Technology in motion

Can ICT improve the teaching of PE? Janet Murray reports on the wired world of the school gymnasium
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Physical education is no longer how you might remember it - with demonic sergeant-major types in ill-fitting tracksuits hollering at the fat kids to do another 400 metres and "run off" their exhaustion. It is now one of several National Curriculum subjects at the cutting edge of technology.

Physical education is no longer how you might remember it - with demonic sergeant-major types in ill-fitting tracksuits hollering at the fat kids to do another 400 metres and "run off" their exhaustion. It is now one of several National Curriculum subjects at the cutting edge of technology.

Last month, PE joined the list of Key Stage 3 subjects to go online under the Government's continuing professional development in ICT training scheme. Along with specialists in music, history and citizenship, PE teachers can now select, prepare and teach lessons based on a range of ICT materials, teaching techniques and online tutorials and think through the impact of the lesson with an online mentor.

Teachers are encouraged to explore different approaches, using basic equipment such as pedometers and heart rate monitors. In one lesson, students are required to use a pedometer to measure heart rate, then perform an activity that boosts pupils' aerobic threshold.

ICT has been part of the National Curriculum since 2000. With its emphasis firmly on pupil self-assessment, PE can form the perfect partnership with ICT. At a basic level, ICT has a number of administrative uses in supporting teachers' work, such as lesson planning, fixture lists and assessment records, but using ICT to promote learning is of greater concern.

The use of ICT in PE at Key Stages 3 and 4, became part of the National Curriculum in September 2000. At its most "primitive"- a video camera and video player - students can observe themselves perform a particular skill or watch a perfect performance to help identify areas for improvement. Film clips can be used recap on work from previous lessons or to focus students on tactics in team games. "It's simple, but it really enriches student learning," says Andrew Frapwell, an independent Physical Education and Sport Consultant from Worcestershire. "Students get fed up watching their teacher demonstrate. This offers them some variety and quality feedback. They can actually see what they need to do to improve."

Using ICT in this way is now commonplace in many PE departments - and as links between secondary and primary education continue to grow - in some primary schools. In the last five years, a plethora of hardware and software products for physical education have become available - making it even easier for students to analyse their performance and for teachers to provide students with quality feedback.

At Colne Community College, students are benefiting from Déjà Vu, a computer program from Kandle's Approach to Teacher Support software solution, which delivers instant "action replays" within 30 seconds and video analysis of pupils' sporting performances. The overlay feature allows students to compare current and previous performances or "perfect" demonstrations from their peers, teacher or professional athletes. Graphic tools mean students can draw lines, add shapes, measure angles and distances in order to analyse their performance.

"We use it for indoor sports - gymnastics, trampolining, badminton and basketball," says Michael Pulford, a learning support assistant at the school. "Because students can see what they need to do to improve, it's made a massive difference to performance. I've seen very average C-grade performances shoot up to As. If you want to demonstrate a particular skill, you can bring up a perfect performance, like David Beckham taking a free kick. That goes down well. It's also great to be able to slow things down, look at them frame by frame, which works well for gymnastic routines. It's particularly useful for GCSE and A-level students who know their performance is going to be scrutinised by an examiner. They can see their performance through an examiner's eyes."

At Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School in West Derby, Liverpool, staff have seen motivation levels soar since they began using DartTrainer's Dartfish. Like Kandle's Déjà Vu, this software allows for highly professional analysis of physical activity, via digital video. An "overlay" option allows a student's long jump for example to be directly compared to that of a world-class athlete in split-screen mode. Video can be freeze-framed and annotation and text explanations can be written direct to the screen by teachers to improve technique.

"It's a key aspect of our assessment for learning strategy," explains assistant head Mick Daley. "The common perception of PE is that it's somewhere kids can be 'entertained' for an hour, but we want to ensure learning is central to all our PE lessons. Using the software really focuses students - helping them to review, evaluate and improve their performance - skills they can transfer right across the curriculum. We've also used the software to collate clips of student achievement in sports, set them to music and played them in assemblies and open evenings. It's a great way of raising self-esteem and celebrating achievement."

The advent of e-learning credits for schools has made it much easier for schools to acquire ICT resources, many of which were raced out in response to the inclusion of ICT in the National Curriculum in 2000. But because the e-learning credits have to be spent or the money returned, Andrew Frapwell believes many PE departments make hasty purchases. He says: "Resources can remain unused or ideas utilised sporadically with no strategic approach to the effective use of ICT in lessons. An ICT idea will often form the focus of a lesson, rather than planned learning, with the use of ICT as a strategy to promote learning."

The problem was highlighted in the Ofsted subject report for Physical Education in secondary 2002/3, which observed that in many schools, the use of ICT was "inconsistent, irregular and unplanned".

As Frapwell puts it: "Using ICT doesn't make a poor or a good teacher into an average or very good teacher. If ICT use is not grounded in sound teaching and learning practice, then it could make matters worse, for example reducing students' activity time. The key phrase is 'considered use' and consideration has to be strategic."

In practical terms, this might start with the question of whether ICT is to be used by individuals, the whole class, or groups of pupils - and if so, which ones. As Michael Pulford says: "With the performance analysis software, most students respond well to seeing themselves on screen, but some hate it. They may feel criticised and don't want others to see them on screen, until they build up some confidence. All of this has to be considered in the planning stages."

Ultimately, says Andrew Frapwell, the use of ICT in PE should be directly related to teaching and learning objectives and either allow the teacher or the pupil to achieve something that could not be accomplished without it. "ICT is a fantastic tool, but teachers have to remember that that's exactly what it is - a 'tool'. It's an exciting resource, that with considered use has the potential to make a huge impact on teaching and learning."

Visual analysis software:;;

Information about ICT in the PE curriculum: