Beth Holland

Food for thought…


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iCoach – Physical Education in the iPad Era

It’s happened to me a few times now. A participant has walked into one of my EdTechTeacher workshops, clearly miffed at the idea of spending a given period of time learning something that they feel clearly has no significance to their curriculum. However, unlike others who may hide in the back of the room and try to grade papers or check email, these educators sit in the front, attentive, but completely unconvinced. See, these are the PE teachers.

When I worked at St. Michael’s, the PE teacher dutifully worked with me once I convinced him that I could save hours in the planning of field day by using mail merge. A few weeks ago, a PE teacher announced upon entering the room that she was here, but there was nothing for her to learn. I asked if she would give me a chance and promised to provide her with one idea that she could use in her curriculum. Turns out that Class Dojo was just what she was looking for to track skills progression and participation.

Though I work full-time for EdTechTeacher, I still coach a high school sailing team, and as I think about it, I think I’ve been integrating technology for as long as I can remember. Whether it was responding to emails, writing up documents and presentations, or the Beth’s school of boat handling blog, there has always been something. For years, we have used headsets for talking to crews during team racing practice. In 2008, we used Kattack – a GPS based program that creates virtual models of practice races such that we could analyze the data to look at tactics and speed diffential. We’ve gone through a variety of video cameras – all the way back to large VHS based units – and now use video editing as well as modeling software to address rules nuances.

Recently, as our head coach used magnetic boats on a whiteboard to illustrate a point that we had just watched on video, I used my phone to capture his explanation, annotated it, and then posted it with notes to a shared Google Docs folder for the kids. During a meet, the visiting coach used his iPad to record races, and it has become common practice for us to use digital video to help sailors further develop their physical technique in the boat.

When we cancelled practice due to weather the other day, rather than just lecture the team about rules issues (sailing has a fairly complex rules system that is self-policing, so the students have to really understand them), I used a Socrative space race quiz so that they could work in groups to solve problems. The directions for the day looked like this: bring with you a notebook, something to write with, a rule book – or digital copy, and an Internet enabled device. During the “chalk talk”, I projected the Socrative quiz and used the SMART Board to capture notes that I then emailed back to the kids.

Given these thoughts, what could Physical Education look like in the “iPad era”?

  • Video could be used to model new skills. In addition to being able to use controls such as fast forward and the ability to pause an action, video could show technique in slow motion. Imagine using this to teach shooting form in basketball or throwing for baseball. Gymnasts could better perfect their form if they saw the discrepancies. Swimmers could improve their stroke. Elementary students could see that they release a ball too soon when trying to throw to a partner. Tennis players could work on stroke. The list goes on….
  • A classroom management tool such as Class Dojo can be used on any Internet enabled device such as a smart phone or iPad. PE teachers could track behavior, participation, or skill demonstrations in real time.
  • Polling tools such as Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter could let students anonymously input their times, offer feedback, or answer follow up questions about the day’s events.
  • A blog or wiki could be a great way to pre-screen new games or rules for those students who need additional lead time or struggle with the oral directions typically used to introduce concepts. This site could also be a great tool for parents looking to repeat games and activities at home. I have seen some incredibly imaginative physical education activities used to introduce concepts that range from teamwork to balance to aim. Personally, I remember playing Star Wars in elementary school, a game that involved running, throwing nerf balls, and hoola hoops.
  • For older students, Google Docs or Evernote could allow them to track their own progress, make notes about their skills progression, and monitor fitness levels.

While coaches have used technology for years – think about the hundreds of hours that have been spent on game videos and scouting films, Physical Education teachers have not always enjoyed the same benefits. With digital cameras, smart phones, iPads, tablets, and laptops becoming more commonplace, opportunities exist for more than just a mail merge for field day.


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Thinking of Neil

I’ve started this post a few times. Ironically, I’ve lacked the motivation to finish it until now. Lately, the issue of how to instill intrinsic motivation in teens has come to the surface – again. I had parent conferences and report cards at school. We discussed effort. One student was described by a colleague as being especially lethargic and unmotivated a good deal of the time these days. Of course, there was no discussion of how to instill any motivation back into this student. Similarly, coaching sailing, I’ve been struggling with the lack of talent and motivation in some of my sailors. In fact, this has bothered me more than anything in the classroom.

The first thing to know about high school sailing, in New England, in the spring, is that it’s really cold. The air is cold. The water is cold. There are inherent safety risks. Given that, when you take a kid with little experience into that environment, it can be terrifying if they don’t have any basic skills. This year has been different, and not just because of lack of ability, but because of the dearth of motivation. I’ve always felt that I can create skill, that I can take any beginner with a shred of talent and turn them into a varsity sailor, but I don’t know how to make motivation.

My friend Roy, who is also the head coach, has taken a sort of passive-aggressive stance with my frustration in working with these bottom boats. I think he’s trying to coach me into being a better coach. Last week, he sent me this article from the New York Times. This quote got me thinking.

Moreover, the very process of acquiring that expertise requires tremendous drive and determination. But where does that exceptional motivation and energy come from? Is it learned or inherited — or another combination of nature and nurture?

Isn’t that the big question? Where does motivation come from and how can you convert drive into skill? These are the questions that got me thinking about Neil. Yesterday, on my way to go pick up the team for a long practice, his story came to mind. In the spring of ’98, Neil was a new junior on the team. At the start of his first practice, he came careening through the fleet, flipping boats. One year later, Neil had progressed from the bottom of the team to the top. During that initial spring, he did not exude talent or give cause to make anyone believe that he could progress so quickly. When he started his senior year, he shocked everyone.

Neil had that drive and it evolved into talent. He did everything that we asked of him. He was truly coachable. Which brings be back to my current group, because as I look at them, I wonder if there is a Neil among them. Can they learn to be coached? Can anyone?

Will Richardson has been blogging lately about the availability of DIY learning opportunities, and the fact that as teachers we also need to be learners. Just as I wonder about my sailors, and whether or not they have the talent or motivation to compete, aren’t we asking the same thing of our students, our teachers, and our colleagues. In other words, are they coachable too?

According to David Shenk, author of “The Genius in All of Us”, talent is a process rather than something that people do or don’t possess. But what about motivation? Daniel Pink has a relatively new book out called, Drive. He claims to leverage research in order to explain what motivates people. I haven’t read the book, but based on various interviews and reviews, I gather that it has to do with freedom – if you can choose the area in which you want to succeed, then you are more likely to be motivated. So, then, if talent can be learned, and drive comes from just having a choice, why can’t all of my sailors and students be rock-stars? What makes some kids, and adults, more coachable than others? Based solely on my own personal observations and experiences, I think that coachable people have a few common traits:

  • They listen to, and internalize, instruction.
  • They immediately apply what they have learned, regardless of success.
  • They proactively practice basic concepts and skills.
  • They exhibit a drive for success, and define success as excellence in their pursuit.

From what I saw yesterday with my kids, maybe I do have a Neil. But if I don’t, I wonder who else is there….