Flipping for fitness

The flipped learning model can be applied in physical education classes with great success.

Physical education (PE) teachers are often on the short end of the stick when it comes to technology innovations in school. When the battle of the bulge is fought every day in our schools, the conversations are usually more about removing the symptoms of childhood obesity, like limiting soda pop in vending machines and offering healthier school lunch options, than addressing the true cause of the problem–lack of overall physical activity.

I know what you’re thinking – “Technology in PE? Is this guy crazy?”

While I admit that PE is likely the last educational frontier you would expect to see being reshaped by the digital revolution, this is exactly what is happening at my school. I hope to be just the first of a new breed of PE pioneers in the classroom, keeping students engaged and moving by “flipping the gymnasium”–a new take on the flipped learning instruction model.

When flipping a class, teachers film lectures with software like Camtasia Studio (my go-to video recording and editing tool) and have students watch the videos at home, so that class time is spent covering questions on the material, not teaching new content. While it might seem strange to learn that I’m taking this approach in my PE class, of all places, it’s actually a perfect “fit” (forgive the pun). After all, isn’t the whole point of physical education to get, and keep, kids moving?

I’m no technological pioneer. I’m a physical education teacher at The Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth, Ill. during the day; a football, basketball, and track coach in the afternoon; and a “PE class flipper” at night. To the students and athletes I coach, I’m doing some things they’ve never seen done with technology before. And my Pickleball flipping video is nearly legendary.

It’s amazing what happens when you embrace emerging technology in school. It makes a huge difference in the classroom as well as on the athletic field. And I use technology available to any student or teacher.  It’s not magic, but it really works.

Flipping my PE class was actually pretty simple. Jon Bergmann, our school’s lead technology facilitator, came in at the beginning of the school year to introduce us to the flipped learning model. After his talk, I thought if we could spend less time in class talking about what the students were going to do and how to do it, and instead just come in and give them a few reminders and go, then activity time would increase (which is ultimately one of our top priorities in PE).
If you’re a PE teacher interested in flipping, here’s how I recommend you get started.

The most important thing to keep in mind is this: Do what makes sense for your program! At The Joseph Sears School, we don’t flip every day because once the students understand an activity, they don’t require as much lead-in instruction. But when we start a new unit, like Pickleball, I create a video on the rules and have the students watch that video and take an online quiz outside of class. The quiz helps me confirm that students know the rules, reducing the number of times that I need to pause class to provide more instruction. Typically, flipping at the beginning of every unit works best.

While the concept of flipping PE is pretty cool in itself, I like to use technology to engage my students in ways that extend beyond the classroom. I use mobile technology in other aspects of my teaching and coaching as well, which enhances my ability to provide guidance and feedback to students in real-time–this has immediate impact.

In my work as a coach and teacher, I use Coach’s Eye, a mobile instant video analysis tool by TechSmith. Instead of lugging around a camera, I use my iPad to film my students and athletes as they practice and play. In seconds, I can review video frame-by-frame with them so they can instantly see what they are doing and make any necessary technique adjustments. It’s been especially helpful in our volleyball unit–there’s nothing more effective than being able to show a student exactly what to do to improve their serving technique seconds after a serve hits the net. I could never have done that before!

Because I’ve seen the impact technology has on students in my school and on the field, I know that other PE educators can definitely benefit from what I’ve learned on my journey in flipping. That’s why I created an online resource to connect with other educators and help share my flipped PE and coaching insights with those who need them.

You can catch up with me and my flipped learning through my “Flipped Coach” blog and YouTube channel, and Twitter (@flippedcoach). While flipped learning is a new passion for me, it’s really all about the students and helping them be the best athletes possible. I hope that other PE teachers and athletic coaches will be inspired by my students’ successes and give flipping a try in PE class and on the athletic field.

Truly, we are at the forefront of an emerging technology renaissance in physical education. Here’s hoping I can encourage more “Flipped Coaches” through my learnings to keep up the momentum and make flipping PE a common practice in the U.S. After all, what better way to get students moving in school than to give them more time to move in class? It’s not rocket science – in fact, it’s as easy as Pickleball!

After graduating from Ball State University with an MA in Physical Education, Jason Hahnstadt has been a physical education teacher at The Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth, Ill. since 2005. He has taught all grade levels from K – 8 in Physical Education.

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