Originally published March 30, 2020 in the Bryan Eagle.

By Chelsea Katz

As students continue at-home learning, teachers are turning to technology to continue providing instruction.

While many subjects come with a textbook or workbook lessons, physical education teachers are using Facebook and YouTube videos to give students daily exercises and tips to keep them active at home.

Eagle Photo by Michael Miller

“It’s more hands-on visual for the kids to see,” Johnson Elementary School PE coach Nicole Ponzio said. “And maybe, if anything, them a little more comfort during this time where there’s so much going on.”

By putting the videos online, Jennifer Klose at Bowen Elementary School said the schools are able to reach students outside of the district’s boundaries.

“I think it’s been good for a lot of moms that are learning how to be teachers now and are getting those video pieces from us, too,” she said. “So it’s kind of been helpful all around.”

Ponzio incorporates her dog, Duke, in her videos and said the students get a glimpse into their lives through the videos.

Before the threat of COVID-19 pushed schools to close, many students would stare in disbelief when they saw teachers outside of the school environment, Houston Elementary School PE coach Jennifer Schexnailder said.

“I think it’s fun for them to be like, ‘Oh you’re a regular person,’” she said. “Just for them to, again, see that we’re human just like them, and we’re accessible.”

It is helpful to the teachers also, Ponzio said.

“We feel like we’re doing this for them, but really we miss them a lot, too,” she said. “So just for us, you know, to able to talk to them through this, it means a lot to us as well.”

It was a strange adjustment at first, Klose said, because she is so used to being with her students.

“When I started making my first video, I was kind of nervous of how to do it, but I just had to tell myself my kids are right here in front of me on the screen seeing me,” she said. “So I talk to them just like I would talk to them at school.”

One thing they have to consider when creating the videos, they said, is the equipment students may have at home.

“We’re just trying to really focus on making sure whatever we are showing, that everyone that is watching that wants to do is able to do it safely,” Ponzio said.

Klose noted she has also had to remember to include reminders to students to ask permission before using household items.

When deciding to incorporate Duke into her videos, Ponzio said, she took inspiration from people who work from home and called their children or pets their “co-workers.”

“I knew that no matter what, that whatever I’m doing, Duke’s going to be right there with me, so I might as well involve him,” she said.

“I mean, who doesn’t like a dog, right?” she said, laughing. “I just kind of involve my dog just to kind of lighten the mood a little bit. In fact, my videos half the time, he’ll mess up or I mess up, and I don’t even do a retake. That’s what it is.”

Ponzio’s videos from last week include her and Duke, a Labrador retriever, running through an obstacle course of items laying around her home; incorporating games into household chores; and making healthy snack choices, with, of course, a proper dog treat for Duke.

Exercising in general, she said, provides a “brain break” for students and can benefit them beyond just helping them stay active.

Schexnailder said she understands the benefits of exercising in her own life, saying it helps boost her mood and ease her worries. With students at home, she noted, the videos can also provide a relief for parents who can put on the videos and let their children follow along.

“The kids get to feel better in the end, and then the parents, even if they’re not participating, they’re going to feel better because maybe they got to accomplish something. And then, you know, just lifting spirits with just how exercise makes you feel. It’s just huge.”

Klose said she plans to add a nutritional element to her videos by using pictures of her own meals to show what a colorful, healthy plate should include.

“They have a lot more time to sit there and eat junk food and drink Cokes, and we need to encourage them to have a healthy plate, too, to go along with all of this — with exercise, with making your brain, your heart everything healthy,” she said.

Moving forward, all three coaches said, they plan to incorporate technology into their PE classes even after the students return to school.

That is one positive that has come out of the situation, Ponzio said, noting it has taught her how she can still connect with students over holidays and on the weekends.

Schexnailder had found it difficult to embrace technology because she did not want her students watching a screen. But, with video conferencing software, she said, it opens up the possibilities of what the coaches can do on their campuses and between campuses.

“We can do so many things that we just probably didn’t even think about before, but now that we’ve had to and we’re adjusting and changing, it’s endless what we can do just within our little PE group,” she said.

As distance learning continues, Ponzio said, “It’s hard times for all of us, and it’s amazing how everyone has come together.”

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