It all happened so fast…
On March 11, 2020 we had a high school physical education department meeting to discuss the potential of a school closure due to COVID-19. We were advised to start thinking about remote learning and how we would offer instruction online. Two days later, the Department of Health closed my district due to a positive case; four days later, all NY schools were closed by order of the governor.
The first week and a half was filled with virtual faculty and department meets; spending hours online searching and creating remote resources; collaborating with other educators on Twitter to share ideas; working with NYS AHPERD to create high school documents for remote learning. I, like many of you, “lived” on my computer from morning until evening to prepare for my students all while trying to balance my family life.
I have done a lot of reflecting on my first experience of teaching remotely. There were things that went really well, things that needed improvement, and things I wish I had done. I had days when everything fell into place and other times when they fell apart completely. Ironically, it sounds a lot like what happens during a regular school year when you are trying to implement something you never have done before. You prepare. You put it into practice. You assess and reflect. You make changes. You move forward.
Things That Went Really Well
- Collaborating as a High School Staff – I teach with six other physical education teachers in my building. We all have different ideas and teaching styles but our common focus has always been asking this important question: What works best for our students? We had weekly virtual meetings to reflect, re-evaluate, make changes, and just check in with each other. We also used our group chat to text in order to share immediate information or ask questions. What if you don’t work with a small group or any other physical educators in your district? Talk with other teachers in a nearby district; take to social media; use your PLN and set up some time with other educators to discuss your plans and ideas. There are plenty of us who love sharing, passing along information, and learning from one another. You are not in this alone.
- Establishing a Routine – The first few days of being able to “sleep” in that extra hour was really great, but I also noticed that it threw me off. I needed a new routine for teaching from home. Once my school released our modified schedule, it was much easier to plan my day and stick to it. I found I was less distracted and more productive. Not to mention, it helped keep my daughter on track with her virtual learning schedule.
- Offering Student Choice – We have a student choice model built into our physical education curriculum. This allows students to try new activities and take activities that interest them or ones they enjoy. We wanted to keep that theme while they were at home by offering a “Student Choice Activity Log”. I recommended activities, provided online resources, hosted weekly google meets for discussions/check-ins/reflections and shared weekly feedback on their progress. The log contained a “reflection” process that each student completed each week. My students shared A LOT with me in this section about a range of topics. Personally, it was one of my favorite ways to connect with some of my students and learn about them.
- Optional Google Meets – Every week I would offer optional google meets on Thursdays or Fridays that did not conflict with the school day. The purpose was to smile, laugh, relax, have fun, share, listen, play games. I soon realized that I needed this just as much as my students did and I looked forward to it each week.
Things That Needed Improvement
- Social & Emotional Check-Ins – Student engagement overall was not consistent with my google meets. Some weeks I would have high attendance and other weeks, it was quite low. To be fair to my students, they were not mandatory (parameters set by my district at the time). I was able to check-in verbally with students who attended the google meets, but many did not share how they were doing in that type of format. We did one SE check-in on google classroom about half-way through the virtual learning model which gave us some helpful information. We also shared it with the social workers and guidance counselors to offer them any insight. This is something I wish I maintained. How you are feeling one minute-day-week easily changes, especially under the circumstances we are all living in. Moving forward, I will be more consistent with my SE check-ins to better help my students.
- Adding More to the Student Choice Log – I know I mentioned earlier that I really liked the log, I still do, but it needs more week to week. I would like to offer “physical activity challenges” on the log; focus questions; students add their goals (it was a separate document) and activities they are working on to help reach that goal; helpful tips for stress, nutrition, sleep, etc…;fun facts about a myriad of things.
- Taking Some “Me” Time – I am not sure about you, but I spent HOURS upon HOURS in front of a “screen” all week and weekend. If I was not assessing student work on my chromebook, I was on a virtual meeting, checking/responding to emails, creating new resources, searching for resources, on Twitter, Facetiming with other educators, watching the news… ALL – THE – TIME. My own activity level dropped, headaches from screen time emerged (I now own the blue light glasses – yup, they work), and I got frustrated more easily. Toward the end of the school year, I started to take some breaks and walk away from my screens. I felt better. I was less stressed. I slept better. Sometimes it is hard to take your own advice. So here is mine – take some breaks and learn from my mistakes.
Things I Wish I Had Done
- Creating a “Needs” Assessment Student Survey – There were so many things I wish I knew about my students BEFORE we transitioned to Remote Learning. If I had only asked them some questions about their home life, their physical activity and access to resources, I would have been able to plan a little differently. I also would have had the necessary information to address some of those needs individually with my students. Moving forward, I have created that survey and will be asking my students to complete it in September. This will help guide many decisions when creating assignments, assessments, group discussions and individual conversations with my students. If you are interested in creating your own, here is a link to mine to get some ideas. Needs Assessment Survey (The survey does not address “getting to know you” style questions; that will be a different activity conducted in our google meets and on google classroom).
- Bringing Games to Google Meets – The online classroom has a different feel. Comfort levels shift and as a result, behaviors shift. Some students mute their audio; some have their cameras off; some speak up; some don’t. Overall, my experience with google meets in my PE classes was not the best and I know I can improve in this area and create a different environment. I know this because I saw it work in my Unified google meets. I collaborated with a special education teacher and a fellow physical educator to create “themed” games for our meetings once a week. It was an opportunity for our partners (general education students) and athletes (students with a range of intellectual disabilities) to come together socially, work on a variety of skills, and reinforce prior learning content. We played Movement Jeopardy, Scavenger Hunt Bingo, Name That Tune, Pictionary, Scattergories, and Charades, to name a few. We would pre-set all the students by posting what we would be doing a few days before our google meet. We had regular attendance, cameras and audio were on (by choice) and the students enjoyed what we were doing. We received great feedback and this is something I highly recommend incorporating in some way into your virtual classroom. I plan on using these games and many others as a way for my students to engage with one another, review important class concepts, and to have a little fun along our virtual journey.
- Explore a Variety of Activities – As physical educators we want our students to try a variety of activities throughout their educational career. This allows them to make informed decisions about their interests to maintain an enjoyable, active lifestyle. In a Remote Learning Model, access to equipment, resources, community facilities, and even other people can pose difficult challenges in order to physically engage in these activities. However, we can still explore and teach our students about a variety of sports, recreational games, and lifetime activities. Why not build a “Would Love to Try Some Day” list based on teaching students all about these activities? How about having your students pick an activity they have never done before, research it and present to the class? This idea could be structured in any way that works for you and your students. Personally, I am excited to use this idea not just in a Remote Learning Model, but also when we return to school in person.
Although we are being asked to deliver physical education in a new way, remember, as a physical educator, YOU are: creative, enthusiastic, flexible, eager to learn, willing to try new things, a leader and most importantly, there for your students whenever they need you.
The road ahead may feel quite long, but you are not in this alone. The physical education community is a supportive, caring, and helpful group of outstanding professionals. Take comfort in knowing that whenever you have a question, an idea to share or just need to talk, there is always more than one person willing to offer their assistance.
If you have any questions about any of the information on this blog post or would like to discuss any of your Remote/Virtual Learning ideas, please feel free to contact me via email @firstname.lastname@example.org You can also send me a direct message on twitter @agrelyea
Be well. Be safe. Be kind. Stay positive.