NZPETeachercast Episode 8 – Socio-critical thought in practical PE

In todays episode we hear from Cam Smith from Scots College as he discusses socio-critical thought and its practical applications in junior and senior PE. We also spend some time talking about his Masters in Education as well as making some bold predication’s about the All Blacks.

Cams slide deck from PENZ Conference 2016.

The PE Gear Shed on Facebook.

Music by Bensound.

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Episode 8- Socio-critical Thought in Practical PE
Duration: [00:31:04]
Cameron Smith: For me social-critical thought is basically sociological issues that relate to movement and it's kind of things how I use it as I look for issues around sociology to do with my boys in PE, so that's really towards them. So to think critically and think about assumptions but also take action.
Carl Condliffe: You're listening to the NZ PE Teachercast! A podcast sharing some of the inspirational stories from amazing health and physical education teachers.
Today's episode is sponsored by My Study Series, an online learning platform by New Zealand PE teachers for New Zealand PE teachers
and their students. Check it out now at
Kia Ora everyone I'm here with Cameron Smith from Scots College in Wellington. I've just turned up with some coffee from Roxy's Cinema and had a look at their bell tower which was, had a bit of spray paint on it from a local school this morning, but it's been taken down, so quick to action there. It's the last day of senior's so we're having a few pranks left and right and center. There's been a few cars cellophaned at my school so hopefully it doesn't get any worse than that. So welcome to the podcast Cam.
Cameron Smith: Thanks man.
Carl Condliffe: Just before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your teaching background and experience and a couple of tidbits about your school and the students you teach?
Cameron Smith: Yeah sure, I've been teaching, well kind of only
for seven years. So first five and a half.
Carl Condliffe: Not 19 like Celia.
Cameron Smith: No, not 19, not at same school now. So five and a half with Mary Lambert over at HC and I've been here at Scots for one and a half years now. Extremely different schools, HC obviously co-ed mid decile. Scots being decile ten private all boys when I turned up I was like what the hell is this. So academies all over the places, football, cricket, full time coaches. Weird feel at first, actually the whole private school, it felt like a business and I wasn't 100% sure about it. But I love it now. So yeah, no I really enjoy it. I'll give Scots a little bet of credit, even though the place looks like Hogwarts it's actually quite for a boys' school quite progressive and they're not as results driven and stuff and they're not afraid of change which is, it's cool.
Going into the interview I probably had my assumptions about the place but I was pleasantly surprised.
Carl Condliffe: Did you expect just how different it would be coming in? Did you a fair about what that was, what the differences would be like?
Cameron Smith: Obviously all boys being different but I had no idea about private school. So I'd never even been in a private school or anything like that before. So I had no idea what it was like and it was, it was a big shock just in terms of how it ran. It was like a business, I guess it is a business.
Carl Condliffe: High expectations from parents?
Cameron Smith: Massive.
Carl Condliffe: How does that rear its head? Emails or phone calls and--?
Cameron Smith: Yeah emails usually, although to be honest with you I don't know if their perception but as a PE teacher I don't get a lot, so I haven't had any parents challenging grades or anything like that. But you definitely hear a lot from the parents and they do put, not so much on the teachers I found but they put a lot of pressure on their kids when they send them there, obviously pay a lot of money
and they really, which at least it keeps kid honest but it does put a lot of pressure on them, academically.
Carl Condliffe: Money aside it's kind of good to see parents taking a real strong interest in the kid's achievement.
Cameron Smith: That's probably the most thing I like about the place is there a value for education. The kids are actually, the boys are really, really nice and stuff but they do actually value learning, which is nice.
Carl Condliffe: I've just noticed, I've plunked the microphone down on this resource that I haven't seen for about ten years.
Cameron Smith: This isn't mine mate, this isn't mind. This is my HOD's.
Carl Condliffe: For those of you, it's hard to describe over a podcast but a big huge ring binder with segmented sports with lessons and there must be about twelve different sports in there, sixteen different sports with lessons and everything. I used this a lot when I was a beginning teacher, it's quite good. I think it, I'd probably still use it now
if I could find it.
