3 Tips for Teaching Synchronous-Only Online Elementary Physical Education

By now, some teachers and students have already begun the 2020-2021 school year. Those that haven’t yet will be doing so over the next few weeks. Districts across the country are operating under different guidelines interpreted by their state Departments of Education and their local school boards. Some are fully back in-person, some are in a hybrid model, and others are full-on online physical education once again.

My district is doing strictly e-learning until the end of January. The delivery of our e-learning model will look much different this school year compared to the spring. For the students and teachers in my school system, all e-learning will be synchronous in nature during the beginning of our 2020-2021 academic year. This is the opposite of what teachers were offered just a few months ago when the COVID-19 pandemic first began. Shifting from a completely asynchronous e-learning teaching model to a strictly synchronous one is a huge difference.

Before I go any further in this blog, I want to make it clear that I am not an expert in relation to teaching elementary physical education within the context of a synchronous-only e-learning model. I don’t think anyone is. However, I have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks planning and trying to wrap my brain around what this will look like. These are the thoughts that inspired this blog and my top 3 tips for teaching synchronous-only online elementary physical education!

young boy doing online physical education

Build Community and Connections First

You may have heard the phrase “connection before content” in the past. This phrase is something that I think about often. In a typical year, I would spend the first 5 weeks working on fostering a positive classroom community through relationship building. (teacher-student and student-student) There are countless ways to do this in person, but being strictly synchronous online makes this more of a challenge. While challenges exist, it is still very possible to live up to the “connection before content” principle.

The best professional development session I attended this summer was this one, led by Kate Cox (@KateCoxPE) as a part of CAHPERD’s CORE series. In it, she shares multiple ways to build a positive classroom community through strictly virtual means. I would highly suggest taking the time to watch it.

Be Standard-Based

A lot of the e-learning content for physical education this past spring centered around the idea of fitness. Fitness certainly lends itself well to e-learning and certainly has a place in our elementary physical education curriculum. If your district is anything like mine, the expectation is to make sure we are teaching from the entirety of the curriculum and not just part of it in order to have a well-balanced approach.

Planning for synchronous online teaching should still utilize the backwards design process. Start with a targeted SHAPE America Grade Level Outcome (GLO), determine success criteria for that GLO, develop an assessment to measure that GLO, and then plan your individual activities to help get your students there. This process ensures that we as teachers are giving purpose to the lessons we are planning. It also helps us to create and follow a roadmap for what our instruction will look like.

dynamic PE

Gopher has some great resources that were developed using the backward design process within their free Dynamic PE ASAP curriculum. While these resources weren’t necessarily planned for synchronous online teaching, many of the lesson parts can be modified to fit this situation, or even used exactly as is.

Tap Into Student Interest

In the world of synchronous online schooling, students wield a lot of power. Before you can teach them anything, you have to get them to show up to your live teaching sessions. Online attendance policies and school-wide expectations may not be enough if the students don’t find value in what you are teaching.

boy struggling with online learning

A lot of this detachment can be mitigated by the points made in the first tip of this blog. A by-product of developing positive teacher-student relationships is that you inherently learn more about one another’s interests. Knowing what your students are interested in can be a huge advantage for you as the teacher. Students are more likely to log in, engage, and come back if you weave their interests into your instruction.

Gamification can be a powerful tool in relation to this. Collin Brooks (@CollinBrooksie) led a great session on this topic as part of the Iowa AHPERD summer conference. As a result of watching it, I was able to create some gamification-based physical education resources that take my students’ interests into account (Minecraft Rhythm Patterns and Pokemon Levels Challenge!). These resources allow for student voice and choice. They serve to further increase their engagement since they are structured as “choose your own adventure” supplementary material for students to explore during our live lessons together. Will you be teaching synchronous online physical education classes this school year? Do you have any awesome tips or strategies that you are planning on using? Please share in the comment section below to keep the conversation going!

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