Author: Sarah Gietschier-Hartman

Giving the Gift of Play

Earlier this year, many members of my school community felt the impact of President Donald Trump’s controversial Executive Order to temporarily ban travel to the U.S. by refugees and immigrants from some majority-Muslim countries. My school has a significant number of students who are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Just after the ban was announced, one of my colleagues attempted to start a donation drive for the International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL), St. Louis’ welcoming center for new Americans. Each year, IISTL provides services, such as education, refugee resettlement, employment, training, and immigration assistance to more than 7,500 immigrants and refugees from 80 different countries. IISTL also collects charitable donations to fulfill family wish lists for “basic” items, such as kitchen gadgets, cleaning products, personal items, school supplies, linens, and furniture. My colleague contacted IISTL and surprisingly, they turned her away. “We have great news,” they said, “Our shelves are full and we can’t accept anything at this time.”

Even though I knew the IISTL wasn’t accepting donations, I checked out the New American Wish List anyway. I saw mixing bowls and mops, toothpaste and toilet paper, clean dolls and children’s books, shower curtains and…soccer balls. Soccer balls?! “Surely the IISTL doesn’t have a lot of soccer balls,” I thought. “I know just the school to help them out!” I immediately emailed IISTL to introduce myself and explained that I teach physical education at a middle school that frequently collects items and donations for various organizations. I said I was aware they weren’t collecting anything but had a feeling they didn’t have many soccer balls on hand. A representative wrote back right away, saying, “Yes, we can always use soccer balls!”

School’s Out for Summer…Let the Projects Begin!

I just completed my ninth year of teaching. It’s officially summer! For me, summer is a time to go to the beach, visit as many playgrounds as possible, eat sno-cones and popsicles, watch movies, spend time with my family, swim, and attend #PhysEd conferences. I intentionally carve out a ton of time to improve my pedagogy. Before the school year ends, I think of 3-4 big things I want to accomplish over the summer in order to get ready for the next school year. This year, I’ve chosen three summer projects, each inspired by someone in the #PhysEd and sport communities.

Summer Project #1: Attempt to Create a Yearly Unit Plan

Creating a yearly plan is something I’ve always wanted to do, but have felt there were limitations within my schedule to create one. Students at my school are enrolled in physical education for three quarters and health for one quarter. Our class rosters change slightly at the end of each quarter/grading period. The students’ schedules can even change during the school year, which means they may change class periods and/or teachers. As a result, my students’ physical education experiences vary greatly. There are always going to be units, activities, and concepts my students miss.

Get HyPE: Using Wordle for Teacher Reflection

As part of the teacher evaluation process in my school district, students are administered mid-year client surveys (student perception surveys) in specific classes. The surveys are a combination of free-response and quantitative (Likert scale) questions. Students complete the surveys online with a proctor, and the process takes about five minutes.

According to Hanover Research, “student surveys are a reliable measure of teacher effectiveness,” and “student ratings [are] significantly more accurate in predicting student achievement than teacher’s self-ratings, principal ratings, and principal summative ratings.” What our students have to say about our teaching is incredibly valuable. They see (and hear) it all.

How can we effectively sort through our students’ comments so they help us improve our teaching practice? Where do we begin? Do we focus on the negative comments, the things we might change or improve, or the positive comments, the things we already do well?

I met with my supervising principal last week to discuss my survey results. He explained that many teachers dwell on the negative comments and have trouble looking past them. He came up with an idea to help the teachers he advises focus on the positive things their students said about them. Using Wordle, he created a word cloud with all of the responses to the question, “I learn best when my teacher.” and printed it out in color.

Get HyPE: Can Playing Be a Formative Assessment Tool?

The purpose of the Get HyPE column is to discuss topics that will excite and inspire the physical education community. My goal is to encourage you to think about or try something new every month. The name of the column also has a secondary meaning. It includes the name my students call me, “G-H,” and the abbreviation for physical education, “PE.”

Kids Playing

I recently read a position statement published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) titled “Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction.” The following statements are excerpts from the piece:

  • “…true formative assessment is assessment that is informing.”
  • “Teachers are very aware that…checks for understanding are what allow them to teach better and improve student achievement.”
  • “…authentic formative assessment is connected directly to the teaching and learning occurring at that moment.”
  • “…assessments provide information the teacher can use to better understand her students and to then support them in taking the next steps in their learning.”

Get HyPE: Designing #PhysEd Rubrics in Four Easy Steps

The purpose of my Get HyPE column is to raise and discuss topics that will excite and inspire the physical education community. My goal is to encourage you to think about or try something new every month. The name of the column also has a secondary meaning. It includes the name my students call me, “G-H,” and the abbreviation for physical education, “PE.”


What’s keeping me going these days? Rubrics. I’m obsessed with them. I can’t stop thinking about them. I can’t stop designing them. They’re pushing my teaching practice, they’re helping me authentically assess my students’ learning, and they help me focus on exactly what I want my students to learn each day. Recently, my friends on Twitter have asked me where I get my rubrics. For the most part, I design them myself using four easy steps.

My teaching environment doesn’t allow me to look too far ahead when it comes to planning. I share my teaching spaces with three other physical educators, and we rotate through the spaces on a seven or ten day cycle. Sometimes my plans work flawlessly and sometimes they change unexpectedly. Take today for example: While my school’s field was being re-seeded I planned to have my 6th grade students play a Spikeball ladder tournament on the grass next to the school. Right when I finished explaining what we were doing I heard, “Sputter, Sputter, SPRAY.” The sprinkler system turned on! Change of plans. Move the Spikeball games to the sidewalk. The balls kept rolling into the street. Change of plans. Move the Spikeball games back to part of the grass that wasn’t soaked. The sprinklers turned on again. Change of plans. But what? With nowhere else to go, I moved my students to the wet grass and completely modified the rules. They were safe, had a great time playing, and at the end of class we had an amazing discussion about how we can control where the ball goes by changing the force and angles of our hands and striking implements.