Cameron Smith: That's my HOD's, I don't know if he uses it or it's a book weight or what.
Carl Condliffe: That's pretty big.
Cameron Smith: Next time I'll have to, yeah it's something, isn't it?
Carl Condliffe: So if you had a specialty per say I would assume it would be social critical thinking relating to PE, that's I guess what you're known for I think. So can you explain what this term social critical thinking is and how it guides your teaching?
Cameron Smith: Yeah sure. To be honest if you asked me this question two and a half years ago I would have said what the hell is social-critical thinking and I was probably pretty results driven kind of a little bit of sport driven and stuff like that and probably didn't change, probably all changed when I wanted to teach scholarship, so I went into my old year twelve tutor teacher Mr. Mead down in Prime and my seventh form--
Carl Condliffe: Oh you, you're a Prime boy.
Cameron Smith: Yeah, he was my seventh form football coach as well, yeah so I was a Pram boy and he was my, he never taught me but he was my form teacher so
I went back there and he'll probably hate that because it'll show how old is, because I'm not that back and --
Carl Condliffe: I don't know if he listens, I don't know if he listens to the podcast. If he does then we'll know that now.
Cameron Smith: So went back and kind of had a really big yarn to him about what scholarship were about and the importance of this because I taught year thirteen but beside from kind or reading on paper and maybe what I learned at university and at teachers college, I didn't know a hell of a lot about it. So went back and kind of the masters of reading around it when I started that, I know you're going to talk to me about that later.
But for me social-critical thought is basically sociological issues that relate to movement. It's kind of things, how I use it is I look for issues around sociology to do with my boys in PE, so that's really towards. So kind of to think critically and think about assumptions but also take action. My big push is often, and I'll talk about it later, but old Sally Heart's research about
which interview people that it was, a lot of people thought it was done through theory. I mean it is predominately hard to get your idea, so it was just kind of coming up with ideas and applying the old critical analysis process, so it's nothing new. It's just I've adapted it and stuff like that and presented on it.
Carl Condliffe: No, I like what you said about people assuming that it has to be done through theory and that's why I went along to your, and we'll talk about that in a sec, your presentation at PENZ this year because I thought what the hell, I didn't even know you then, I thought what's this bloke going to talk about, getting social critical thinking into practical decision. I think you demonstrated that really well at PENZ, but you'll talk about that soon. You're doing your masters of education. How are you managing to link that socio-critical thinking to what you're doing in your masters and then how are you going to, or how do you blend the two into your approach to teaching PE? And health, we've got to mention the health side of things.
Cameron Smith: Yeah, yeah. So yeah, as I said before it
was probably the masters and starting to teach scholarship that kind of got me into thinking about this rethinking back about that curriculum that probably sat in my drawer first two years teaching and forgotten about. So I had some really awesome lectures when I've been doing that online at Waikato so Kirsten Petri really kind of challenge my thought identified why it was so important.
So I already knew about it, but there was, that whole paper that I did was around in issues in health and PE in New Zealand and really make me think about what was important if kid's walk away in terms of PE, in terms of learning. So for me that was quite an important one. So yeah, kind of did that and I also looked at the overuse of sport in PE, with a guy called Clive Pope which was really interesting.
So that got me thinking and Kirsten challenged me to think this is important but how do you do it and keep moving. How do you keep our subject practical? So I look for examples
but then come up with my own ideas and brought it back. So example was the old Ginger Astaire type, one of the most basic ones where you play a game of tag and you yell out move like a boy or move like a girl and then you reflect using that critical analysis process, that type of thing.
Now my big push was also units that were made around inquiry rather than the context, student-centered and things that are really applicable to the students. We're an all-boys schools and all the boys are decent in accepting diversity, they're not so great at gender stereotyping and stuff though. That's, they need to work.
