle Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.