Novelty as a feature of Meaningful PE.

“Novelty seems to be innate, present in all cultures and life stages, and associated with a human being’s optimal functioning.” González-Cutre, D., & Sicilia, Á. (2019)

In my last post Stephanie Beni and I asked a number of questions about Meaningful PE (MPE) and where we might go next. One question was “What might be some other critical features of interest for MPE?“. Kretchmar (2006) stated that meaningful experiences in PE tend to consist of several features: social interaction, challenge, fun, motor competence, and delight. A review by Beni, Fletcher and Ní Chróinín (2017) found support for all apart from delight whilst adding personally relevant learning as an additional feature. This post speculates on whether novelty is another potential feature of a meaningful experience within PE and what pedagogical decisions we might make to explore the feature in more depth. (I have also written a post that explores whether craftsmanship might also be another feature of a meaningful experience in PE).

Novelty as a potential feature of MPE

Novelty can be defined as the need to experience something not previously experienced or deviates from everyday routine (González-Cutre et al, 2016). The authors of that paper go onto to propose that novelty could be considered as a basic psychological need of humans and added to self determination theory. Self-determination theory suggests that we have innate tendency to “practice (and develop) capacities (competence), pursue relations with others in social groups (relatedness), and integrate personal and intrapsychic experiences in relative unity (autonomy)“. That satisfying those needs is essential for the process of continuous psychological growth, integrity, well-being, and optimal functioning. We also have an inclination to seek out commit to new and interesting activities (novelty). We are active, inquisitive, and curious and are constantly in need of stimulation, but probably even more so when we are children and adolescents.

A follow up study by González-Cutre & Sicilia (2019) looked at the role of novelty satisfaction in PE by analysing its relationship with other important outcomes linked to participation, commitment and achievement such as intrinsic motivation, vitality, dispositional flow, and satisfaction. They found that novelty satisfaction is a significant predictor of intrinsic motivation and the other relevant outcomes. Due to their results they suggest that PE teachers should try to manipulate the different elements that make up the curriculum, introducing novelty in their speech, content, activities, game rules, materials, technologies, spaces, projects, methodology, and assessment systems.

A pedagogical choice which emphasises novelty

Gamification is a contemporary pedagogical approach that is growing in popularity outside both in and out of formal education. Dichev & Dicheva (2017), not only provide a nice review of the current literature of gamification in education, they also offer a framework that is useful for sound application. There are three categories of gamification elements: dynamics, mechanics and components.

Gamification CategoriesDescription of category
DynamicsDynamics represents the highest conceptual level in a gamified system. It includes constraints, emotions, narrative, progression and relationships
MechanicsGame mechanics (sets of rules) refer to the elements that move the action forward. They include challenges, chance, competition, cooperation, feedback, resource acquisition, rewards.
ComponentsComponents are at the basic level of the gamification process and encompass the specific instances of mechanics and dynamics. They include: achievements, avatars, badges, collections, content unlocking, gifting, leaderboards, levels, points, virtual goods, etc. 
Adapted from Dichev & Dicheva (2017)

An example of these categories being applied to a PE setting is the study by Fernandez-Rio and colleagues (2020). Drawing on the Marvel Universe to provide a coherent and appealing narrative, 3 units of work were covered using gamification as the main pedagogical approach (30 physical education lessons over 15 weeks in total). With Captain Marvel the children learnt cooperative games, with Jean Grey they learnt about body image and physical conditioning and with Ironman they developed coordination and throwing skills. In each lesson there was a clear overriding narrative that linked everything together and students had different skill levels to perform, were able to self-regulate their learning, had a portfolio to chart progress and earned points and badges which facilitated feedback and praise. The study concluded that gamification, consistently well applied over a long term basis, could enhance children’s motivation and learning within PE. Rather than providing a novel activity, gamification as a pedagogy not only satisfied children’s basic needs of novelty but did that in a sound educational way.

Capturing or holding interest?

All of us an have ongoing relationship with our body and with different forms of movement we participate in. Those relationships are dynamic and change throughout our life as they are based on our previous experiences of movement, our current capabilities and future goals and plans. I see PE as being a key vehicle for enhancing and enriching children’s relationships with their own bodies and movement cultures with MPE providing us a sound framework to make professional judgements and decision on how best to support that.

The features act as a framework; to guide our language, reflections and joint decision making (Fletcher, et al, 2021). They are a starting place, not an end. Depending on where an individual or class is with their relationship with their body, PE and the form of movement being explored different features we might want to prioritise some more than others. Chen (1996) draws upon the work of other scholars regarding situational interest, which is the individual’s subjective perception of an activity’s appealing characteristics. Two types of interest were identified: capturing interest and holding interest. “Catching interest is the student’s perception of an activity’s appealing characteristics that attract the student to take part in the activity at a given time. Holding interest is the perception of characteristics that have long-lasting retaining effects and maintain the student’s involvement in the activity even after the catching interest has diminished.” These might act useful guides when making judgements about which features to prioritise.

Take for example a novice group of Year 7s who are being introduced to rugby for the first time. Many of the group have had previously poor experiences of sport and physical activity and are disengaged and disinterested in PE as a subject and what it offers. In this scenario we may wish to capture the interest of the class, due to their current relationship with movement. Therefore we could prioritise novelty as a feature of meaningful PE through the use of gamification as a pedagogical approach, being mindful that the other features are present and we may need to respond and adapt our teaching to what emerges over the course of the unit.


Beni, S., Fletcher, T., & Ní Chróinín, D. (2017). Meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport: A review of the literature. Quest69, 291–312.

Chen, A. (1996). Student interest in activities in a secondary physical education curriculum: An analysis of student subjectivity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport67(4), 424-432

Dichev, C., & Dicheva, D. (2017). Gamifying education: what is known, what is believed and what remains uncertain: a critical review. International journal of educational technology in higher education14(1), 1-36.

Fernandez-Rio, J., de las Heras, E., González, T., Trillo, V., & Palomares, J. (2020). Gamification and physical education. Viability and preliminary views from students and teachers. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy25(5), 509-524.

Fletcher, T., Chróinín, D. N., Gleddie, D., & Beni, S. (Eds.). (2021). Meaningful Physical Education: An Approach for Teaching and Learning. Routledge.

González-Cutre, D., Sicilia, Á., Sierra, A. C., Ferriz, R., & Hagger, M. S. (2016). Understanding the need for novelty from the perspective of self-determination theory. Personality and individual differences102, 159-169.

González-Cutre, D., & Sicilia, Á. (2019). The importance of novelty satisfaction for multiple positive outcomes in physical education. European Physical Education Review25(3), 859-875.

Kretchmar, R. S. (2006). Ten more reasons for quality physical education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance77(9), 6–9.

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