Carl Condliffe: That task, the one you just described about, that you also did it at the PENZ conference, we were running around and then run like a girl and run like a boy and that sort of thing. Even for me as an experienced health and PE teacher even that opened
my eyes to a few things that probably I took for granted. So for a kid, student I should call them to go through that I think it's pretty eye opening. I haven't yet done it with my students which I should have but next year definitely. I want to try it with some junior kids too. I think it's, I think you're right, we do need to start thinking about the stuff more than PE because we don't and I think, who was it, maybe in our chat with Matt brought it up, that we as physical educators tend to avoid the social-critical stand that's because they require a lit bit of thinking and they do. But if we can take them into a practical context then that's a little bit easier for us I think to convey that message around those issues.
Going back a couple questions you were saying that uni that doing masters that got you thinking or they encourage to think about student issues and those that might be
impacting your students. What in your perspective what's the biggest issue facing our community or society or our kids these days?
Cameron Smith: In terms of PE? In terms of movement context or--?
Carl Condliffe: No, in terms of that socio-critical area, sociological.
Cameron Smith: I think we get also bombarded by media, like media dictates kids about what movement should be, it dictates the appearance, my old man would come back and I think I told him that I was presenting at the national conference he said oh you just going to teach the other teachers how to get more fit, and that's that old belief and stuff like that and so it's, yeah, the media's a lot to blame with that, but sometimes you can't blame those people because that's what they grew up with, even that. So the whole fitness misrepresentation and what's fit, our stereotyping around movement.
Even us
stereotyping around sports and money and things like that. Getting kids to take a bit more action for social justice. So yeah, that's why I see it to be important no one, especially coming here to an all-boys school you do notice it quite a bit. Trying to break that cycle, that PE sport. I had a really good one recently, a boy came in and did [00:12:27] (unclear) that isn't doing senior PE, he's a smart kid.
Carl Condliffe: Good on him.
Cameron Smith: He's a year twelve boy and at the end he really thanked me and said sir I didn't know that PE was that deep. I didn't know you could actually think like that about topics, about sports. So that was a cool thing, actually him going for that critical process was cool and acknowledging that the subject had more than just learning to hit a hockey ball.
Carl Condliffe: I think the media, you're right, they've got a lot to answer for, but I think our students don’t' really, that perception around media
in New Zealand because it's, I don't know whether because it's not as dominant but I don't think we tend to think of media in that way too much. But thinks like the elections, the presidential elections in the U.S. that are happening at the moment and they're really exposing our students and us to just how powerful they can be in terms of influencing thought and stuff like that. I guess it is a way.
Cameron Smith: You touched on a really good point like we got, sounds all political now, but we got a government that likes to box subjects, for economic gain or for jobs and stuff and I've heard from all these idiots in the politics that have come out and said like the PE and obesity thing where they all say oh PE needs more responsibility or more PE hours just so our kids get fitter. It's that misconceptions about what PE is and it's a bit of a danger as well. If they get hold of that and all of sudden in the
next couple of years, I watched that obesity debate the other day on Periscope.
Carl Condliffe: Oh did.
Cameron Smith: Yeah, yeah, yeah and they did a really good part where England and even Ozzie now the PE teachers, I might be completely wrong but someone said this, the PE teachers are getting almost standards around what they have to get kids to in terms of BMI and that kind of rubbish, this is a joke. So that's dangerous. There's great things out there but you touched on it as well that sometimes as PE teachers we don't help ourselves, that you can walk around and just see someone teaching the skill to every sport and at the end of the day how can you justify that if you're just teaching a sport. And how that is an area that's important where the ones that probably should be going to conference are probably the ones that aren't.
Carl Condliffe: I think we're quite lucky with what our curriculum provides us, all the flexibility in how we can teach context and we don't have to teach sport and we're encouraged to do that. I think we're really lucky. Going and moving onto
PENZ conference and you've mentioned this already, but you discussed an over-emphasis on sport performance in the bar of physical and PE for us by teachers and even some disengagement with other strands of the curriculum, which I agree with. But can you elaborate and give us some, well maybe some potential solutions to this issue which is seemingly quite common across the board, this whole avoidance of sociocultural standards and stuff like that.
