STOPWATCH – The Great Motivator


“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.

My Top Two Favorite Stopwatch Challenges

1.  The 150 Lap Challenge (adjust the number of laps based on class size, age level, and lap distance)

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.

2.  Beat the Clock

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?

Ready, set, GO!

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September’s Back to School Fitness Challenge


Once again this year, I’ll be creating a monthly take-home fitness challenge for my students. The goal is to introduce a variety of exercises and routines that are quick, easy, and fun to perform, yet challenging enough to increase heart rates and help build strength. Ultimately, promoting lifelong fitness and its countless health related benefits will hopefully be a main take away for our students and families.


For the month of September, students will be challenged with an AMRAP (as many repetitions as possible). I will spend the week prior to the challenge discussing the workout and practicing the four exercises that make up the AMRAP during PE class. This allows me to help them with form before setting them off to do the workout at home. I also encourage the students to teach their parents the workout. Many parents inform me that they too take the monthly challenges!

At the end of the month, students turn in their calendars. In return they each receive an award certificate with either a gold, silver or bronze sticker and a plastic shoe token.

For an editable copy, click Back to School Challenge.

For and editable copy of the award certificate, click Back to School Challenge Certificate.


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P.E. Games – Inspired by Students


Have you ever observed your students while at recess? I mean really taken the time to walk around and soak in all the different areas of the playground to get a feel for how students are taking advantage of their precious free time.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post called, Recess: Lessons from the Playground, “From a teacher’s perspective, recess duty is an opportunity to watch students grow physically, emotionally, and socially, in an unstructured environment.  It’s a time when we put the plan book away and allow PLAY to provide the lesson.”

Kids are constantly adapting rules, making teams, problem solving, exploring, and creating new games and activities.  In my opinion, students learn valuable skills in this type of unstructured, self-guided environment.

How can I take advantage of this powerful learning tool as a physical education teacher? 

Within my curriculum, I set aside days where students have the opportunity to explore and create.  I’ll set up seven stations, each with its own set of equipment.  I’ll divide the class into small groups, then send each group to one of the stations.  For three minutes per rotation, students work collaboratively to develop an activity using the given equipment.

On many occasions, groups will come up with the obvious ideas for games. For example, if a station has a pile of hoops, students will individually spin the hoop on various body parts.  This is fine, since they are using the hoop, they are moving, and most likely, their wheels are turning, thinking of something else to try.  Other groups may dig deeper into their cognition and build an elaborate hula hoop fortress with an accompanying story, while other students use the hoops as stepping stones to cross a toxic river.

The Magic of Floor Ball

Recently, as one of the exploration stations, I spread out three cones in a row, each connected with jump ropes.  Along the wall I placed a gator skin ball, three foam paddles, and a foam tennis ball.  I figured each group would use the paddles and the foam tennis ball to volley over the net.  To my surprise, the very first group developed what they called Floor Ball in just three minutes.  The rules were so simple.  The object of the game was to strike the ball under the rope, past the opposing player to receive a point.  Brilliant!

The next group must have been intrigued by the first group, as they decided to build on the rules. In doing so, they added the “two touch” rule.  A player could block the ball (one touch) then strike it (second touch) under the net.  They also added a special rule for games of two players versus one.  If playing as a single player, you can strike the ball to the left or the right of the center cone.  Teams of two had to stand side by side and could only strike the ball through their side of the center cone.  What a great way to balance the two player advantage!  Again, genius!

Floor ball continued to evolve throughout the class, with each group devising their own set of unique rules.

Scoop Shoes – another 1st grade creation enjoyed by all our students.

Another exploration station consisted of a three plastic scoops, three yarn balls, a plastic pool, and several hula hoops.  Again, in only three minutes, a group of 1st grade students created Scoop Shoes.  Based on horse shoes, the three students set up their hoops in a triangle.  Each player stood behind their own hoop.  One player at a time would underhand toss the yarn ball with the scoop to the hoop to their right.  Two points are scored when a ball lands inside the hula hoop and one point is scored when the ball stops less than a scoops length away from the hoop.  Beautiful!  Yet another student-created game I can share with the rest of my students!

So next time you are on the playground, walk around and watch the creative, young minds at work.  You’ll be sure to witness the pervasive benefits unstructured play provides for children, and the amazing value it will add to your curriculum.

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