The Revised H&PE Curriculum: Helping Students Develop Skills for Healthy, Active Living

With the release of the revised H&PE curriculum in Feburary I was asked by Ophea to write an article highlighting the changes in the revised document. The article posted April 7, 2015 is below. Find it on the Ophea website here.

With the release of Ontario’s revised elementary and secondary Health and Physical Education (H&PE) Curriculum, there’s never been a better time for Ontario educators, grades 1–12, to take a new, more comprehensive approach to the subject. But, rest assured, while the revised curriculum may represent a case of ‘in with the new’ it’s not necessarily a case of ‘out with the old’. Teachers will find many things about the revised curriculum familiar.

Over the years, a steady shift has been taking place in Health and Physical Education classes across the province with more and more educators adopting a broader, more balanced approach to H&PE— something that is reflected in the revised curriculum and in the support resources that are and will be available from Ophea to help schools and communities with implementation.

Introducing the new curriculum…

The revised elementary and secondary curriculum, released on February 23, 2015 are based on the vision that the knowledge and skills acquired in the program will benefit students throughout their lives and help them to thrive in an ever-changing world.  Students will acquire physical and health literacy, and develop the comprehension, capacity, and commitment needed to lead healthy, active lives and to promote the benefits of healthy, active living.

“Ophea fully supports the vision of the revised H&PE Curriculum and looks forward to supporting educators, administrators, public health, sport and recreation and other community leaders in its implementation,” says Chris Markham, Ophea’s Executive Director and CEO.

Helping students to build physical literacy (the ability to move with competence in a variety of physical activities) and health literacy (the skills needed to find, understand and use information to make good decisions for health) is key to the curriculum but, more simply put, “The curriculum is about helping students develop the skills needed to make healthy choices,” says Markham. “This policy stands to be the most significant health promotion initiative the province has ever seen, affecting 2.1 million students and their families.”

What’s new about it?

The revised H&PE curriculum is made up of three distinct but related strands: Active Living, Movement Competence: Skills, Concepts and Strategies, and Healthy Living. A further set of expectations related to Living Skills – personal, interpersonal and critical and creative thinking skills – are included at the beginning of each grade and are taught and evaluated in conjunction with the learning in the three strands. The Active Living strand (formerly called the Active Participation strand in the elementary curriculum) focuses on teaching students about the joy of physical activity while developing personal fitness and responsibility for safe participation in physical activity. And the Movement Competence strand (formerly called the Fundamental Movement Skills strand in the elementary curriculum and Physical Activity in the secondary curriculum) focuses on developing movement skills, concepts and strategies that prepare students to participate in lifelong physical activity. The approach to Healthy Living has changed in the revised curriculum, and focuses on helping students to use their understanding of health concepts to make healthy choices and to understand the connection between their personal health and well-being and that of others and of the world around them. A strong emphasis is placed on teaching the Living Skills (i.e., personal skills, interpersonal skills, and critical and creative processes) across all strands.

“It is exciting to finally have an updated curriculum that is responsive to the needs and interests of our students and is relevant to the world in which they live and thrive each day. This curriculum will support all children and youth in building the knowledge and skills they need to be informed, responsible, caring citizens in their communities and to be healthy and active throughout their lives.” says Joanne Walsh, Ophea’s Secondary H&PE Curriculum Consultant.

The curriculum as a whole is based on a continuum, helping students to build on the skills they’ve acquired as they move through the elementary grades and on to secondary education. To help achieve this continuum, topics have been shifted between grades to improve developmental appropriateness and ensure that students have the opportunity to learn and practice skills before they are required to apply them.

A significant change seen in the revised curriculum includes how mental health is addressed. Concurring with Ontario’s renewed vision for education, mental health and emotional well-being is addressed across all topic areas. Specific updates have also been made to the content in order to reflect current health topics (e.g., healthy eating, personal safety and injury prevention, substance use, addictions and related behaviours, and human development and sexual health).

The shifts in approach are reflected in the five fundamental principles on which the curriculum is based. The following are the 5 fundamental principles as they are written in the curriculum document along with our explanation of how these would be addressed:

1 – Health and Physical Education programs are most effective when they are delivered in healthy schools and when students’ learning is supported by school staff, families and communities.

The most effective way to validate and reinforce what students are learning in H&PE classes is to have these same values and healthy habits reflected in school policies, at home and in their communities. Achieving this takes a concerted, consistent effort on the part of all school community members.

“The revised Health and Physical Education curriculum is best implemented as one of the five interconnected areas of Healthy Schools,” explains Heather Gardner, Ophea’s H&PE Curriculum Consultant, referring to the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health Promotion’s Foundations for a Healthy School. This policy provides a philosophy and framework for Healthy Schools in Ontario, in five areas: 1. Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning, 2. School and Classroom Leadership, 3. Student Engagement, 4. School and Physical Environments, and 5. Home, School, and Community Partnerships.

“The revised curriculum directly connects to the area of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning,” comments Gardner, “and its vision will be most effectively achieved when it is implemented within a healthy school and healthy community.”

