Andrew Miller

Project-Based Learning and Physical Education

Physical education (PE) can be a place where relevant and authentic learning can occur. I think project-based learning (PBL) is one way to not only create this, but to also show others how valuable PE can be. When done well, PBL gives students a relevant and authentic task—a problem or challenge—that they, as a team and as individuals, must explore and solve. Instead of a project that is a curriculum add-on or completed at the end, the standards-based instruction is filtered through this authentic task, which creates a need to know in students. They see why they are learning what they are learning. The students learn and complete the project concurrently, continually revising and producing a product that they will present publicly.

In my visits to classrooms across the country, I have seen some great projects that teachers have created and implemented. I am continually inspired and amazed by what they create. We "steal" from each other and use each other's ideas in our own classrooms. In this spirit of stealing, here is an example of a PE PBL project filtered through the "Seven Essential Elements of Project-Based Learning," a framework for inquiry shared by my Buck Institute for Education colleagues John Larner and John R. Mergendoller in a recent Educational Leadership article. Steal this project and use it in your classroom!


PBL Process

1. Need to Know

A group of high school students were presented with a letter from the local middle school principal. The letter asked them to create the best exercise program for the middle school students. They were asked to create sample PE units for the teachers and students and present their ideas to a panel of teachers, administrators, and other experts. They were also required to create, through their own participation and physical activity, data that proved physical exercise was occurring.

What a task to ask of high school students, and they had a lot of questions! What is a good PE unit? What do middle students like to do in PE? What are the goals of PE? These were all questions generated by the students. They had to engage in research, both online and in person, in order to accomplish this authentic task and present it to a real audience.

2. A Driving Question

For this project, students were trying to answer the question, How can we create the best exercise program for middle school students? All the work was geared toward this question. Students were reminded of the question in their daily lessons. It helped them answer the question, Why are you doing this today? when administrators, teachers, and other stakeholders visited the classroom.

3. Student Voice and Choice

Students were allowed a variety of opportunities to choose how they wanted to show their learning, but they were still graded on the same standards and learning objectives. Traditionally, teachers dictate all parts of the assessment, rather than give students power of how they can show their learning. If students are given voice and choice, they are engaged and empowered to perform the task.

For this project, each group was allowed to choose its PE unit, whether it was focused on a racket sport, conditioning, or a combination. However, they had to prove that this unit would meet the needs of physical education, whether the needs were created by the PE teacher or to align with specific standards and learning targets. In addition to the group work, each student was required to create another engaging PE unit for middle school students, but showcase it in a format of each student's choice (for example, podcasts, videos, flyers, or demonstrations). This ensures accountability of the same learning targets for both the group and the individual.

4. 21st Century Skills

Students were engaged in two 21st century skills: collaboration and presentation. Unlike group work, which is activity based, they would work together to create something over a few weeks. Rather than one day, they would engage in collaboration like professionals in the workforce. These skills are valuable across disciplines and in the postgraduate world. Teachers trained students to do these skills well, whether in a team-building activity in PE class or help from the drama teacher in the art of presentation.

5. Inquiry and Innovation

Because the task is authentic and open-ended, students are constantly engaged in the inquiry process. They are finding and being armed by the teacher with the information they need to accomplish the task. Students are also creating something new. It is not simply a regurgitation of knowledge, but instead using that knowledge and newly created data to design an innovative PE unit.

6. Feedback and Revision

The students had to test-drive each other's units, which meant they were engaged in a variety of physical activities. However, they were also looking for feedback from their peers, from teachers, and from the middle school students. They learned that continuous improvement is possible, and that revision is a great thing to do.

7. A Publicly Presented Product

Students presented to a high-stakes audience, both for the individual and group products. They shared their data, demonstrated their units, engaged in persuasive rhetoric, and shared the stage with each other. After the presentations, there was a sense of relief as well as a sense of accomplishment. They had successfully completed a project that they would remember for the rest of high school. Not only that, but they came to their own understandings of many PE content standards, as well the importance and need for a physical education program.

I encourage physical educators to think about the possibilities with PBL. The project can be geared toward any standard and any audience. Its focus can be narrow or broad, and it can last anywhere from several days to several months. The payoff is engagement. Students will see the relevance for their learning in PE through the authentic task of a PBL project. You must give up power in order to empower your students; empower them in their physical education.

Andrew K. Miller is an educator and consultant. He is a National Faculty member for ASCD and the Buck Institute for Education. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.

Comments (47)

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January 1, 2011

[...] Project-Based Learning and Physical Education [...]

Shawn White

January 3, 2011

This is always an effective way to teach students.  Incorporation of different disciplines into a single PBL is the way teaching should be done.  Differentiating subjects is confusing for some and its not an effective strategy in the 21st Century.

