“What is the one piece of equipment you must have as a physical education teacher?” This is a question that frequently comes up on social media or through casual conversation with peers. I love having great music in the gym. Students respond well to an updated playlist on a kicking sound system. Equipment like hula hoops and swim noodles are so versatile, with countless fitness, cooperative, and competitive applications. And of course, there are jump ropes. Jumping rope is like riding a bike, every child should be able to do it. However, without hesitation, my answer is a stopwatch. I couldn’t imagine teaching PE without my Timex watch.
I remember when my own three children were young, very young. They were 6, 5, and 3 years old when I created a backyard obstacle course for them. The set up was not fancy and rather simple. They’d playfully run through the course, taking their time crawling under, jumping over, climbing through and sprinting across a variety of obstacles before crossing a finish line. Eventually they would grow bored of the sequence of prepositional challenges. That is, until I introduced them to my stopwatch. “How fast can you get through the course? I’ll time you.” Immediately, this simple question changed the level of competition in the Cahill household forever. My kids were obsessed with attempting to set a new personal best, then later with beating each other’s record. To this day, now 14, 13, and 11 years old, my kids still enjoy being timed, whether its crushing a mountain bike course, running the bases, or swimming a lap in the pool. “Can you time me to see how long it takes me to get ready for bed?”
Our students are equally motivated by a stopwatch. At Trinity School, we discuss the importance of the personal best rather than comparing oneself to the other students. (However, we’re not naïve to the natural instinct to see how you stack up to your peers.) “How many times can you and a partner toss and catch a disc successfully in 45 seconds?” “How long can you hold a plank?” “Can you touch the four walls of the gym in less than 10 seconds?” “When I say go, you have 35 seconds to pick up all the equipment, place it in its correct container, then line up quietly.” Often, during my morning running program, students will ask, “Can you time me to see how long it takes me to run a lap?”
Along with the above examples, there are countless other ways to motivate students using a stopwatch throughout each and every day. Below you will find two of my all time favorite uses for a stopwatch.
Along with a little pep talk on teamwork, this challenge is sure to get your students amped up to run. The goal is for the class, as a team, to complete 150 laps as quickly as possible. It’s even more motivational if you have the capability to connect an iPad timer to a projector so the students can watch the seconds tick by. However, I promise they’ll be energized if you use your stopwatch like me. I tally their cumulative laps and give updates along the way. “25 laps completed…75 laps completed…150 laps complete…etc. Once they hit 150 laps, I stop the clock and give them their time. I’ll log their score for a future 150 lap challenge. Sometimes, I’ll post each class’ score in the gym. This sets up some friendly class versus class competitions for the future.
I religiously use this game to reinforce signals and formations throughout the year. First, I’ll ask the class to perform a certain locomotor skill. On a given signal (music, whistle, etc.) the students stop, look, and listen. I’ll then give the class a task to complete in set amount of time. “You have 10 seconds to form a perfect circle around me.” “You have 12 seconds to quietly line up at the door in boy, girl formation.” “You have 7 seconds to stand in your own personal space.” As the year progresses I give them less time and/or more complicated challenges. After each challenge I’ll playfully give a score update. The class receives a point if they “beat the clock, and I receive one if they don’t. You won’t regret this challenge, especially the first several weeks of school.
Bonus Game: Omnikin Beachball Challenge
This is a quick challenge to attempt to keep the ball in the air as long as possible. I always ask the class to shoot for a personal best, but also give them the school record for added motivation. After three or four initial attempts, the group will sit in a circle to discuss what worked and what didn’t work. This is where they come up with a strategy to hopefully beat their personal record.
You may be thinking about all the fancy timer applications you can find on your devices. One particular favorite is the Tabata Pro timer, which has countless features. I have it and use it frequently. But there’s something real and challenging about a good old-fashioned stopwatch strapped to your wrist, ready to BEEP! It’s always there for you, it never has to be charged, and it is so very easy to use.
After reading this post, how long will it take you to comment on how you challenge your students with a stopwatch in your classes?
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