2 – Physical activity is the key vehicle for student learning.

This principle refers to the fact that students should learn about healthy activities by doing them. This way, not only will they discover the joy of movement but they will develop skills that will lead to a lifetime of healthy, active living. They will also come to understand how to apply the skills and principles they’ve learned to other things.

“We all learn by doing so it is important for students to have an opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, both group and individual, and those that they can access in their communities. Through fun, active participation, students learn that the skills, concepts and strategies they are using to be successful in one activity can be applied to other activities. As they become more competent at applying these skills and strategies, they build confidence and are more likely to continue to participate in physical activity throughout their lives.” comments Walsh.

3 – Physical and emotional safety is a precondition for effective learning in Health and Physical Education.

This principle relates once again to the Healthy Schools framework (i.e., social and physical environments). It recognizes that children and youth participating in H&PE are taking part in activities that involve inherent risk and that they’re doing so in a space where their peers can see them explore, succeed and make mistakes. In health class students discuss topics that have implications for their personal health and well-being, some which might be sensitive in nature. For this reason, a focus on both physical and emotional safety is essential and the program aims to accommodate the strengths, needs and interests of all students.

4 – Learning in Health and Physical Education is student-centered and skill-based.

The revised curriculum recognizes that the physical and emotional development of students will vary widely. For this reason, the curriculum has shifted from a content-focused approach (e.g., where the focus was learning health information and physical or sports skills) to a more skill-based approach with a focus on application of skills in real-life contexts which allows for differentiation of instruction—guiding teachers by way of the examples and teaching prompts to modify lessons according to a student’s readiness, interest and learning preference, ultimately, helping them to reach their full potential. This shift is intended to help students acquire and practice the skills needed to develop physical and health literacy, and to lead healthy, active lives. The curriculum has also been developed in such a way that students of all backgrounds and abilities (including First Nations, Métis and Inuit students; students from a variety of cultures; students who are learning English and students with special needs) should be able to see themselves reflected in its content.

5 – Learning in Health and Physical Education is balanced, integrated and connected to real life.

Learning in the revised H&PE curriculum is balanced in that it addresses physical, cognitive and social needs of students. It is integrated because connections between all strands of the curriculum — Healthy Living, Active Living and Movement Competence: Skills, Concepts and Strategies — and between the content of the strands and the Living Skills are made whenever possible. And, finally, “topics covered are meant to reflect the present and future situations students face and the choices they have to make in today’s complex, global, technology-rich, and ever-changing world,” says Gardner, explaining how the program is connected to real life.

How has the format and structure changed?

Changes to the format and structure of the curriculum will make the program easier to implement for all teachers—both at the elementary and secondary level. They include more detailed examples; teacher prompts and sample student responses, expanded front matter and the addition of division overviews, appendices which show the scope and flow of learning and help with planning, and detailed glossary.

How can you get help implementing the revised curriculum?

For immediate support for elementary educators, Ophea’s H&PE Curriculum Support Resources (Grade 1–8), provide a one-stop-shop for all educators, particularly generalist teachers, to access high quality, grade-specific support.

“The revised resources meet the needs of all students of varying abilities,” says Gardner. “They contain current instructional strategies such as think-pair-share, free exploration, think aloud, and conferencing, as well as current assessment practices such as checklists, rubrics and anecdotal notes. Daily Physical Activity (DPA) has been integrated into the Movement Competence and Active Living lessons.”

In addition, Ophea has created an H&PE support strategy for the development of elementary and secondary tools and resources which will be available as part of a phased release beginning Spring 2015.

Topics that will be explored include:

  • Fundamental principles of the revised curriculum
  • Inquiry-based learning in H&PE
  • Instructional approaches to teaching H&PE
  • Approaches to teaching sexual-health education
  • Teaching HALE using the revised curriculum
  • Focus Courses within the context of a revised H&PE curriculum

“It is an exciting time for Health and Physical Educators across the province as they become familiar with this revised curriculum.  The Ophea resources will support teachers in understanding the major pedagogical shifts in the revised curriculum, encourage them to examine their current practice and guide them in their planning and instruction as they implement this curriculum. These resources will help teachers refine their approach to teaching H&PE to delivering an authentic, relevant and skill-based curriculum to continue to help their students acquire the comprehension, commitment and capacity to lead healthy, active lives.” says Walsh.

Changes we can all get excited about…

In short, the revised curriculum and Ophea’s imminent resources and tools that will support educators in implementing it, are definitely cause for optimism — not only when it comes to the health of Ontario’s children and youth, but to the health of families and communities as well. “Working together, schools and communities can be powerful allies in motivating students of all ages to achieve their potential and lead healthy, active lives.” says Gardner.

The revised H&PE Curriculum grades 1-12 will energize Ontario’s education system by bringing schools and communities together in support of healthy, active children and youth. Effective implementation is a shared responsibility and requires collaboration between educators, administrators, public health, sport and recreation, and provincial government and non-government organizations. Ophea looks forward to helping ensure that all students are provided with the knowledge and skills necessary to lead healthy, active lives and promote healthy, active living.

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