Irene Smalls

January 4, 2011

A fascinating article in ASCD The Whole Child Blog by Andrew K. Miller consultant to the Buck Institute talks about Project based learning and Physical Education. This is in many ways what Literacy+Exercise=Literacise is about. Literacise fights low literacy, the project basis and childhood obesity, through physical education, one word, one step at a time.  Project based learning is what we at Literacise mean when we talk about book-based, book-related targeted exercises and movements. Mr. Miller refers in his post to standards based instruction that is filtered through an authentic task.  With Literacise the project base is provided by the academic learning standards which are an integral part of each Literacise lesson.  The exercises and movements the children do are filtered through the connection with an authentic task, reading and experiencing an exciting book. Children physically do the actions from the book either what the character is doing or simulate other physical activity experiences pertinent to the book.  Miller posits further that filtering through an authentic task creates a need to know in students. “They see why they are learning, what they are learning”.  We at Literacise include with our approach to project based learning the how of learning. The mind and body are one system.  Literacise instruction includes teaching what body parts the students are using and how the mind and body work together in learning. This self knowledge makes children owners and stakeholders. “If we teach them to fish they eat for a lifetime.” In a sense, children will own childhood obesity and know how the choices they make affect their bodies and minds.  One element missing from the many childhood obesity conversations across the country is how do we give children the tools and make children the real architects of their future health and academic successes.

Project Based Learning in PE | Pflug's Blog

February 1, 2012


October 2, 2013

If there’s any PE teacher’s out there, in search of another great Project Based Learning Idea, I would be glad to share. I’m a NYC small transfer school PE teacher, that has a waiver from the NYS Regents exams and we use Performance Based Assessment Tasks as our means for graduation requirements.

It’s a an interdisciplinary class that I co-teach with a science teacher at our school. We’ve presented the class a few times over the years at the Expeditionary Learning National Conference and the National Science Teacher’s Association conference as well. We’ve tweaked the curriculum many times over the last 5 years, that we’ve done it.

The project is centered around student’s designing exercise programs to help affect healthy changes in their lifestyles. The class follows the Scientific Method as a means for producing their paper. We cover all the body systems, fitness principles etc. The learning in the class is student driven. They develop their own problem question. We’ve looked at free weights vs machines, exercises using their own body weight that they can do at home, heart rate and many more.

If your interested in any curriculum, please let me know through the post and I will be happy to share. It’s a curriculum that we’ve spread to some other NYC schools and would like to continue the spread.



November 9, 2013

Hi Jo,

Yeah exploring the PBL concept in our school so would be great to see some of the work that you and the students have produced.

Please email me .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Mary Jo McGinley

November 13, 2013

I would like to have some ideas on how students can design their own exercise programs.  We attempt PALA+, but some lose interest after awhile. I would like to do this with middle school students. Thanks! Mary Jo


November 19, 2013

Hi Joe and others, I would love some ideas on how I can incorporate PBL into practical PE lessons. Any ideas to start me off would be great.
Please email me .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Jeff Golder

November 25, 2013


We are in the initial phases of implementing PBL and I would love to see an example.  At this point, no one has given me any real input on how PBL applies to PE.  Any help would be much appreciated.

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Gail Lynn Hartig

December 14, 2013

This is very intriguing… I would love to see some more examples of how I may implement this in my middle school PE/Health classes.  I know thinking critically in PBL is of great benefit to my students, I just don’t have much exposure about how to implement in my classes.  If anyone would be willing to share, I would certainly appreciate it.

Holly Troyer

January 8, 2014

Hi Joe,
Could you please send me the information from your curriculum? Thank you so much!
My e-mail address is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Terry Smith

January 19, 2014

Hello Joe,  This sounds terrific.  I have been commissioned to come up with a project based learning program for one grade level for second semester and would love to have some ideas to look at and draw from.  If you don’t mind sending me the curriculum, that would be great.  Thanks. Terry .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


February 20, 2014

Joe, I am also interested in more info from your curriculum.


March 12, 2014

Hi, Joe! Also interested in your curriculum. Starting the brainstorming process of a PBL for my fitness unit and the students also have a 1/2 hour block of time each day they could be working on this outside of PE class, so I could easily implement this. Please send info to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


March 25, 2014

I am currently rolling out a PBL event that requires students to showcase their understanding of the principles of exercise by designing a 30 day sport-specific fitness plan that is designed either to prevent overuse injuries associated with a Spring sport or a program that a student who has the injury can use to stay fit while injured.  They will produce a coach’s guide to help prevent the sport specific injury from occurring.  Students choose their sport/injury of focus and are encouraged to interview experts in the field as they develop an informed 30 day plan.


April 21, 2014

Joe, I have been chosen to represent my department (PE/Health) for a staff development that deasl with “project based learning”.  I would be interested in anything you have to help understand how our department can help other departments through PBL.
Thank you so much.


