Mel Hamada, a middle school PE teacher at the International School of Beijing (ISB), was a keynote presenter at the Asia Pacific Physical Education Conference (APPEC), which took place in Hong Kong from November 17-19. At the conference, Australian-born Ms. Hamada spoke on the importance of quality PE, and the necessity of advocating for, and increasing awareness of, the evolution of physical and health education. It was Ms. Hamada’s third time presenting at APPEC; she had also previously presented at the SHAPE America convention in Boston, ConnectedPE in Dubai, and has written for and presented at workshops for the Australian Council of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (ACHPER).
Sharing her own journey through physical literacy and movement, Ms. Hamada stressed that quality PE doesn’t happen by accident, and described how the discipline has advanced since her schooldays. Her grade 8 PE teacher was focused on coaching sports such as Australian Rules Football, at a level that meant newcomers couldn’t comfortably participate. “The majority of my classmates were boys, and the prevailing social dynamic valued over-competitiveness and aggression,” said Ms. Hamada. Her fear and embarrassment led her to disengage, and although she was already an accomplished athlete, representing Australian Captial Territory (ACT) at track and cross-country, she failed PE. Following a change of school, and through her continued love of and involvement in running, movement, and health became the focus of her career and her lifelong passion.
Ms. Hamada is confident that many parents and teachers at ISB will relate to her experience of “old-school” PE: classes that looked the same lesson after lesson, teacher-centered instruction, and a focus on drilling technical skills in preparation for a full class game. In contrast, ISB’s PE approach is based on guiding students toward planned learning outcomes through a range of appropriately challenging and fun activities. To achieve quality PE, ISB teachers pursue evidence-based practice; work with latest and best physical and health education models; focus on personalization and differentiation so that both first-time and expert players can be appropriately challenged; teach game sense and tactical thinking through inquiry and experience; explicitly use challenges in play to develop social and emotional problem solving and collaboration; use technology to record and playback appropriately; and make full use of ISB’s incredible facilities.
“I really want our parents to know that the PE they experienced as children bears very little relationship to what we do at ISB,” said Ms. Hamada. “Our department has a clear understanding of quality physical and health education and we are committed to ongoing professional development. We know the research and can confidently justify our program.” The full support of the school’s Leadership Team and Office of Learning are also critical elements for the success of ISB’s PE program.
In a world which has never been more sedentary, and at a time when life expectancy is falling due to the associated rise in nutrition and inactivity-related illnesses, Ms. Hamada is especially concerned that ISB students learn to confidently enjoy movement. “My biggest hope for PE is that the kids have fun with their peers, that they are physically literate, and that they are willing to try new things; moving skillfully on ice, on snow, on land, on a court, with a ball, in the air... ” said Ms. Hamada. “As international educators, we have a big responsibility, in that we don’t know where our students will live next. We want them to be able to take advantage of whatever environment or activity they encounter in the future.”