Teacher Focus: Brian MacConnell

Coach Brian MacConnell, serving as Physical Education teacher at Challenge Charter Middle School, was recently named Athletic Director for Challenge Charter Schools. In this new role, he will be overseeing the athletic activities and programs for all Challenge school sites. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Coach MacConnell to talk about his love for fitness and his approach to teaching middle schoolers PhysEd.

Messer: What led you to teach P.E.?

MacConnell: Honestly, this is my dream job. I studied Business Economics in college, and I hated it. I was encouraged by my family to teach. I have a brother and sister who are also teachers. I remember there was always sports while I was growing up. We spent a lot of time outside doing physical activities and playing games as a family.

Messer: I understand that there are a lot of misconceptions about Health and PhysEd in schools.

MacConnell: That’s very true. I think some teachers think I just play fun games all day with the scholars, like I just put a bunch of kick balls out and I’m done. But I tell the students, it’s not what you are going to play today, it’s what you are going to learn.

Messer: What types of things do the scholars learn each day?

MacConnell: We learn about the body as we go through the units. For instance, if a student is cramping or short of breath, we talk about what causes that to happen. We talk about what muscle groups we are using for each sport. We also talk about why it matters what you eat. We watched the movie “Supersize Me” to help them understand that eating affects learning and life.

I also assign homework from time to time. For our Hockey Unit, I asked the scholars to watch five minutes of a hockey game, name the teams, and to describe what happened in writing.

Messer: Are there particular challenges to working with middle school aged students?

MacConnell: Team building is really a key because at this age respect, the way the scholars talk to each other, is an issue. I teach them to build each other up. I talk to them about setting themselves up for success, and I reinforce good behavior.

Messer: The new gym is being worked on, so you’ve had to be quite creative with your classes.

MacConnell: Yes, we are grateful to have had some nice weather this fall to use the lot next to the church. I’ve been able to incorporate some great strategy activities when we are forced inside by cold or rain. We play Tic-Tac-Toe, Mum Dynamite and even Project Adventure games. These help engage the brain with concentration, self-control, and teamwork. They also allow students who may not excel physically as much to be a bigger part of the activities.

I’m looking forward to the completion of the gym to give the scholars more structure. We will be able to set up more activity stations and do Project Adventure on a larger scale.

Messer: What is Project Adventure?

MacConnell: It is a team adventure that requires problem solving, strategy and physical activity. For instance, I might say that the gym floor is made of lava and then give the scholars limited equipment to get from one side of the floor to the other. They only win if everyone gets across without falling or stepping into the lava. They have to start over if anyone “falls” in.

Messer: What are some of the sports and physical activities in the curriculum?

MacConnell: We started with European handball, then moved to Hockey. Basketball, Soccer, Baseball is coming. We of course do an overall Fitness unit, mile run, kick ball and the other activities I’ve already mentioned.

Messer: Congratulations on your new role. What’s next?

MacConnell: Thank you. I’m looking forward to getting started with scope, ideas, equipment needs, coordinating with the other P.E. teachers and looking at some of the leagues we might join. I’m beginning to talk to schools in the area to see if we can get our students competing in the spring.

- Kim Messer, Executive Director of Communications

Coach MacConnell

Coach MacConnell