Aquatics – applying training principles and SMART goals

Blue Diver by Pablo Fernandez CC BY SA NC

Our Grade 8 students have choice over which unit they would like to complete in a 12-lesson block.  We offer this as a way to delve more deeply into something that interests students. 

Teachers have used student polls to gather evidence about what we should offer, and we notice interest shifts but we have constraints on facilities and the need to assess students using the same Strand/Standards over the course of the year.

The most recent unit offered included these four options: Dance, Gymnastics, Fitness and Aquatics with our assessment around Locomotor movements which each teacher interpreted slightly differently based on the requirements of the unit as well as our Student as a Learner rubric which we use for every unit in the MS.

In our Aquatics unit, we wanted students to learn about:

  • Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type when planning a block of training
  • High Intensity Interval Training principles (HIIT)
  • Build on last year’s work around Heart Rate and Perceived Rate of Exertion
  • Become more knowledgable about a stroke or multiple strokes and water skills (such as diving, turning and finishing) and be able to discuss this with others
  • Have fun in the Water
  • Be safe and responsible in an Aquatic environment

After conversations with my co-teaching team (colleagues from PE and the Aquatics teams) we came up with:

How do I create an effective plan to improve?

I created a Google Site as part of this unit so that all our information was in once space and I could update it as we went through.  All of the resources I refer to in this blog posts are all on this site.

Students wrote SMART goals before we even got into the water.  They had to list ideas but we found this very challenging.  (that was the idea) as we weren’t yet sure how to apply a SMART goal to this environment.

To give us some idea of what to expect students were encouraged to learn from a swimmer who had reduced her 1500m FS time with specific focus on her technique and applying drills to perform more effectively.    We watched her Youtube journey and discussed what we saw that made her a stronger swimmer.  These initial conversations allowed for me to find out what my students already knew about swimming form and listen to them as they discussed her form from the different camera views and her pre and post-training videos (over a series of months).

After realizing that our swimming SMART goal needed to indeed be very Specific and Measurable, we sat down to fine tune our own goals and to listen as the sound board for a peer.  We asked questions to try and really find out what people hoped to achieve in 12 lessons.  Was this achievable?  What would it look like once you had achieved it?  How might you complete this goal – would you need mini-goals for each lesson or week?

The end product was much more detailed but we still had more questions and so off to the pool deck we ventured.

Students agreed that to really know if they had improved, we needed evidence.  Magically I produced Go-Pro’s and iPads for us to capture much needed data from Lesson 1.  We agreed that we needed underwater view as well as top and front views of each stroke that we might want to use as well as any skills (dive/turn/finish) so we had evidence to work with as we refined our SMART goal.  Students were tasked with recording films.  We had to do some practice of this!

After we got our films we talked to Swim Coaches about ideas for what we needed to work on.  Students took two lessons where coaches coached them but worked to explain HOW the drills were connected to FORM and WHY these were important to be a more effective swimmer.  We then formed groups around like-stroke or skill components so that students focused on FS could group together to offer each other feedback with a Swim Coach on deck etc.  Our groups changed each lesson based on need and focus areas.

Once our initial lessons were completed, coaches were not allowed to offer feedback to students, rather students had to approach and ask coaches about component parts of their stroke for development or could show their video and ask questions for discussion to get drills or ideas from coaches on the deck.   This was extremely challenging for some students but it was important practice to use swim terms and be responsible for the learning in the space, rather than to rely on coaches to ‘tell’ kids what to do.  This was challenging for some coaches too, as they are used to just drilling students on specific stroke drills without the HOW or WHY these are connected.

By lesson 4-5 we were ready to refine our swim goals and now learn about how to write a swim session.    Students had to write their own warm-ups and Quicken and then to ask coaches for assistance on a specific skill/drill set to work on a chosen focus (maybe bilateral breathing, streamlining, legs, sequence of the stroke/ diving etc) and then they co-wrote a Main Set for student to complete to practice the skill focus area.  This was frustratingly slow at times, but important to drive students to own their learning and to be directed to get information from websites or specific coaches and not to just be told.

We looked at FITT and students wrote out 3-4 plans for the next series of lessons.  We took time at the end to reflect on their planning (verbally) and to check our next plan ready for the next lesson.  We added a Water Polo element as the 85 minute lessons were too long for many of our students to swim the whole time.  This gave us some fun game play and team work to add to our experience, and some more locomotor skills to learn and experiment with!

Towards the end of the unit, we introduced HIIT.  Students warmed up and then swam 50m as fast as they could.  We then explained they would complete 4,6 or 8x 50m on their Aim time (flat out + 3-6 seconds) with 30 seconds rest between each.  They had to record their pulse and Perceived Rate of Exertion in each rest interval.  This proved great feedback for us (did they understand Intensity and were they working hard enough?) and was a super workout for the students!  We completed this a second time with 4,6 or 8x 50m and then 4 or 6 x 25m with half Aim time and half rest!  A very full workout!  A lot of good conversations here about learning to pace yourself, and about what happens as you get tired (form deteriorates, breathing changes, pull not as far, extend not as far etc) and we looked at PRE to check the Intensity.

In our second to last lesson, we re-filmed students in the water and then wrote a reflection about what they saw through this process.

Next year:

I hope we do this unit again next year as it was very enjoyable and allowed students to really delve into their strokes and skills in a lot of depth.  The video analysis gave the option of richer conversations and justification of what they saw.  We used the iPad to film diving and turning and offer formative feedback after each effort, another great way to show the improvements and discuss form – and to do so with limited coaches on the deck.

Students blogged about the process and their writing was positive about their experiences in this unit.

I have followed up with a Teacher survey asking students to offer me feedback based on my teaching of the unit, I will be interested to see what they say.