How to Create a Learning Environment in PE!

What’s on the walls in your gym?! Are they bare or maybe covered with sport stars and athletes?

Find out how to take your boring gym walls and turn them into a colorful PE learning environment that reinforces core content for your students!

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When I started teaching 20 years ago, I was faced with the unique situation of having a brand new gym.  Although the school was over 40 years old, they were in the middle of a massive renovation when I was hired.  The back half of the school was under construction and part of the new edition of the school included a gym and a media center.  Needless to say, I was very excited about the many possibilities that a new gym brought my way.  For the first 4 months, I got to watch the construction and had to patiently wait my opportunity to get in the new “gymnatorium”.  The walls were bright white, the floors were unscuffed hardwood, and there was a nice sized office and equipment closet.   When I was finally able to get into the gym the students and I were so pumped to be in this wonderful space!  It didn’t take long for me to realize that something wasn’t right.  Once you got past the fact that the space was great, you realized that the walls were blank and boring.  I decided to come up with a plan and do something about it, immediately.

I went to my principal at the end of that week and proposed some changes to the walls in the gym.  I asked her if I could paint the walls.  Her first questions was, “What exactly are you planning to paint, sports figures?”  I immediately told her that I wanted the gym to be a place to reinforce learning for the students and I wanted to paint a huge United States map and on the opposite wall a giant map of the state of Virginia.  I also wanted to paint a word wall near my office that I could use to reinforce vocabulary.  Based on her reaction to my plan, she was a little bit surprised that I wanted to include academic content; but, she was very supportive and we made arrangements to purchase some paint.  Later that month, during a teacher workday, I began my painting project.  (It is important to note that I have no artistic talent whatsoever.)  I found copies of the maps, printed them onto an overhead sheet and projected the maps on the wall and began tracing the lines.  I traced using permanent markers then went over the lines with paint.

The new artwork had an instant effect and finally added some color and pop to the gym.  I decided to continue coming up with content to add each year thereafter.  You can see the results of this labor of love throughout  Please note, after my second year, I had other PE teachers who helped with the painting (although I did spend most of the time on the 12 foot ladder when needed).

The purpose of this blog is to help PE teachers understand that all space in a school needs to maximize student learning potential.  The gym or utility room that most PE teachers use is a classroom.  Students come each day ready to move and learn.  If paint is not an option, then utilize posters.  Create bulletin boards that reinforce core academic content or health and physical education content.  Use whiteboards, chalkboards, or chart paper to share information that students need to know.  The more students see the material and use it as part of their activities, the better the chance of retention when it matters.  Nothing makes me sadder as a PE teacher than to walk into a “boring” gym.  I feel bad for the students who go into it and I feel bad for the teacher who has lost their pride in creating an exciting and engaging PE learning environment for those students.

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