What can an RE teacher learn from a PE teacher?

Photo: Michael Courtney/The CWA ©2008

Observed a PE lesson today. The focus was on team building, which I expected to be full of cringeworthy “I fall back and you catch me” exercises. To my surprise, the activities were a carefully balanced mix of fun, competition, problem-solving and analysis.

Example: one of the games involved four groups. Each of the groups had a volunteer blindfolded and put in the middle of the room. The groups stood in four corners and had to get the blind volunteer to join them in as little time as possible. On the word “go”, everyone started shouting at the same time. Because of all the noise, the blind volunteers had trouble working out which way to go. The teacher got everyone back together and got feedback on why the current tactics weren’t working. The groups had to sort out some new tactics and put them into practice. By the third game, some of the kids had figured out that shouting wasn’t effective, so one group tried clapping, another made monkey noises – and other groups didn’t seem to change anything at all.

The whole thing turned into a science experiment. The teacher wasn’t the sage-like judge of your tactics – the judge of the tactics was whether you won or lost. I liked the whole methodology at work here:

1. Compete with restrictions (play a game)

2. Who won? Who lost? Why? (reflect)

3. Figure out new tactics (problem solving)

4. Compete again. (develop)

I had a feeling that this four-part structure could be used across the curriculum to great effect. The competitive side of it was motivating and the problem-solving side of it added a feeling of challenge to the lesson. When I thought about it, it reminded me of the classic “build a bridge out of spaghetti” project that they do in DT.

But when I thought about it some more, I realised that as an RE teacher, I might have a problem. While you can set problem solving activities in RE (e.g. design a place of worship that will suit three faiths), the subject doesn’t really lend itself to this kind of task. By its nature, you can’t just put the students into groups, get them to solve a problem and see which one wins when you put the solutions in competition. The nearest you could get to this might be by having a vote, but voting brings with it a whole heap of problems. What I liked about the PE activities was that the best idea wasn’t selected by an authority (the teacher) or the majority (by vote) but by the game (dare I call this “nature”?).

Maybe the conclusion is that in religion and philosophy, there are no winning ideas; just different ideas where everyone chooses their own winners. Maybe this comes down to philosophical matters being open-ended and complex, unlike a simple game with a couple of rules.

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