2020-2021, A Year of Ups & Downs!

The final month of the 2020-2021 school year has arrived, and along with it:  the countdown to summer for students & staff!  I thought it would be fun to share a few of the up & downs that I have experienced during this atypical school year.

Distance Learning for Physical Education classes is most definitely not an ideal situation.  As a teacher, we are just hopeful for all of the students to be on our google meet & to have their cameras on.  The interaction with younger students (fifth & sixth grade) went quite well, while the seventh & eighth graders have been more challenging to keep engaged.  For the most part, we have avoided any problems with technology & access to internet signal.

I have to admit that locating/formulating lesson plans is very tough, mainly because of a lack of space & equipment for students at home.  That being said, the successful lessons have been quite energizing & the students have not complained once during or after a lesson.

Masks in Physical Education Class were a challenge that nobody looked forward to (for the obvious reasons).  Our students have done an outstanding job of keeping the masks on, and making sure to pace themselves accordingly when the activity is a strenuous one.  We have also done a great job of creating outdoor activities that allowed students to take the masks off, when the weather cooperated with us.    

Quarantine of Students is the worst part of the 2020-2021 school year.  It was heartbreaking to watch as kids were leaving the building halfway through a school day because of possible exposure to a classmate that tested positive for COVID-19.  We would have situations where a portion of the class would remain in the building & others would be at home.  I was not allowed to teach to both groups at a time, so quarantined students were asked to either join an existing distance learning class or to complete one of my plans for the week independently. 

Youth Sports/Activities were a bright spot during the school year, even with COVID-19 protocols attached to them.  The normalcy of going to practice & competing against rival teams was a welcome situation at the end of the school day for our students, and it provided them with a fun opportunity to be a teammate once again.  It was also a good thing to see concerts, competitions, & traditions like prom back again this spring!

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2019-2020, A Learning Experience That We will Never Forget

The final week of the 2019-2020 school year has arrived, and it is far from what we have become accustomed to.  Last week I witnessed my first online graduation ceremony & took my family to a really fun parade to honor the students for one last time before they receive their diplomas.  The usual practice of attending parties is also quite different, with many parents electing to wait until July or others that have been very creative with the organization of a traditional party.  This is the situation that we find ourselves in, but I have to say that I am very proud of the senior class of 2020.  Not a single student that I have talked to is angry or negative about their final year in Rockford, Minnesota.  They have adjusted to a situation they have little control over, and have made the best of it.

The same can be said about my students and their distance learning experience.  We have done our very best to provide a structure that mimics the typical school day.  My health & physical education classes begin each day with an attendance question, and a motivational message to carry throughout the day.  A small percentage of each class has not participated very well, but the vast majority of the group has done an exceptional job of turning in assignments & messaging me on a regular basis.  This is not exactly an easy task for many of our kids that do not have the same home life that my children enjoy.   It is obvious that our students absolutely care a great deal about finishing the school year in a strong fashion.

I thought it would be appropriate for our final physical education assignment to have my classes experiment with three different websites that include apps for their smartphones.  The “Awesome Apps” lesson profiled Moti Sports, Darebee, & Monkey Spot as a collection of quality apps with differing approaches for students to experience.  It was interesting to observe from the responses that were received that Moti Sports had the most positive remarks for the delivery of content, as well as the simplicity for users at the 7th grade level.  The students that play soccer in the fall were also impressed with the website & app, and one student remarked on their response that it was “fun to see how many ball skills that I could do without making a mistake”. 

A friend asked me the other day if we could deliver content & communicate with students if COVID-19 occurred 15 years ago.  My response was “yes, but it would be a really tough challenge without the tools that we have in 2020”.  I can speak with great confidence that if a person is willing to put a great effort into their profession as a teacher, there is a wonderful assortment of websites & apps that can deliver age-appropriate content at our fingertips.  I didn’t hesitate to share the Moti Sports website & app with my students, because I knew they would really like it.  I also am anxious for our lives to return to “normal”, and have the ability to use it as a valuable resource in the fall.  

Distance Learning From The Physical Educator

The COVID-19 epidemic has been a mental, physical, financial, & social drain on many people.  My heart goes out to all of the families that have lost loved ones, and to those who are struggling to make ends meet in a difficult time.  I am in a very good situation compared to others, but it is certainly a new challenge to perform the job of a physical educator to the level of expectation that my Principal & our families expect from me. 

Our school district is situated in a region of Minnesota where all of our families have access to broadband internet.  However, we were unable to pass a referendum recently to provide technology to families in need.  The initial weeks of distance learning have been spent attempting to locate specific students & distribute computers, as well as getting families set up with Wi-Fi hotspots.  As a district, we have developed a team to help organize our teachers & make it as painless as possible for the parents at home to access the information & materials that we create on a daily basis. 

Delivering quality physical education lessons in an online format is a fun challenge, and it provides educators with the opportunity to use multiple avenues for sharing their content.  My colleagues in Rockford have relied upon YouTube videos, Screencast-O-Matic, & the numerous platforms that Google offers; including Classroom, Slides, Forms, Hangouts, & Meets.  The students in my classroom can expect a weekly slideshow from me (posted on my school website), with multiple pieces of information based on a central theme.  They are asked to complete a weekly form that I create, with the responses saved onto a spreadsheet.

Is this an ideal situation?  Absolutely not!  I miss the daily interaction with my students, especially the immediate feedback that we give each other.  There are obviously limitations with distance learning, but we are fortunate that in 2020 it is possible to enjoy conversation from a distance & interaction from behind a computer screen or handheld device.  We are also able to share some amazing activities & skill development tools, which is exactly what apps like Moti Sports offer for young student-athletes.

What is on my mind as we approach the Holiday break?

The Holiday Season is here, and the excitement is quite noticeable at school from our students.  My colleagues & I enjoy the buildup to holiday break as well, with special contests, potlucks, & even a day to wear our favorite “Ugly” sweater. 

Every year I compile a list of items to accomplish over holiday break that is a mixture of school-related projects & personal/family time that is important for “recharging my batteries”.   This year is no different, with a sizable curriculum project on the list and scheduling activities for the second half of the school year. My holiday break will include time at school to accomplish these tasks, but in a peaceful child-free environment conducive to productivity.  Lastly, I use the holiday break to reflect on successes & possible ways to improve my physical education classes.  I spend a great deal of time looking for quality teaching tools, as well as ideas to incorporate into my lesson plans.  The use of apps & exploration of websites is an example of this task.  Our profession requires a great deal of self-evaluation, and this is the ideal time for this to take place.

I am also a firm believer in combining relaxation time with exercise over the break as well, especially to burn off the extra calories that we love to consume at holiday celebrations.  I make it a point to do a personal evaluation of my current fitness levels, and to create new short & long term exercise goals for the remainder of the school year.  My favorite holiday break tradition is to work on (and eventually complete) a large jigsaw puzzle at the end of each day.  For me, this is one of my favorite ways to relax at home & my young kids love to help out too.