Technology in Motion
How Information and Communications Technology is Enhancing H&PE in Ontario Schools
Smart phones, tablets and laptops... these days, they’re everywhere you look. And while it might seem like all this screen time is isolating us and reducing our levels of physical activity, there’s a flip side to technology you may not have considered—especially when it comes to teaching health and physical education.
“Physical education is a moving subject,” says Andrea Häefele, an H&PE specialist teacher at Highgate public school in Markham, Ontario. “You can’t really capture it in a textbook.” And thanks to the creative use of even the most basic electronic devices, educators have a whole new range of options at their fingertips when it comes to getting students active and keeping them engaged.
Using technology helps to teach real world concepts.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools include multimedia resources, databases, the Internet, digital cameras, specialized software, and even relatively simple devices like pedometers and heart rate monitors. And while these devices aren’t used in all Ontario gyms, a growing number of forward-thinking educators are using technology in some pretty creative ways.
“We’re connecting to the tools that students are already using in real life,” says Heather Gardner, Ophea’s Curriculum Consultant, of ICT tools. “It allows us to bring real world concepts and ideas into the palm of students’ hands—literally!” For example, pedometers are often used to give students immediate feedback on their levels of physical activity—not only in the gym, but throughout the day. The devices can help to foster goal setting skills—and the more creative an educator can be in their use, the more engaged students are likely to become. “Teachers might challenge students to ‘walk across Canada’ after calculating how many steps it would take,” suggests Gardner, “or they could have a challenge between different classes or between students and teachers to see which group can walk the most steps that week.”
Technology is also being used to even the playing field by helping teachers to provide differentiated instruction for students with various abilities and learning styles. For example, step-by-step instructions can be uploaded onto iPods, allowing students who have difficulty reading to gain knowledge in a way they’re more comfortable with. Video can be used to help visual learners. Students who are shy about speaking up and sharing their opinions in a group setting can post questions or demonstrate their learning by making comments on a class blog or secure social media site (such as Edmodo ). Through these same blogs and social media sites, educators can solicit feedback on lessons from all class members, or can have them post questions or watch videos before a unit begins, helping to involve them more deeply in the material, improve and tailor lesson plans to meet student needs and extend the learning beyond classroom time.
The use of ICT is sure to shake things up and get students excited, especially because it is so conducive to participation and (often quite literally) allows students to see themselves reflected in their learning. This can be as simple as allowing students to choose and download their favourite songs for a dance unit or having them videotape one another as they practise fundamental movement skills or play a game.
“I was able to teach students how to videotape a game from different angles,” says Häefele, giving another example. The class was then able to freeze the game in different places to analyse it.
Teachers can lighten their loads with the touch of a few buttons.
“One thing I’ve really come to enjoy using are pocket flip cameras,” adds Allison Larouche, a health and physical education teacher/specialist currently living in Toronto. Among other things, Larouche has used the devices (which retail for approximately $40) to have students create and film their own warm up and cool down routines. After brainstorming with students about the components that might be included, she allowed them to choose their own music and film their own two-minute sequences. “Eventually I had a class set of student-led, student-initiated warm ups and cool downs,” she says.
Larouche then showed the videos using an LCD projector she’d set up in the gym. “I could have done the same series of movements, but the students wouldn’t have been nearly so engaged as they were watching their friends do some goofy warm up,” she explains. Not only were Larouche’s students more engaged, but the videos meant she didn’t have to lead the warm up and cool down herself each period—just one example of how making good use of technology can help to lighten a teacher’s load.
Häefele, meanwhile, reports that she uses ICT extensively to facilitate evaluation. Like most specialist H&PE teachers, she sees a large number of students pass through her gym each day. On average, she teaches 12 classes, each with approximately 30 students. The short 50-minute periods she spends with the students also make authentic assessment difficult. To address this, Häefele has turned to technology—iPads, specifically. “I have them posted in each corner of the gym,” she says. “I call them my Speakers’ Corners.” At each of the four iPads, students find a guided question. At a point in the period when they feel comfortable, they are expected to go in pairs to a corner and take turns filming each other answering the question. “For example,” recounts Häefele, “if we’re learning to send and receive objects in different ways, one question might say ‘Which object did you find the easiest to throw at the hula hoop?’” By the end of the period, Häefele has a collection of student responses that she can review later—something which not only allows her to make an honest assessment of each student’s understanding, but also gives her more time for one-on-one instruction and interaction with students.
Lesson planning is made easier and more interactive.
Teachers can also find a wide variety of support when it comes to lesson planning—often at no cost—by going online.
