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Online Physical Education? The EdOptions Academy Approach and Why it Works

Online Physical Education? The EdOptions Academy Approach and Why it Works

I’m a health and physical education teacher for Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy virtual school. It’s a job title that tends to raise some eyebrows. How do classes that are all about physical activity work in the online setting—very effectively, actually!

Before making the transition to EdOptions Academy, I taught in the traditional setting for years. I loved the kids, the activity, and the ability to change lives. I went into health and physical education specifically to be different and to show all students the joy of movement and taking care of one’s body. Exercise is critical to good health, relaxation, and stress management—plus it’s just fun! There is a stigma around “gym class” that I wanted to overcome, and after 20 years in the traditional classroom (well, gymnasium), I recognized that I could reach more students by working online rather than in  person.

Here, in a question-and-answer format, I want to share how online physical education courses work and what my virtual students spend their “class time” doing.

How do you teach physical education online?

Think about a traditional “phys ed” class—students gather in a gym, their teacher tells them what the game or activity or physical challenge of the day is, and the whistle blows; some students love it, others are completely disengaged, but everyone has moved around at least a little by the time the bell rings. Online physical education courses have the same objective of getting students moving and exposed to different kinds of physical activity. The neat part is that the students get to choose the activity they want to participate in. Engagement typically has a higher percentage of participation online because of the personal choices.

The facility for our online students will vary. If students are enrolled with us and attend a local school, the school could allow for them to use their gymnasium and equipment/exercise lab. The majority of our courses do not require specific equipment or exercise. Students who are enrolled as a homeschool participant can use their environment or the resources available to them. There are some students who do need a facility to motivate them to participate. These students typically join a local gym that has equipment or classes they want to use/participate in.

Student choice is great, but how do online physical education classes actually work?

Students can be enrolled in a variety of courses through our program. We offer a traditional physical education course that is about lifelong fitness and the skills/concepts students need to understand to maintain wellness as they age. Topics include diet and exercise, stress management, the elements of fitness (cardio, strength, and flexibility), biomechanics (sport movement), lifestyle needs (how to continue exercising as we age), as well as concepts like what a fitness program could/should look like, how the media influences our thoughts on fitness and sports, and how sports have changed through the years. The movement requirement for this course is built into the individual lessons. Although EdOptions Academy sets no specific minute or time requirement for movement, we can provide these parameters if a school or district requires them.

We also offer a selection of more movement-based courses, including strength training, running, walking, group sport, individual sport, lifetime fitness, that allow students to focus more on specific activities that are interesting to them. Each of these courses has information to help strengthen knowledge and understanding of principles and benefits, as well as movement requirements to ensure that students are participating in a fitness activity. Movement requirements are documented with a log (available within the EdOptions Academy course) that students use to track their activity week by week. These courses have monthly checkpoints built in where parents/guardians or school supervisors are asked to validate students’ activity logs. Parents/supervising adults must sign this verification form stating that students completed the activities/exercise time. Students will supply four weeks of exercise minutes broken down by the week, including the dates. Parents’/supervising adults’ signatures are required in order for instructors to accept this form. An assessment from students for progress/challenges is also submitted with these checkpoints. The activity logs are also graded by myself or students’ EdOptions Academy physical education teacher-of-record once a month.

What kind of physical activity is incorporated in EdOptions Academy physical education courses?

For movement-based courses, the elements of fitness incorporated are cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility. Students are asked to complete three hours of physical activity during each week of their course (this requirement doesn’t apply to our standard physical education course). Out of this time, 90 minutes need to be in an activity that promotes cardiovascular fitness, 30 minutes need to be focused on muscular strength, 30 minutes in students’ preferred activity choice, and another 30 minutes in building flexibility. The actual activities that students engage in are their own choice and recorded in their activity logs. Here’s a closer look at the three elements expected in our fitness courses.

Cardiovascular fitness means that you are raising your heart rate. You are requiring your body to increase the oxygen needs. Students often choose walking, jogging, or using a treadmill or other machine for this element. We stress that if walking is chosen, students still need to raise their heart rate to a specified target heart rate (THR) based on their maximum heart rate (MHR), a standardized rate that students are taught to easily calculate using their age. Students are not required to use a heart rate monitor as part of this process. Instead, students must simply pause to check their radial pulse by placing two fingers on the inside of their wrist and counting the number of beats felt in their radial vein in the span of 60 seconds. By having students track their heart rate and record it in their activity log, EdOptions Academy teachers can monitor their workouts to make sure that the appropriate intensity level is being met.

Strength training refers to activities that build muscle strength. Students are asked to work on their core muscles as well as skeletal muscles. Completing activities that rely on their own body weight resistance is accepted, or students can choose to use bands or weights or their own body’s resistance to improve even further.

Finally, flexibility activities refer to stretching. Students need to stretch after every workout, whether cardio or strength. Students need to stretch for at least 5 to 10 minutes to help muscles cool down gradually and move lactic acid in order to prevent soreness. This is recorded in the log. There are suggestions and examples for stretching built into the assignments in the courses.

So, what do students in EdOptions Academy physical education courses complete online?

EdOptions Academy virtual physical education courses include online learning components that focus on the principles and concepts behind physical activity and movement. Courses are structured to allow students to understand why exercise is important by making connections to the research and scientific data that prove the body’s positive reaction. In the traditional setting, students are usually asked to grasp this information during short, rushed lectures in a loud gym. In our online courses, students get to take their time absorbing the content through written passages, short videos, and audio recordings, ultimately building a stronger understanding. At the culmination of that learning, students are challenged to perform the actual movements. If students still aren’t confident in performing an assignment, they can reach out to their actual instructor for further support. The assessments for our physical education courses include short essay or project-based assignments to demonstrate understanding as well as movement assignments.

What do students think of online physical education courses?

Many students in my online courses struggled with the traditional physical education setting—being in a large group and getting asked to demonstrate skills that they struggle with often wasn’t a positive experience. Traditional “gym” classes can be a source of anxiety or embarrassment for some students. EdOptions Academy’s virtual physical education courses can overcome those issues by making the experience more personal and more accessible. Our first battle is usually to help students overcome their struggles with the idea of “physical education” so that they understand this is not about failure but success and finding what they enjoy.

I firmly believe that health and physical education should be core subjects. Why? If you lose your health, what do you have left? Providing our students with an environment they can be successful in increases their confidence and willingness to participate in a physical education course. EdOptions Academy physical education courses allow students to explore, attempt, and discover new forms of movement that they enjoy, establishing physical activity as a positive experience. Students can research and participate in different martial arts, Pilates, dance, local recreational activities (classes at the YMCA, hiking or biking trails), or athletics (rock climbing, skating, parkour, etc.) that they hadn’t tried before. Our courses also present new ideas to help students understand benefits and best practices, including strategies to maintain lifelong fitness and manage stress.

The success I’ve seen students achieve with this format has been inspiring for me as an educator. My students do so much more than fulfill state physical education requirements. Very often, I see them make big gains in confidence too. Virtual physical education may sound counterintuitive, but the approach we use at EdOptions Academy works. I have received numerous pictures from students participating in activities they never dreamt of. The smiles on their faces say it all.

Interested in finding out more about flexible virtual courses from Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy? Take a look at our complete course catalog, or learn more about what our instructors do to make sure that students are engaged!

This post was orginally published December 2019 and has been updated.