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The use of homemade materials to enhance constructivist learning within the sport education-tactical games model: the case of an ultimate learning unit

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Perkins (1999) considers that the three tenets of constructivism are the active learner, the social learner, and the creative learner. Dyson, Griffin and Hastie (2004) have established theoretical connections between the Sport Education-Tactical Games Model and the Constructivist Theory.
Autor(es): Méndez-Giménez, Antonio; Fernández-Río, Javier
Entidades(es):Universidad de Oviedo.
Congreso: VII congreso de la asociación internacional de escuelas superiores de educación física (AIESEP)
Úbeda A Coruña, 26-29 de Octubre de 2010
ISBN: 9788461499465
Palabras claves:Homemade material, hybridization..

The use of homemade materials to enhance constructivist learning within the sport education-tactical games model: the case of an ultimate learning unit


Perkins (1999) considers that the three tenets of constructivism are the active learner, the social learner, and the creative learner. Dyson, Griffin and Hastie (2004) have established theoretical connections between the Sport Education-Tactical Games Model and the Constructivist Theory. Through these instructional models, the teacher can facilitate learning, while he/she shifts responsibility to the students through activities specifically designed to hold them accountable (fixed teams, roles, peer-assessment). As active learners, students are involved in tasks that stimulate decision making, critical thinking, and problem solving. As social learners, students construct knowledge through social interaction with their peers. As creative learners, students are guided to discover knowledge by themselves, and to create their own understanding of the subject matter.

The purpose of this practical session is to show the audience how the use of homemade materials can contribute to extend the three tenets of constructivism within the Sport Education-Tactical Games framework. Through an increase in the students’ activity learning time, they have more opportunities to practice the skills and to play the game (in and extracurricular settings). Thus, they become as active learners. Students interact with their peers constructing materials and assessing their effectiveness. Therefore, they grow as social learners. During the process of constructing materials, students must solve problems (find a more functional design, negotiate rules, share information or develop a new game). Consequently, they act as creative learners. Finally, the construction and the usage of homemade materials can help the students develop responsibility for their own and their peers’ equipment. This is directly related to the student’s personal and social responsibility.


Siedentop (1982; 1986; 1987; 1994; 1995 and 2002) integrated in his instructional model Sport Education (SE) six features of institutionalized sport. He wanted the students to have authentic educational experiences through the sport:

1. Season. Siedentop (1994) argued that a curricular learning unit should represent a sport season. Therefore, it should last longer than traditional units. This way, the students could learn more contents, and they could have extra time to become competent sportspeople.

2. Affiliation. Students must work in small groups through the entire season. Being an active member of a team allows the students to benefit from the opportunities of social development that it drives.

3. Formal competition. It is presented at the beginning of the learning unit, and it is developed interconected with practical activities and tasks. Its goal is to allow students to participate in a competition within the physical education class. Learning tasks are more relevant to them, because they help students prepare the competition.

4. Record keeping. Siedentop (1998) believed that there are several reasons for registering students’ performance in matches: motivation, feedback, assessment, create standards and traditions… The goal is to enhance students’ excitement, and help them establish new goals. Possible records include: percentage of shots on goal, number of assists, rebounds or steals, points scored by the team or each player…. The usage of nontraditional roles such as journalist or statistician, and evaluation procedures such as co-assessment or shared assessment allow for a better record keeping.

5. Festivity. Sport seasons should be fun. Teacher and students should try to celebrate students’ success. Possible examples that could be used to create a festive atmosphere are: colorful uniforms, unique greetings for each team, an award ceremony, music everywhere, picture exhibition…

6. Final event. A final event (championship) must be established at the end of the season in order to recognize students’ achievements. In SE, students learn from sport other roles, besides being a player, such as referee, captain, trainer, or coach. Siedentop (1998) suggested that these roles should be learned through a combination of learning strategies such as direct instruction, cooperative learning teams, or problem solving approaches.

