Virtual Learning

Despite Virtual Learning, P.E. Class is Still in Session

A study at the Washington University in St. Louis suggests that if school closures continue at their current rate through the end of 2021, then the U.S. childhood obesity rate could rise by more than 2 percent.

Students are sitting in front of webcams all day instead of moving around the classroom, and studies from Italy and Ireland suggest that they’re eating more junk food, as well. Many students also live in small apartments, crowded living spaces, or unsafe neighborhoods not conducive to physical activity.

To combat these factors, gym teachers at U.S. schools nationwide are adapting their curricula to help remote learners stay active.

Gone are the days of flag football on the practice field or a grueling round of dodgeball. Instead of shooting basketballs into basketball hoops in the gym, they’re tossing balled-up socks into laundry baskets. Instead of running laps on the track, they’re maneuvering through homemade obstacle courses, jumping over dinner plates and karate-chopping invisible enemies based on YouTube fitness activities. Instead of lifting weights, they’re lifting milk cartons and soup cans. They’re even bowling with water bottles.

Keri Schoeff, Title IV-A safe, health and active student specialist with the Arizona Department of Education, said, “It’s our job as physical educators to teach students to be physically literate, and that means to be physically active, no matter what. It’s how we teach students to be fit throughout their lifetime.”

Schools that have already returned to in-person learning are facing similar issues: that is, how to keep students active while still maintaining social distancing and other public health recommendations. The Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) suggested guidelines like “limiting the use of ball sharing, avoiding the combination of classes, and using activities that require no physical contact or students being in close proximity to each other.”

Some in-person P.E. classes are replacing team and contact sports like tag and four-square with more solitary practices like yoga, dance exercises, and burpee routines. State departments of education are also providing recommendations. For example, Maryland school officials suggest that gym teachers use bullhorns to communicate with students spaced out across a football field. Minnesota officials are suggesting that teachers rotate through classrooms to keep class after class of sweaty, unhygienic youths from occupying the same space all day.

Finally, schools are also recommending that teachers give students more choice in what physical activities they’d like to engage in. Especially for virtual learners, everyone’s workspace is different, and teachers are working to adapt the day’s planned activities to each individual student’s circumstances. School officials can only urge communication with parents and students, and engagement with students who don’t appear to be participating.

“P.E. educators are creative, innovative, and flexible,” said Carly Wright, vice president for advocacy and equity, diversity and inclusion at SHAPE. “They are giving students options about what motivates them.”

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning. He can be reached at [email protected].