I know Joe Wicks became a household name teaching “PE” to the nation during lockdown and bar a broken bone he made it look easy! Remember, Joe Wicks had ample space to work in and he was interacting with his followers who were energetic and engaged. However, the “PE” he was teaching was very limited in terms on variety of content and void of any instructional models other than direct teaching.
The realities of teaching a group of students a practical subject like physical education and trying to engage different pedagogical principles into the class is a massive challenge. Taking into account the usual complexities of teaching online, like connectivity, power-cuts, screen sharing to name but a few, teaching physical education adds a whole new dimension of complexities.
When teaching physical education online there are a number of headings you can work under to help guide the planning process. These are:
Some tips from my own experience around these headings:
Engagement really affects how a lesson can be planned and delivered to students. Through lock-down, some pre-service teachers were out on placement and their experience of teaching PE varied greatly. Some were teaching whole classes face to face and others had to upload a document or pre-recording and had no contact with any student throughout those weeks. These experiences are different to the extreme but very real and is the number one factor to consider when planning teaching PE virtually.
I started planning my lessons around the space I had to work in but found out very quickly how this varied greatly between me and many of my students. You will need to adapt and modify greatly for every lesson for this as different skills and activities have varying requirements.
Wow, the amount of platforms available out there to help with teaching online is incredible and if there is one positive thing I got from teaching virtually, it is finding and experimenting which ones worked best for my content, my students and me. Think about what device students will be using to access the lesson, as this will affect their experience.
Time and activities need to work together. How a sports hall or outdoor space is managed is very different to a computer screen. You are not going to be there in the space with the students while they are moving so what type of activities can be done that are safe for the environment they are in. You cannot micro-manage the experience when teaching virtually. Students will have a limited attention span so what you may have taught over 20-25 minutes needs to be re-worked to keep students engaged. Limit activities to 8-10 minutes, remember you can teach the same content in different ways!
Finally, one thing I have realized in teaching physical education over the years is that the educator must show energy and passion for what they are teaching for students to really engage in the lesson. This is so difficult through the screen. The screen seems to zap the energy right out of you at times, so novel and innovative resources can help with this. Take time and plan a lesson that can help you with this. I know Joe Wicks had so much energy in his videos but that is just one lesson, not the possible 8 or 9 you may be teaching in one day!
Teaching physical education through a screen is definitely possible and it has some positive elements to it, but it is by no means a substitute for being face to face. Teaching is so much more than the content; there is the hidden curriculum and pedagogy that is lost through the screen. Human interaction is what makes physical education such a special and important subject in our schools and I hope this will not be forgotten!
Ursula Freyne is an Applied Studies Coordinator in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick. Contact Ursula on firstname.lastname@example.org