Cameron Smith: Yeah see I was probably one of them before looking into this two and a half years ago when probably at HC was probably looking at cutting those sociocultural critical standards three years ago because of the results, I didn't really know. Learning a lot more about them has helped me big time and I mentioned Sally Hart's thesis earlier which is a decent read about went to interview a couple of teachers and thinking that it's all done in health or it's not done practically. The big part is and what her
research shows was that teachers nearly two-fold would choose the biophysical ones like your 2.2/2.3 over the socio-critical and the big thing was that they were practical in that they were actually easier for the kids and a bit more measurable when posed as social critical. A lot of the time from what I've seen through a bit of research and stuff is the social critical is taught all in theory and it doesn't really have that end and through movement part [00:16:31] (?) which can kind of box that area.
So yeah and now the bio-physical tend to be put around sport, I mean even you look at the examples in NZQA and the distinct thing about that is if it's all around sport then you exclude quite a lot of kids. Sport, don't get me wrong, sport's fantastic when it's used properly but if it's used just everything about sport it excludes a lot of kids and PE is where we use sport
to teach them things, it's not all about sport.
Carl Condliffe: Yes Celia mentioned last week in the podcast that we were talking about charter schools and stuff like that, we got onto that subject somehow and we were talking about if you could create your perfect school and we had talked about a sporting school but she was saying no, no we shouldn't, it's not sport, sport is good but it's about well-being and all the order and all the dimensions, working together and strengthening each other. So your potential solution is teaching it a more practical sense I guess, which is what you demonstrated.
Cameron Smith: Yeah, that's yeah, that's applicable to your kids. Like we did here, what we did this year for level two's, we have a lot of sports people so if we're to use sport we're really critical about it. So we looked at high school sport, you got a lot of boys here on scholarships and stuff and we're critical about so they participate in different scenarios and reflect on that to be critical about that kind of situation.
Carl Condliffe: What sort of example scenario?
Cameron Smith: Basically going back and they all played netball, so they played what we deemed as girls’ sports high school. So I put all the skirts on and that type of thing and then we reflected how that changes our attitudes towards it and why we don't, what would you say if a boy went and played netball here at Scots and the boys really came out that kids should be able to choose what they want to do and we shouldn't have to judge them in that type of thing. So thinking outside the square.
Carl Condliffe: I was thinking of you the other day because I had an order from Hart Sport and they sent the wrong thing and they sent some bibs and those bibs were, I'm at a boys' school and I was like oh should I keep these but I'm not going to use them so we didn't keep them but thinking back maybe I should have and maybe we should be playing netball. We don't have any netball hoops but netball's a great sport.
Cameron Smith: Yeah.
Carl Condliffe: Yeah.
Cameron Smith: It's that whole thing as well, if we start cutting out those, we shouldn't be driven by achievement standards but if we start cutting them out we've got to narrow stuff down and that whole curriculum about when a PE student walks away that they should be able to think about these things and that really ties into me, I kind of think of it as year ten students never going to take PE again, what can they, and I'm coming back to juniors, but what can they walk away with like so many junior PEs around a mini NCA, where if a kid can walk away with a bit of critical thought about something they can later on in life, they can see something and think about well what's the good about this, what's the bad, what am I missing here in terms of thinking of going and take cross fit or they're going to join a club or something like that. So it's about walking away with thinking rather than--
Carl Condliffe: Well no that was the next question anyway, so should be looking at socio-critical elements in the junior school.
Cameron Smith: Absolutely mate, start young. A lot of my year eight boys
we do a lot of work around, being critical around competition because they immediately say they suck about basically competition and about them, how they treat females and things like that through movement. I think yeah, it's them being critical about well-being topics is a quite a big one. I definitely think for those juniors about things that are applicable to your students. I just basically rip off the cap as we know it and kind of simplify it. McBain and Gillespie's a really great resource.
Carl Condliffe: What's, what's one thing that -- actually I'm going to hold off on this question. You mentioned something earlier about back when you're at Heretaunga that there was, they were going to pull the socio-critical standards because of the results. Whose decision was it? Was that coming from up top or is that an HOD decision?
Cameron Smith: Yeah that's a big pressure from that whole reaching that, using the data and data's important to use but when you look at a, this is going back quite a way, that those were those ones that had less pass rates and stuff like that. So as teachers we were reviewing the courses and back then I would have been one of the first ones to say yeah, take it away. Rather thinking about the results rather than what actually students walk away in terms of learning was probably where I was going wrong there.