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Griffin, Mitchell and Oslin (1997; 2006) simplified the TGfU (Teaching Games for Understanding) model established by Bunker and Thorpe (1982). They proposed a three-steps model called Tactical Games (TG). In their proposal, students are faced with an initial modified game that facilitates them a positive experience. In the second stage, teachers try to develop the students’ tactical awareness through reflexive tasks (questions and answers). In the third step, the students try to improve their performance through specially designed tasks. Finally, the learned skills are used in the initial game or an evolution of it through vertical transference. From our point of view, the key elements of the TG model are: 1. The usage of a game classification with methodological and curricular implications.This taxonomy includes 4 categories: target, striking/fielding, net/wall, and invasion games (Almond, 1986). It gives students a common reference that identifies similarities and differences among different games. Games belonging to the same category share similar tactical principals. Their understanding helps students transfer their game performance from one game to the other. Furthermore, teachers can show students how to transfer the knowledge obtained in a game to another game of the same category. For example, basketball and soccer are invasion games that share tactical principles with ultimate. Schools should let students experience each category throughout their school years. Nevertheless, teachers must also develop modified games to design developmentally appropriate activities for their students.

2. Representation. Modification/representation means that “the games developed contain the same basic structure of the original adult game, but it is played with adaptations to fit the students’ age, size and skill” (Thorpe, Bunker y Almond, 1986). The key of the whole process is to design reduced and simplified games that represent a tactical problem, and motivates the students, too

3. Exaggeration. When students have problems finding the solution to the modified game set by the teacher, it is possible to create a task where the tactical principle to learn is exaggerated to show it clearly to the students. For example: playing badminton in a long, but narrow court exaggerates the tactical problem of defending and attacking long and short shots such as the drop and the clear.

4. Tactical complexity.Games with a lesser tactical complexity should be the starting point for the development of a comprehensive curriculum of games. Target games are the less complex, followed by the net/wall games, the striking/fielding games, and the invasion games, that should be introduced last to the students (Werner, Thorpe y Bunker, 1996). Children can move in and out of these categories developing an understanding of their tactical complexity. Nevertheless, there is a strong relationship between tactical complexity and exaggeration. A complex game can always be simplified tactically through exaggeration.

5. Modified games as authentic contexts for assessment. Students’ evaluation while playing a game is the most significant way of giving them formative feedback, while helping them develop skill and competency. Oslin, Mitchell, and Griffin (1995; 1998), and later Mitchell and Oslin (1999) designed and validated the Game Performance Assessment Instrument (GPAI) as a comprehensive tool that can be adapted to the different games of the taxonomy.


Research on these two instructional models has proven their efficiency in achieving the goals they aim to (Méndez-Giménez, 2009a). Nevertheless, some researchers (Alexander and Penney, 2005; Collier, 2005; Dyson et al., 2004; Hastie and Curtner-Smith, 2006) have shown that theoretical links (constructivism: active participation, significant social learning), and the pedagogical considerations of the two are so strong that hybrid models could be developed to optimize their effects on the students from a holistic point of view. In order to take advantage of the potentialities of this fusion, Dyson et al. (2004) used the concept of Situated Learning. This framework establishes the relationship among the physical, social and cultural dimensions of the learning context, since all of them influence significatively on it. Learning is not only receiving facts and data, but it also implies connecting people, activities, knowledge, and culture that surround them. Dyson et al. (2004) believe that the three instructional models share teaching structures that facilitate situated learning in a community of practice based on learning activities that are authentic and useful for students.

Hastie and Curtner-Smith (2006) pointed out several similarities among TGfU and SE: both models were developed in reaction to traditional instructional models, both try to give students developmentally appropriate game experiences, both use small-sided games, and both demand teachers to be knowledgeable about non-direct teaching styles in order to shift responsibility to their students. Furthermore, Dyson et al. (2004) found many pedagogical similarities among SE, TG and Cooperative Learning (CL): First, the whole teaching-learning process is student-centered. They, and not the teacher, are the main character of their own process of personal growth. Therefore, they should learn to adopt an active role in it.