May 21, 2014

Hey All,

I apologize for not being back and having checked this site in a long time, it’s crunch time here in NYC with graduation coming and all that. As soon as the school year ends, I will try to get stuff out to all of you. Again, I apologize for the untimeliness and hope that it will still be useful to everyone.


June 1, 2014

Joe and others,
Trying to find info/ideas for PBL. Wanting to establish 2-4 projects for my PE middle schoolers throughout the next school year. Would appreciate any info or curriculum guides available. Thanks. Info can be sent to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


June 9, 2014

Hello All,

It’s been a long time coming, we’re still working on some curriculum documentation that will take longer as we enter June and the final presentations from our students this semester. However, we do have a website up and running that students can access and use for when they miss class. It has curriculum on there and the various parts of the project. Feel free to email questions and what not. FYI, when you see mention of learning targets, it’s our lesson and course goals (both short term and long term) we use throughout the class.

The website is

Hope this helps, thanks for your patience!!


June 10, 2014

The PBL you have used at your school sounds great! The website is a helpful tool as well.  I am interested in more specifics, if you have them.  When you get a chance .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Carolyn Lesperance
PE Teacher/Coach
Elkhart Indiana


June 17, 2014

Joe would like more info about PBL for P.E.

Judi Treat

June 23, 2014

Wendy, I would love to see what you did.
Joe I would love more information.


July 30, 2014

Joe, Do you have examples of PBL for kindergarten through 4th grade PE?  I would love to see examples.  Thanks

Jill Rowland

August 5, 2014

Joe - I would love to see your curriculum.  I teach Jr. High and High School.  Jill
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


August 12, 2014

Joe, I would love some other ideas about how to implement PBL in PE. Thanks! .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Coach Watkins

August 17, 2014

Hey Joe- will you please send me the information as well?

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Niamh Brogan

August 22, 2014

I would love this info too, thanks joe

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August 24, 2014

Hi Joe,

My school is moving towards a PBL school. Right now we have grades 6-10 and are building to a 6-12. I would love more info if you could send it my way!

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


September 3, 2014

Hi Joe,
We are looking for new ways to reach our students. We would be more than appreciative if you would be willing to share your curriculum. Thanks.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


September 9, 2014

Hi Joe,
Middle School PE teacher, can you send me info? Thanks


October 28, 2014

Hi all..i’m melanie from Indonesia. I am a PE Teacher. If it possible, would you like to share your teaching ideas, videos, games, project ideas etc about PE Learning in High School? please send to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
thanks before for the sharing smile.


November 7, 2014

Hi Joe, would love to read more about what you have covered in your curriculum.
Thanks in advance.


November 17, 2014

Joe, I am very interested in reading more about your PBL curriculum. Thank you for sharing the knowledge.

Paula Zimm

December 3, 2014

I teach a HS Health course and have been slowly moving to more and more PBL . Please share your curriculum with me as well.

Paula ZImm

December 3, 2014

The last comment was for Joe from NY. Anyone else with curriculum for HS health that would like to share please do so.  Thanks

Michel Xhauflair

December 8, 2014

Hi Joe,

Great job. Amazing!
I’d like to have more info too when it’s possible.
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Thanks a lot and Best Wishes for 2015

rosemae saniel

December 29, 2014

Please give me sample on how to make use of PBL in PE class I’m teaching here in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. To be honest I have a hard time teaching physical education here especially with the culture so I am hoping for a guide in this 21st century skills. Thank you


January 8, 2015

Please send me any information for PBL for middle schoolers.  I have 6th graders at this time and need to begin PBLs with them but we also have 7th and 8th graders at our school.  Thanks.


March 10, 2015

Hi Joe, I just found this website and blog.  Will you please send as much info and examples of PBL in physical education.  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Rebecca Westwood

March 29, 2015

Hi joe and others

The things you are all talking about on this site sound fantastic!!! We are currently looking at rolling out pbl across the yr 8 curriculum and I would love any info/sample units to look out

Please email
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


April 25, 2015

Hi Joe,
I so excited to find this site and disappoint to discover that your blog has been removed.  Is there any other way I can read about your programing?

Thanks in advance

Please email

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Melanie mickleburgh

May 19, 2015

This looks fab I would be grateful to know how you started as I would like to stRt PBL with my pupil. If you have time please email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Kim Rummler

May 19, 2015


I would love to see your examples of PBL in physical education.  Each of our students has an I-pad and would like to take advantage of the I-pad with PBL.  Please e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Kim Rummler

May 19, 2015


I would love to see your examples of PBL in physical education.  Each of our students has an I-pad and would like to take advantage of the I-pad with PBL.  Please e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


June 9, 2015

I would really enjoy having more information from you on your PBL in PE.  The blog address you provided doesn’t work.  I look forward to hearing from you.  E-mail - .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


June 10, 2015

Please send me info, Joe!  Email:  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


June 29, 2015


I would be interested in receiving any information you have. Thanks. Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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