How to make virtual PE lessons a success

Move over, Joe Wicks – one senior leader in Dubai explains how his live-streamed PE lessons have got families hooked

Niall Statham

Coronavirus school closures: How to use virtual PE lessons to improve family health

It is 11am and I am going live.

To get the optimal angle for my PE lesson, I’ve balanced my laptop awkwardly on top of my freezer. This way, the tiny laptop webcam can take in my 100kg frame as I flail around my lounge.

About 30 seconds into the warm-up, I realise that I might not be fit enough to exercise and talk simultaneously, but there is no going back now.

My star jumps bring a timely reminder that not tucking in your T-shirt will flash your stomach to everyone on your live stream. I silently regret every slice of yesterday’s pizza as I talk about the importance of flexibility while attempting a brave but ultimately unsuccessful effort to touch my toes. Things can't get much worse.

But when I stand up, my spirits are lifted by the figures. More than 160 families have tuned in live and are struggling along with me.

Coronavirus: Teaching PE online

The World Health Organisation tells us that children aged 5 to 17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical exercise every day.

But our school community is now confined to their homes, many with little or no outside space. And with desert temperatures rising, we – like thousands of others across the world – were facing a significant problem.

How could we motivate students to get active amid all the other pressures that might be weighing down on them at this time?

The more we planned, the more we realised that our prerecorded guides and videos just weren’t going to cut it. Starting a home exercise regime is hard, but it’s even harder on your own.

That’s why at Hartland International School in Dubai we decided to start teaching PE live.

We wanted to launch a community movement, aligning it as closely as possible with normal school life. We believed that if we were there for our students, they would be there for us. And they were, in triple figures.

Photos of families exercising together poured in and the daily viewing figures averaged over 100 households. Initially, it wasn’t easy and it’s still not perfect, but the more we deliver, the more we grow in confidence.

Using Microsoft Teams, we were able to switch the stream between the apartments of different teachers and even allow students to vote for their favourite teachers to appear.

Tips for hosting virtual PE lessons 

If you’re considering how you might solve the issue of sustaining PE provision virtually at your school, here are some things that might help you.

1. Pick a secure platform

We chose Microsoft Teams. It’s secure and doesn’t require the viewer to have an account when you stream, just an internet connection. You can send out a link to students without worrying about what content or videos it might expose them to.

2. Be there for them

We all recognise the importance of routine, so help your students to establish one. Commit to a time and be there, whether the numbers are good or bad.

3. Share the struggle

If you pitch it right, the workout should be challenging for them, and for you. I regularly fail, stumble and sweat profusely. If it’s not easy, don’t pretend it is.

4. Harness connectivity

Our Teams feed was jammed with mentions and requests for shout-outs. The pupils love hearing their own name on a live broadcast that reaches their peers. Use exemplary effort to motivate everyone, just like you would in school.

5. Be yourself

The best tool you have at your disposal is the pre-existing relationships you have with your students. They would much rather exercise with you than with a fitness professional, because you’re an important part of their life.

The results?

As the synchronous versus asynchronous debate rumbles on, I can tell you this: in our student voice survey, PE Live at 11 is one of the highest-rated learning experiences.

If we don’t have our health, we have very little else. So shouldn’t we explore every possible avenue of delivery to promote physical activity?

If it improves wellbeing, helps students to feel part of something and gives them connectivity, then I’ll be there, every day, “Live at 11”.

Niall Statham is head of physical education at Hartland International School Dubai

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