As class sizes increase and facility space stays constant or is reduced, how can you utilize every space available? This is a question a lot of PE teachers are facing at every level from elementary to high school. The other kicker to this conundrum is the unfortunate reduction in PE teachers to manage the spaces we do have available.
The tips below are suggestions on ways to maximize the space you have in an effort to maximize your students’ participation. I am fortunate to have 3 teaching spaces, all connected to make sure my students are constantly moving in class. However, there are times when we are reduced to 2 spaces and need to keep 75 students actively engaged.
Above are pictures of our auxiliary gymnasium and how we try to utilize the space we have, while sharing the space with our varsity wrestling team. As a staff, we did our best to use the perimeter for equipment that we rarely have to move, but yet keep it easily accessible. Our spin bikes sit on the gym floor and are back far enough that it is safe for our wrestlers during practice. We also decided to focus this room as an additional fitness space, as it is too small for whole group games or activities, like badminton or Pickleball. Wall space is something else I recommend you utilize. We purchased pull-up bars and fitness band station mounts to again utilize the perimeter of the room so that in the center we can be doing a larger group deck of cards workout or yoga and Pilates type activities.
Our main gym can typically have about 24 students participating in an activity such as badminton, pickleball, volleyball or Sabakiball. With classes of 75, we make sure the other 51 students are active, even if they are waiting to do the activity. This is why our auxiliary gym space is sectioned off to give students the space they need to work out while they wait. We also will use the perimeter space in our main gym to have students fitness walk during class as well as mini-circuit type workouts. And to be honest you can have students do a lot of different types of exercises just using the perimeter of your gym. We are looking at CrossFit exercises as a new form of exercise to expose our students to in an effort to find at least one form of exercise they may enjoy and want to continue doing after they leave our high school.
Our last space for students to utilize is our fitness center, which sadly can only hold about 20 students at one time due to cuts during the building project. This is a space that we have every student use to again demonstrate how to use fitness equipment and the different exercises you can do in a weight room, so when our students move on in life and go to a fitness facility they are not intimidated. I recommend when laying out your fitness center with equipment that you reach out to the professionals. We were purchasing all brand new equipment so we were able to get the help of the sales representative and layout team to make sure that we maximized the limited space we were given while also keep safety at the forefront of our design.
Tips for Thinking Outside the Box
At the beginning, I talked about budget cuts and limited space and equipment, so let me say this when it comes to what you can do. Be creative and think outside the box when it comes to maximizing space and solving equipment or spatial issues. For example, maybe you teach elementary PE and your classroom is also the cafeteria, which is the case where my two kids go to school. I recommend in this situation making sure your fitness equipment is limited and you do a lot of body weight only exercises. And if you have no equipment, find out if there are any old, unused textbooks sitting in a closet collecting dust. They make great weights to do bicep curls or military presses. If the cafeteria tables are set up during one of your classes, have students do bench dips using the seats, or even step ups (I recommend having a cleaning wipe for when class is over and lunch starts).
Another key to keeping students actively engaged and also safe in a small space with larger numbers is to use a lot of station work. Students are typically familiar with stations because in most elementary classrooms stations are used to allowing for small group instruction, so take a page from the classroom teacher and do the same thing. You can easily create 10 exercise stations and one skill station, so that you can work with a small number of students on the cues for a skill at one station and the rest of your class is visible to you but also engaged. After you feel students are successful at the first skill you can keep that station and add a second skill station. Again, this allows you to maximize your space and also manage your students at the same time.
The one place I would like to think most of you have plenty of room is outside. While more space seems great, and it is, I do recommend that you really plan out how you are going to keep students focused and actively engaged. Especially, if you are the only teacher and the class size is large. When I used to teach elementary physical education, cones and spray paint were my friend! They allowed me to designate areas of my field for specific activities and keep students spaced out enough that the risk of running into each other was minimized. Again, taking a large group and breaking it down into smaller groups with specific tasks is one of the best ways to keep students active and engaged.
I know some of you have smaller spaces to work with and have great ideas on what works for you, so I encourage you to share those ideas in the comments below, on your own blog, or at a local, state or national convention. Again, we are all in this battle together, so let’s fight as one!