Bringing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into Physical Education

Gateway School PE Diversity Inclusion Heros

During the recent 7th grade “Bring Your Parent to PE Day” class, our upper school Physical Education teacher Kirsten Mehl unveiled a new activity called the Real Life Superhero Challenge. We sat down with Kirsten to learn more about it.

Gateway School PE Diversity Inclusion Heros

Q: What is the Real Life Superhero Challenge?

A: This is an activity that I first learned about from Will Potter, a fellow P.E. teacher, at a conference I attended a few years ago. The session was about how to create cross-curricular connections in physical education, and he focused in particular on cultural studies. His activity was a way for students to start learning about people who have been positive agents of change in society across many different fields, from music and art to science and politics.

I loved the general concept, but needed to experiment with the execution of the activity in order to emphasize teamwork, physical fitness and ways for students to consolidate the information being presented. So I realized I would need to change up the activity that he presented to meet those goals.

Gateway School PE Diversity Inclusion Heros

Q: How does it work?

A: I put the students into teams, and each team has a handout with six color-coded groups of three names. Students take turns running to a cone and picking up a real life superhero card to bring back to their group. Each card has birth and death facts, brief biographical information, and an inspiring quote, as well as a fitness challenge. One person reads the card, another records a fact, and then the whole group does the fitness challenge. Then the next person runs to a cone to grab another RLSH card.

The first time I tried this, I made puzzle pieces, and the students were hunting for different pieces. They had the written descriptions on one piece and had to think about who that would match, but they didn’t pause very long while reading the descriptions, and the activity turned into a mad rush to gather and match pieces. It had taken me forever to prep, and it was expensive, and it didn’t work! Oh well! I used it one time, but I learned a lot, and I felt the idea was worth pursuing.

So this year I decided that having students record their learning would help them consolidate the information. And I added color coding to help them differentiate the fields of study. So there was an interesting evolution in getting this activity to work well.

Q: How did you pick which real life superheroes to include?

A: These are the 18 people in the original activity that I learned about from Will Potter. I think they are outstanding examples with an incredible diversity, so that part is awesome. What I needed to change was the execution of the activity. Now that I have that dialed in, the next foray will be changing the content, but these were great for the specific purpose I had in mind.

Why are you interested in having students learn about people from many different fields of study in P.E. class?

As a member of our faculty’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, I’ve been thinking really hard about how to pull these topics into my curriculum. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion aren’t necessarily explicit in P.E. class, so making it visible shows students that it is important and valuable to me and to our community. In every class, regardless of the subject, we are either addressing issues of power or we are ignoring them. More than anything, we are trying to raise good humans, and we all have a part to play in creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world.

I’m also not into students being in motion mindlessly. I like to connect movement with feeling and thought. Getting everything firing together creates a richer experience. Plus, for me as a teacher, it’s stimulating to keep pushing myself and challenging my own instructional techniques and curriculum development.

Gateway School PE Diversity Inclusion Heros

Q: How does this fit in with the social justice training the faculty had earlier this fall?

A: Social justice is recognizing and acting upon the power that we have for making positive change, and I hoped to inspire my students with Real Life Superheroes from diverse backgrounds, not just athletics, that have already made positive change in our world.

Moving forward, I plan to look at the social justice standards from our training, to explore ways to develop a larger unit of study around this particular activity. And now that I’ve iterated to a structure that actually works, I can also talk to other teachers and share the framework of the activity to see how we can make cross-curricular connections.