Teachers’ role should be to facilitate this through adequate methodological approaches. This perspective of a curriculum centered in learning takes out the teacher’s role from the light, and gives students the opportunity of helping others learn. Second, the three models have the potential of including and developing physical, cognitive, affective, and social goals. Their teaching framework is wider that just executing and repeating a number of specific technical skills. Their goal is the development of the whole child. Third, students work in small groups or teams (communities of practice), and rely on each other to finish the tasks. This way, a mutual and positive interdependence is established, and a shared confidence is necessary to finish the learning tasks. Fourth, the teacher facilitates learning shifting responsibility to the students.

Gradually, they develop and assess their learning tasks. This keeps them focused and responsible for their own learning. For example, students develop responsibility through the use of the GPAI for assessing and observing their classmates. Fifth, the three models promote an active learning that includes decision taking, social interaction and cognitive comprehension. The activities force the students to understand their key elements, to extract the important information, and to take decisions based on it. Furthermore, if everything is done interacting with classmates, the social benefits are added. Finally, the learning activities are authentic and developmentally appropriate for the students.

We believe that the three models take into account the students’ developmental stage. Thus, the teacher must modify the activities, and adjust the structural and functional elements of the games to the needs of the students in order to promote their success (Méndez-Giménez, 2003). Furthermore, the activities are planned within a realistic context, which enhances the students’ motivation, and allows them to connect what they learn with their leisure time. Dyson et al. (2004) have established theoretical connections between SE-TG and the constructivist theory.

Through the instructional models, the teacher can facilitate learning, while the responsibility is shifted to the students through especially designed activities. As active learners, students participate in tasks that stimulate decision making, critical thinking and problem solving. As social learners, students construct knowledge through social interaction with their peers. As creative learners, students are guided to discover knowledge by themselves.


Over the last decade, there has been an increasing number of articles related to the use of homemade materials in physical education as a valuable tool in primary and secondary education (Davison, 1998; Jardi y Rius, 1997; Lichtman, 1999; Méndez-Giménez, 2003; 2005; 2006a; 2006b; 2008; 2009a; Moss, 2004; Orlick, 1990; Trigo, 1992; Werner and Simmons, 1990). These papers show how to take advantage of useless materials, and how to turn them around easily to open up new options for its use in physical education.

There are many advantages, but also a few problems with this type of materials (Méndez-Giménez, 2003). They increase the students’ participation time, they can be adapted to fit each student’s needs, they are low costs, they promote students’ creativity, and they allow multidisciplinary projects. Among the possible problems: it is very important to control the safety of the materials, there is a need for extra time to be able to make them, or the need for extra space to keep them.

Many authors agree that the starting point of this approach were the limited budgets, and the poor equipment of many schools (Méndez-Giménez, 2008). The quality and quantity of a school’s equipment can negatively affect the quality of its physical education program. Unfortunately, this deficit is remarkable in many countries, even among the rich countries. Hardman (2008) reports that 50% of the countries evaluated considered that the quality of the physical education materials was limited or insufficient. Only in the United States, the teachers considered their materials appropriate. Africa, Asia, Central/South America, and the Middle East reported the worst results. These results show that homemade equipment made out of recycled materials can help students, all over the world, experience many different physical activities.

The goal of this practical session is to show how the usage of homemade materials can help achieve the three tenets of constructivism (active, social, and creative learning), inside the framework of the hybridization of the instructional models SE-TG. When students have more activity time, they have more opportunities to practice the different skills, and play (in and out of the PE class). Therefore, they become active learners. When they interact with their peers building the materials and assessing their efficacy, they become social learners. When students solve problems constructing the materials, they become creative learners. Finally, when students build their own equipment, they become responsible for it, which is related to development of each student’ personal and social responsibility.


In a previous article (Méndez-Giménez, 2006), we introduced this game arguing that it offers two educational assets: it can be used as an introductory activity, or it could be taught as an invasion game itself. We would like to highlight the following pedagogical elements of this game:

1. The fact that the disc cannot be stolen from the hand of another player minimizes the number of possible physical contacts among players. This rule diminishes potential disputes and conflicts among participants.

2. The subject holding the disc cannot move, and he/she has a limited amount of time to pass it to a teammate, who must try to get open. Defensive player can only intercept the pass while it is in the air. Therefore, there is a lot of movement (flow) during the game, even among novel players. Teammates and opponents move continuosly with different goals. The flow of the game influences positively the students’ motivation through excitement and fun.

