Originally published May 2, 2020 in the York News-Times.

By Jessica Votipka

York Middle School physical education teacher Matt Brackhan said he has seen a new sense of freedom for students in online classwork – including his.

“Something I have noticed about many of the students regarding P.E. is that they have gone looking for activities to do that specifically interest them,” Brackhan said. “In the gym we work together most of the time and only have so many days and hours for different activities.”

Brackhan and his fellow YPS teachers had the fundamental tools when the coronavirus made educators abruptly switch to distance learning. “We already had a solid foundation in technological platforms to communicate, and provide students and parents with materials and information,” Brackman said. “The basic premise of finding out how each student is doing and trying to give them an opportunity to learn something new or enhance a skill or knowledge they already have is still there.”

Many teachers, Brackhan being no exception, value the face-to-face time spent with students. A common way YPS teachers are accomplishing this is through Zoom meetings. Brackhan also noted Google Suite an avenue YPS teachers have utilized. There is something to be said for doing things the “old-fashioned” way, Brackhan added. “I have found that a phone call is perhaps the most effective form of communication to have an honest conversation.”

There are many resources available for teachers, Brackhan said. “Different companies have been gracious enough to offer their services to schools at little or no cost.” He noted that there are plenty of ways P.E. teachers can adjust their curriculum to online learning. “There are a lot awesome resources out there for PE specific items, different types of workouts and general health – the resources are endless,” Brackhan said.

Even considering the abundance of material, Brackhan said the most effective method he’s found is handing students the reins. “I provide students with different physical activities and learning opportunities, but they are not limited to that. This is an awesome opportunity for students to take learning into their own hands and run with it.”

Online teaching challenges still exist. “When we are in the classroom you see body language, hear voice inflection and see emotions in students’ eyes,” Brackhan said. “Zoom has made it easier because you can see the person and hear the person but it is not a substitute for true social interaction.”

Students are adjusting, too, Brackhan said. “Some students love it, some like it and some really dislike it. Many of them miss being in the building because they miss seeing their friends,” he said. “Some students enjoy doing the learning at their own pace while others prefer the structure of being in the classroom.”

“We all deal with different types of stress and change differently. We all have lives outside of school – students and teachers alike -- that impact how well we teach and learn,” Brackhan said. “It has reinforced things that I already knew and helped me to understand them better.”

That understanding and care is what drives teachers – online and in person.

“Developing relationships and caring about other human beings is and always will be the most important thing we do,” Brackhan said. “We miss our kids and can’t wait to get back in the classroom again.”

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    Run with it: Distance learning give P.E. a reboot
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    Run with it: Distance learning give P.E. a reboot
    Students learn to thrive by seeking and choosing their own activities as part of PE programs.
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