Carl Condliffe: Yeah you kind of get put in a hard place where you're getting this pressure from upstairs and you're forced to make decisions that are not really in the student's best interest. I mean credit totals is another example in relating to student well-being. If you're being told that the ideal number of credits for your course to offer is 24, your kids can't manage that. Well what are we supposed to do? Do we not offer 24 credits and then we get a knock on the door toward the end of the year going well
where's, it makes it really difficult for us.
Cameron Smith: That was the beauty in doing the masters, it was getting my head out of the school again. You get so trapped in results, results, results, this, this and that and that you kind of forget about what's important for a kid to learn and take away. So that's, that's why I think that we should have a bit of socio-critical, bio-physical leadership, well-being it should be all in there rather than just taking away one thing. It's kind of that, that kind of results driving from the schools of course comes from the ministry as well. It puts a lot of pressure.
Carl Condliffe: Yeah so it's not fair to blame it on the principal or senior management because they're getting it from--
Cameron Smith: Yeah, it's where it's come from and it's not fair on the HOD's because they're under the pump to, they'll be answering if they didn't get for standards, why didn't they pass this or why have you still got this here. Yeah, so I'm a bit disappointed that whole push for results.
Carl Condliffe: One thing a PE teacher could do right now PE/Health
teacher could do to incorporate more of the socio-critical elements into their teaching.
Cameron Smith: Cool think about some issues that lie around their school or related to the students, something like that.
Carl Condliffe: Needs to link into the students, huh.
Cameron Smith: Yeah needs to link in for them to take action and read "The Critical Analysis" was it McBain and Gillespie and adapt it. So basically have them participate in a scenario that is naturally unjust, either one team's advantaged something like that. Then have them feel that injustice and see that and reflect on it. So set up that practical scenario and reflect on it and then come up with ideas on how to take action and do it.
Yeah, definitely think read more and stuff like that about that kind of areas, there's some cool stuff out there it's just another ways of showing how it's done practically and that's something we don't want to lose as an area. You don't want to lose your practical nature. I think you raise one with Mattie that I
actually was going to ask you about, that whole name change and you're 100% right about the assumptions that we have from parents, from kids and that but the point is that I think education now, a name's really important but it does carry that baggage.
Carl Condliffe: I hadn't thought what you just mentioned there, the importance of our name physical education and that does hold some value. I'm still a bit lost with that process and where I'm at that, I don't know. I think, I'm interested to see how next year goes for us with a few different changes that we're trying to implement which might make things a little bit different, but to be honest I don't know and people have tried this and that and changing this and seeing how that works for them and it seems like sometimes the same issues are still there regardless of
what it is. So obviously it's much deeper than just a name change, it's a culture of assumptions that comes with that.
Cameron Smith: Do you think, I mean part of it is still, I mean as I said earlier like usually the teachers that want to find about more stuff go conference, the ones that don't are probably the ones that are still rolling the ball out or something like that. You don't want to mandate anything but PE teachers need to be a bit more accountable for how they teach.
Carl Condliffe: Yup, well if PE was, if all PE teachers were operating at a level that you and I probably think PE should operate at then maybe these assumptions wouldn't exist. The fact that they're still there, there are obviously PE teachers that still whether that is how they want to teach or rather it's just a little bit of ignorance or lack of understanding I don't know, but it must still be happening for these assumptions to still exist. So it's a bit of a worry but
it's the same I talked about getting parents to parent teacher evenings that you need to there and they don't come. It's like if a person doesn't want to take the first step then how are you going to meet them.
Cameron Smith: Good point.
Carl Condliffe: What's one piece of technology that you can't do without in your teaching and it doesn't have to be PE related.
Cameron Smith: Easy, YouTube.
Carl Condliffe: YouTube.
Cameron Smith: Yeah, YouTube is gold I reckon for teaching. I reckon there's a day goes by I don't use YouTube somehow.
Carl Condliffe: I still hear from schools who have YouTube, it's locked, locked up.