A simple Google search for lessons on any sport, activity or topic is sure to yield hundreds of results, from blog posts to YouTube videos. And while it may seem overwhelming at first, finding useful and reliable information online isn’t as difficult as it sounds. “Take it all with a grain of salt,” Larouche advises. “There are some terrible resources out there.” She advises checking the feedback given on blog posts and online resources (which can usually be found at the end of the page in the ‘comments’ section). Before long, you’re sure to find the websites that are most useful for you, and you may even make some surprising connections.
Häefele has met teachers from around the world by visiting their blogs and following them on Twitter. “I was trying to find information on starting a cricket unit, so I went on Twitter and used the hashtag ‘phys ed,’” she says. “I asked if anyone has ever taught cricket in a phys ed class before. Literally thousands of people replied telling me where to find lesson plans. I also connected with one person in Australia who uses many types of apps and I’m able to hook on to his blog every now and then and get ideas.”
If you’re uncertain about where to turn for online information, one sure-fire strategy is to begin with the organizations you already know and trust. The Ophea website is brimming with high-quality resources. These include the Ophea Curriculum Resources: Grades 1-8 (which consist of 130 ready-to-use lesson plans per grade, student templates and assessment tools), an online resource database, online workshops, webinars and more . In fact, new resources are being planned and posted all the time – and most of them are free of charge!
Gain access to experts without setting foot outside your school.
While the wealth of support and free resources are valuable for all educators, they can be nearly indispensible for those who live far from large city centres. Larouche got her start as a teacher in northern British Columbia, and later in Thunder Bay—both areas where professional development opportunities can be few and far between. “I was the phys ed department!” she laughs. “When you don’t really have anyone else in your school to bounce ideas off of, the Internet is a great tool.”
Beyond doing web searches for print resources, educators from all parts of the country can also access online training and webinars. In fact, when travel dollars aren’t a barrier, the range of experts at your disposal expands dramatically. “You can sit over lunchtime in Thunder Bay and watch a safety video on concussions from an expert at Sick Kids in Toronto,” says Larouche. “It’s amazing.”
Online learning can also happen in ‘real time’ through the use of free Internet video chat programs like Skype . Larouche has used this approach by setting up video calls between her students and medical students who were willing to answer their health questions. “It opens up a whole new way to have some dialogue,” she says.
Educators play an important role in helping kids stay safe online.
One common fear surrounding the use of technology is for the safety of students. There’s no question that the wired world brings with it a host of new problems, including online predators, cyberbullying and issues related to privacy. However, these very real dangers are all the more reason not to shy away from using technology with students. After all, we have a unique opportunity to play a part in teaching them how to navigate the Internet safely and can use authentic opportunities that arise to discuss netiquette and safety issues.
“If we want our kids online,” says Larouche, “—and they will be online anyway—we need to give them the tools they’ll need to regulate their own behaviour in that environment. We can’t assume that students already know. There are a lot of grown-ups who don’t know!”
And for those of us who don’t know (or who could use a little support), help is readily available. Ophea’s Connect[ED] resource is a free, bilingual web-based resource for students in Grades 4, 5 & 6 that focuses on the development of fundamental problem solving and decision making skills related to Internet use. The CyberCops resources from Ophea teach students in Grades 7 & 8 about the risks and safety issues associated with Internet use. By learning these skills—which align with the living skills expectations in the revised H&PE Curriculum—students will be able to ethically apply Internet safety rules as they make informed decisions online in a way that replicates the decisions they would make in real life.
Getting started is easier than you think!
While almost any eight-year-old can stream a video or download an app with ease, many adults tend to be wary of new technologies. “Change is scary,” says Larouche. “And a lot of people think change means that what we were doing before wasn’t working. That’s not the case at all.”
Far from starting over from scratch, Häefele and Larouche see the use of technology in schools as a way to build seamlessly on what’s already happening. And although it may mean that a teacher must step outside their comfort zone, there is so much to be gained. “Let your students know that you’re trying something new,” advises Larouche. “Learn it together.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that an extensive budget and highly specialized skills are not required. Any educator with access to an Internet connection, and perhaps a basic video camera, can find creative ways to incorporate ICT into health and physical education classes.
Learn how to create a class blog through a free blogging site (such as WordPress ). Record a video to be shared securely with parents through a social media site (like Edmodo). Follow different organizations (like Ophea, ParticipACTION or the Ministry of Education) on Twitter or ‘like’ them on Facebook and take advantage of the relevant content you’ll be exposed to each time you log on! Before you know it, you’ll find yourself participating in a vibrant online community—beginning within your school walls and reaching as far as your mouse can take you.