3. Participation within each team is shared among all members. No one plays a central role dribbling the ball down the court as in many other invasion games. Individualistic play is limited. Even novel players, who tend to advance down the field without even looking at their teammates, are forced to participate to score.

4. The skill level required to throw the disc effectively is relatively low. Students are able to learn and progress from the beginning. Therefore, teachers can design modified games to work on the tactical aspects of the game. Ultimate is a very simple technical and tactical invasion game. Consequently, it can be used to introduce basic tactical concepts that could be transferred to more complex invasion games, promoting vertical transference (Martin, 2004).

5. It does not need specific and/or expensive equipment or materials like goals or baskets. It can be played almost anywhere, as long as it is flat and open.

6. Despite the fact that technical execution (passing, throwing) is important in this game, tactical knowledge is the decisive element. Off the ring tactical conducts such as support, cut, defense, or get open are extremely important to be able to score. This situation creates a “team atmosphere” that includes low-ability students that try their best.


We present a practical experience that shows how to develop a learning unit combining SE, TG, and homemade materials to teach and learn an invasion game: ultimate. It also ends with a games-invention activity. The whole experience is based on a hybridization that uses SE as an organizational framework of the learning unit (heterogeneous small groups, season, festivity, record keeping). TG was used to set up the reflexive tasks on half-time of every match to spark tactical awareness, critical thinking, and improve skills within a game.

Homemade equipment was included through the construction of a ring using simple and cheap materials such as cardboard and masking tape. Self-made rings do not fly as much as the commercial ones, but this is an advantage in physical education where the space is limited and teachers have many rings flying at the same time. Moreover, this rings made out of cardboard allow the teacher to introduce games from other categories such as herrón (target), ringo (net/wall), or ringeisbol (striking/fielding; Méndez-Giménez, 2005). The practical stage was divided in several steps:

• Selecting teams. The teacher or the students (depending on the amount of time available) divide the class in 6 teams with 4 members. Each team must select a country from Africa, and divide the roles among its members: coach, trainer, captain and players.

• Homemade materials. Students from each team, in pairs, build a ring. Once they have finished, they have to show the ring to the teacher to be supervised for safety reasons. • Activity 1:step forward, step back. In pairs, students practice throwing the ring back and forth. If it is caught, the student takes a step back, but if the ring is dropped, he/she takes a step forward. After a few minutes of practice, they are asked to use the dominant and the non-dominant hand to throw.

• Sport Education. To allow all teams to participate, the court was divided in 2 playing fields using masking tape and cones (see figure). Then, we introduced the modified rules to play Ultimate in small groups: 2 teams play each other in one field. Students rotate every 2-3 minutes to play the different roles: referee, observer, scorekeeper or players. Each game has two parts of 8 minutes.

• Tactical Games.At half-time, the teacher introduces tasks, games or activities to improve the students’ technical and tactical knowledge: 2x1. 2 players must pass the ring back and forth as many times as possible, while a third player tries to touch it while it is flying. An observer counts the number of passes performed in 2 minutes. Each pass scores 1 point. The student holding the ring cannot move, just pivot. His/her teammate must get open to receive the pass. Every time the defender intercepts the ring, scores 1 point, but he/she must leave it on the floor. Players rotate every 2 minutes. The tactical problem is “keeping possession of the ring”, and players should work on getting open, moving around, deciding when to make the pass, or showing a hand to receive the ring. The technical skill is “passing”: backhand, forehand. In order to promote inquiry teaching and problem solving, the teacher can ask students questions like these:

  • What was the goal of the game? (pass the ring as many times as possible)
  • What did you and your partner do to have success? (get open, find an empty spot)
  • Did you use any signal to tell your partner that you were ready to receive the pass? (show him/her an open hand)
  • How did you pass the ring? Do you know any other ways of passing it? (forehand, backhand…)

Once the task is completed, teams start the second half of their matches.

• Games invention. Every team has to design a game using one or more ring, and they must tell the teacher the category of that new game.


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