Academic Insights: TCS Health & Physical Education Department

Friends, relatives, parents and even colleagues have had many questions about how one goes about teaching health and physical education (HPE) during a pandemic. For instance: How do you teach an active class to students around the world when they are online? How do you manage having some students in the classroom and some online while still teaching the curriculum (aka, bridging)? How do you teach HPE with no equipment? What do you mean you can’t play games? How do you balance students being on screens too long in your class against being active and healthy (i.e., what HPE is all about!)?

These are all questions that the teachers within the HPE department at Trinity College School have had to answer in this COVID-19 world we are currently navigating. Most teachers in the department have found creative solutions by going back to their roots with past experiences or jobs. For instance, I have never been so grateful for my days as a camp counsellor. As a “pandemic HPE teacher” one must be creative and adaptive, and pull ideas together that have not been tried since days gone by. Adding to the camp-type creativity, at the beginning of October, Ms. Leisa Wierenga (the HPE department’s faculty associate) participated in a workshop with Adventureworks. She was able to bring back some creative and innovative games and activities, modified for COVID protocols, to share with HPE teachers. Professional development, even in a pandemic, has been vital to the HPE department’s ability to pivot and adapt.

Now, to get to some of those exciting questions about teaching HPE in a pandemic! It is certainly a challenge teaching active classes to online students. If the entire class is online, and the curriculum is covering health units like substance use and misuse, it looks a lot like a traditional class. However, when in an active unit, like say, volleyball, skills must be taught via documents or videos, which can then be practiced by the students individually. Technology has been helpful here. Websites such as Padlet have been beneficial as a place for students to post their videos, pictures and other evidence of learning so that the teacher and other students can see their skills develop. Of course, as much of this year has involved having some students in-person and some online (bridging), there is really only one way to accomplish teaching this group an active lesson. Students in class go through their lesson with the teacher. At the same time, the online students check in with their teacher and have an alternate task (e.g.,completing the volleyball skills on their own and posting a video for the teacher). In this way, we’re able to tailor HPE classes to the hybrid learning environment.

The use of physical spaces and equipment has been challenging and a moving target throughout the year. At the beginning of the school year, no equipment was to be shared and no scrimmage-type games were to be played. Many adaptations were made so that games still provided some fun and accomplished the learning goals of the unit. For example, one adaptation for “invasion/territory” based games has been to make the game much like a real-life version of table hockey (think of the metal or plastic hockey players attached to a stick, only able to move in certain spaces) in order to maintain physical distancing. The fitness centre was closed for the first term, which meant the Grade 9 fitness unit needed to be modified for bodyweight exercises, often done outdoors. An addition that has made a huge impact at the School is the installation of a disc golf course. Installed in the fall, it has provided an outdoor, physically distanced sporting opportunity for our students, and a target games teaching option for the HPE department. Protocols have changed as the year has progressed, which has meant the introduction of sharing some equipment (like balls, Frisbees, etc.), and the opening of the fitness centre. With the use of equipment and spaces come consistent disinfecting after each use, when the students have left the space. The added bonus is that the HPE teachers feel as though they are now part of the Ghostbusters franchise, getting to use “spray packs” and “ray guns” for disinfecting.

One common experience everyone has had during this pandemic is too much time spent on screens. This is a real dilemma given that this is the medium through which many students need to be educated. However, in a lot of ways, it goes against what is considered healthy and what is taught in HPE (get off screens, get active, get outside). To ensure balance and encourage activity, teachers often only require students to be online for the lesson being taught and then they are encouraged to get off the screen and go get some exercise. There have been several opportunities for online workouts, either led by the teacher or through an online bodyweight workout on YouTube. And students are still able to present their work to their classmates and in many cases lead the class for presentations or assignments.

Teaching during a pandemic certainly has created challenges and the need to be creative and adapt. The interesting thing will be to see how many of these creative changes that were required to be made might actually be retained in future years. Teachers have learned some fantastic skills this year. We’ve become more familiar with new technologies and online resources, come up with better pedagogy for both in-person and online students, and created some truly fun and different games and activities. No one could have anticipated the need to teach in this modified format or the additional planning required. However, the pandemic has led to some creative and inspiring moments in the HPE office, classrooms, gymnasiums, courts and fields. In a lot of ways, HPE teachers have gotten back to their roots.

- By Mr. Tom Tansley, head of health and physical education