Originally published Dec. 26, 2020 by the Wheeling News-Register.

By Joselyn King

Bridge Street Middle School health and physical education teacher Rick Thomas recently gave extra credit to students who provided a picture of themselves shoveling snow, and even more points if that photo also involved a family member.

Thomas knows first-hand it is difficult to teach such things as physical training and archery online.

During the age of COVID and remote learning, mental exercise is taking precedence over physical exercise, he acknowledged.

Thomas has twice won county “teacher of the year” recognition from the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce. He was among those recently asked to speak on the issue of remote learning during an online conference call with state health and physical education teachers organized by ShapeWV.

He said with online classes, he has had to forgo much of the exercise part of his teaching to focus more on mental parts of fitness, such as nutrition.

“Getting the kids out and moving is tough,” he said. “Sometimes it is tough even when we are in class and they are there — because they are middle school kids.

“So what I have been concentrating on is more of the mental aspect of health and physical education — why we are doing what we do and the importance of doing what we do.”

Last spring when students were learning from home, he asked them to keep fitness logs of their exercise during the day.

“I feel that didn’t work,” he said. “The kids just wrote down things, and there was no accountability.”

Thomas is now using a learning platform called Edpuzzle that is compatible with Schoology, the platform used by Ohio County Schools.

He had downloaded health-related videos developed by New York educator Lynn Hefele.

The videos each last about three to four minutes, and the teacher has opportunities to add questions at the end to quiz for comprehension.

“I have been finding this very helpful,” Thomas said. “The videos are informative and short, and the students are getting their work done. We have had good participation with this.”

Participation in the live streaming of classes, however, hasn’t been exceptional, he said.

Thomas has had a live health/PE class each Monday from 2-2:30 p.m., with an average of just 21 students participating.

“Which is not good as I would have 160 per day non-COVID,” he said. “But that seems to be the norm in all of live streaming.”

Teachers and administrators at Bridge Street have been discussing how to increase participation in the live-stream classes.

They have found many of the students want to do their classwork in the evenings into the night and sleep longer into the day.

Sometimes this helps the student to avoid distractions from siblings, Thomas said.

“The school has started incentivizing to get more participation,” he said.

Teachers are taking attendance taking the names of those logging in to the live stream of classes. These names are then entered into a pot where the students can win weekly prizes.

“The more online classes they attend, the more chances they have to win,” he said.

The teachers also are taking note of missing school work by students, then contacting their parents to tell them of the unsubmitted assignments. Often, they have been led to believe the student has completed all their work.

“The phone calls are working,” Thomas said. “Parents are saying they want the assignments completed.”

This has forced students to knuckle down and do the work, but they are more apt to do the easier and shorter assignments first to show accomplishment, he said. Longer, more involved assignments are being put on the back burner.

“We had a faculty discussion about looking at these bigger projects — which are important,” he said. “Maybe we will be grouping into smaller, gradable chunks so they can show their parents they have completed something toward the larger project.”

Thomas in recent years started an archery program at Bridge Street that has caught on county-wide. But students haven’t been able to practice this year as in-school gatherings have been prohibited.

The first tournament scheduled for Jan. 16 has been moved to Jan. 20. The targets have been set up in preparation for when students can come back and shoot their arrows.

Meanwhile, there were plans to use those targets as teachers at the school, themselves, felt they were in need of a little exercise and release, according to Thomas.

There was going to be an archery tournament involving Bridge Street’s faculty on Friday, but that was canceled as staff was told to stay home due to inclimate weather.

“The teachers while they are here are taking breaks, and walking in stairwells to keep moving,” he said.

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