Physical education class has long been a favorite among students. The 2020-21 St. Vrain Valley school year has begun with teachers creatively keeping their popular status even in a virtual setting.
St. Vrain Valley School District serves students in grades kindergarten through 12, so PE at each level — elementary, middle and high school — looks different but the goals remain the same: to motivate students to keep moving.
“The face to face, you can’t replicate that,” said Josh Law, PE teacher at Mountain View Elementary. “I’m kinda rethinking how I do things because I always start my school year the same way. I call it my PE training camp. We go over routines and expectations then we play fun little games to teach them how to function in the PE setting. I have to rethink that into my virtual setting.”
One of the expectations and challenges of a virtual PE class is getting students into the classroom. In elementary school, Law also must help students find his classroom and get logged in, especially kindergarten students, he said.
He and other teachers of “specials” — what the district calls art, music, PE and technology courses — created a website with the information students need to access their courses.
Although the district has provided the necessary technology for teachers to reach students, virtual PE classes still have their challenges.
“I can’t see all of them at one time, we are a little limited with the capabilities. Our technology is fantastic but if I’m leading a class … for example an exercise video, it’s really hard for me to see every single kid and to give some appropriate feedback to whatever they are doing,” Law said.
Kailee Bauer, self defense teacher at Longmont High School, said, “We are trying to figure out the best ways to get our kids up and moving and accountable and interacting, which seems to be the most difficult part for us because on a normal day I’m watching the kids perform everything they are doing.”
PE has always needed a big space within schools for students to run and play games. Currently teachers are confined to whatever they can capture through their camera. Law told the story of a student who mentioned he couldn’t see Law’s feet during a yoga session, leaving the student confused as to what to do with his own feet. Law immediately sought help from his peers to find another camera angle to capture the movements for his students.
“It feels awkward putting myself in front of a camera, but I am doing my best to keep it interesting and fun,” Law said. “I’m still trying to get a hang of what’s best compared to what I’m used to.”
All levels face balancing the amount of time spent on content and movement. “We don’t want our kids just staring at a screen while they are reviewing content. We want to get them moving,” Law said.
At the middle and high school levels, competition is key to keeping students moving. Ryann Charles, PE teacher at Trail Ridge Middle School, said many of his students like to compete. He has organized competitions not only among students but among other teachers to engage students.
Bauer said high school PE teachers also are organizing challenges but have found many students are competing through parent-approved fitness apps.
One surprise Bauer discovered is that students who don’t like the traditional PE setting are enjoying the virtual classroom more. “They can go and exercise on their own … so those students who sometimes struggle with a normal classroom setting of PE are doing really well online.”
Students also are challenging themselves, Charles said. He said one student challenged herself to improve her jumping skills. She sent him a video of herself jumping on a trampoline and he was able to guide her to improve her form.
Law uses a variety of methods to inspire his elementary students to get up and move. Some include music or exercise videos. Often he will pull out his visual aids and use fun games. With his district budget, he bought equipment packs for all the students at Mountain View so he can expand the variety of activities. The packs include speed stacks, a ball, a jump rope, juggling scarves and a bean bag.
“If this does continue for a long time, these kids will have built in resources and equipment that we can use together as a class,” Law said.
“I just try to make it fun. We end every class by getting everybody to come off mute and we share fun experiences that we’ve had during the class. We always end with a class howl to get them motivated and up and engaged, just getting them to have fun.
“We are all trying to keep an open mind and we are all learning so much.”
Correction: Ryann Charles, PE teacher at Trail Ridge Middle School. The school's name was incorrect in the original posting of this story.