Cameron Smith: Yeah I'm waiting until, and it won't happen here and stuff, we hope it won't because I'll throwing the toys but that's just stupid. Like seriously, YouTube is I mean flip for the OS, even for differentiation, like kids that want to work ahead and there's links to the videos and we have Wi-Fi so they just kind of work on what kind level they're at. There's so much out there as well, there's only so much you can talk about as a teacher where
there's only so much more you can show and things like that. YouTube is, and keep fit as well. If you have good Wi-Fi it helps. Yeah.
Carl Condliffe: What are the YouTube thing, like one of the best speakers I've heard is a guy called Will Richardson and he discusses, well he mentions that the curriculum is just our best guess at what our kids should know. A fraction of all of the knowledge and information in the world, our curriculum is just our best guess at what our kids should know. Then we go and say know I'm the best person to teach that to you.
We lock our kids within four walls and say this is how you're going to learn this stuff. In all honesty I'm not an expert, I'm an expert on some things but not everything. It's about empowering our students to go and seek answers elsewhere and be able to interpret information and pull out the good from the bad and decipher what
that means for them and their context. That's what some of the power that YouTube has, it opens up a whole other world where these kids can be learning.
Cameron Smith: That's fantastic. You look now with the technology teachers don't have to teach content, it's all there. Kids can go away and like the flipped classroom can learn that in their own time. It's us to use that understanding they have to make them think harder. That's why I love YouTube, there's gold everywhere on there.
Carl Condliffe: I think you're probably the first teacher I've heard say that they love YouTube because people are reluctant to say that they use YouTube because they feel that they're the expert. I don't know.
Cameron Smith: No, I'm definitely not.
Carl Condliffe: When did YouTube kick off, like I can't remember teaching without YouTube?
Cameron Smith: I don't know, I'm just trying to think back even seven years ago I was using YouTube and we just, I teach a humanities class as well and we just did this whole thing on globalization and we looked at YouTube and where it started and I can't remember.
Yeah, not quite sure. It's not too long ago.
Carl Condliffe: No, it's good. I can't imagine how many hours of content goes up goes up every second, that's phenomenal. Last question, All Blacks, by the time people hear this they would have either broken the record or not broken the record, 18 wins on the trot. Are they going to beat Ireland this weekend?
Cameron Smith: Easily.
Carl Condliffe: And how long, what they've got after that, they've got France, who else they got?
Cameron Smith: I don't know who they're playing next, do you?
Carl Condliffe: But they're going to be about four, two against Ireland, France and there's one other team.
Cameron Smith: They're not playing England.
Carl Condliffe: Not playing England, they're not playing Wales.
Cameron Smith: They're just in Chicago at the moment, I was off [00:29:38] (unclear) day so I watched the Cubs in the final that was great. Chicago'll be partying.
Carl Condliffe: Yeah, well that's their first one in 97 years or something or something like that.
Cameron Smith: 100 and something like that.
Carl Condliffe: So how long's this All Black streak going to go for?
Cameron Smith: I can't see anyone beating us.
Carl Condliffe: Not this year anyway.
Cameron Smith: Not this year, maybe next year.
I don't like to give [00:30:01] (unclear) too much credit though, I like to wind them up. But yeah, you've got to love the All Blacks.
Carl Condliffe: Yeah, oh good. Alright Cam I really appreciate you letting me stop by and have a chat, I think this whole concept of getting the social critical aspects of thinking into a practical context within PE and Health is a good way forward. I think listeners should really have go at some of the things you mentioned about how we can just immediately incorporate in the social critical dimensions into PE. So I really encourage you to do that. I will put in the show notes your Twitter handle so people can Tweet you some stuff, maybe your experiences so they give some of these a shot. So I really appreciate you having a chat today.
Cameron Smith: Yeah, have a look at maybe my PE Shed as well.
Carl Condliffe: Yes, PE Shed, so there's some really good information going out there. A lot of social critical stuff too might I add. So I appreciate you
taking the time out.
Cameron Smith: Cheers mate.



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Carl Condliffe is a Health and PE teacher passionate about using technology to create authentic and meaningful learning experiences for his students.

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