In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast, we speak with an absolute superstar Physical Educator, Megan Bowe. Throughout the episode, Megan talks about how she got started with Tech in PE, her favourite apps and resources and various lessons she’s learned along the way. Prepare to take notes!!
Resources shared during the episode include
00:36 Jarrod Robinson: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the PE Geek podcast, and as always, thank you for taking the time out of your day to tune in from wherever you are. And I’m really excited because we have another feature episode of a PE teacher who’s doing some really impressive things. How are you Megan?
00:54 Megan Bowe: I’m really well, thanks. Thanks for having the time to talk to me.
00:56 JR: Yeah. Well, thank you. Thank you for taking the time out of your day. And I believe it’s a school day for you right now as well.
01:03 MB: That’s right. A busy Monday morning for us.
01:06 JR: Paint the picture of where you’re sitting while you do this interview.
01:09 MB: Okay. So, embarrassingly, I found a quiet space in the school which at the moment with exams going on is fairly limited. So, I’m sitting in my car in the school car park.
01:19 JR: That is awesome. That’s dedication. That’s partly the reason why I’ve actually sourced you out for this episode, ’cause I keep seeing it, I keep seeing this willingness to do things, and try thing, and learn, and do all that sort of stuff. So, thanks again for coming on to the episode. And for those people that don’t know where you are and what you do, how long have you been teaching and where exactly are you doing that?
01:45 MB: So, I’m currently teaching in Norfolk which is the East of England, and it’s about two hours from London. I was a personal trainer before I became a PE teacher and I’ve been doing PE teaching for about four years now.
02:01 JR: Awesome. And is there sort of a thing that led to that? Because personal training is similar in many ways, but what was the catalyst that made it happen?
02:12 MB: I think for me, I loved personal training, but the key was I loved teaching more than making money. And the health and fitness industry is huge. It’s always evolving. There’s loads of things going on. But I think that basic education of trying to teach people to be self sufficient and lead healthier lives is still a bit lacking. So, that’s what really made me take the jump into teaching. I wanted to go to the earlier level of teaching people before they became adults and had these problems with not knowing how to make themselves fitter or healthier.
02:52 JR: So, it’s like the value impact really, isn’t it? Go to where it begins rather than later on in life when you might have been intercepting people in that personal trainer route. Do you still do any of that sort of stuff as well on the side or is it just literally just teaching now and that experience does help teaching in some ways?
03:11 MB: Definitely. In my holidays, I try to, if I can, squeeze in jobs that were related to my previous career. Last year I spent some of my summer break in Kuwait teaching in Fitness First gyms ’cause they were wanting to roll out the personal trainer qualifications. So, I went over there as a tutor. So, those things that obviously I try and put around my teaching, but my teaching comes first now.
03:39 JR: Yeah. Awesome. And what did you do when you were growing up? Were you always into the personal training route and was there a particular sport that you were involved in?
03:48 MB: I was always active. I grew up in the country. Didn’t really watch much TV, just out on my own kicking a football about, being on my bike. Loved team sports at school, was into football or soccer and field hockey. We play that over here rather than the ice hockey version. And it was only when I got into adult life that I started doing more individual events just so that I could keep my health and fitness as a priority around work. And then since then, for the last eight years I’ve been doing triathlons, and running races. And I did the Paris marathon last year, that was awesome. So, it’s really about challenges and I think it’s the same meat sauce that goes into it whether you’re into individual sports or team sports.
04:37 JR: Yeah, for sure. It seems to be a common theme amongst the Physical Ed community. The people who have been very enthusiastic with it when they’re younger, and that translates into them going down the path of PE teaching which I think is something that we all share. I guess something that we probably don’t all share is an interest in how technology has a role in the Physical Education classroom. Where did that begin for you?
05:04 MB: I think I’m always looking for ways in which we can be more efficient. And even as a personal trainer, I wanted to teach my clients how to be independent and so that they were confident to plan their own programs or do their own gym routines. And I think it all stems from that. If technology can solve a problem, make things easier, and make us more active, then why wouldn’t we go down that path?
05:31 JR: Yeah. I love it. I love that you’ve just pointed the main reasons why I value, and it’s come a long way in the many years since I first started my website in 2008. And the only really argument I had back then was limited compared to what we have now in terms of the benefits, the cost benefit. So, I think you’ve touched on the exact reasons why I pursue things. If it’s efficient, it’s gonna make things more effective, I value it. If it’s gonna make something… If I can increase the learning that I have because of some tool that I’m using, then I’m gonna value it. And if I think it’s gonna engage and help with learning for students, then I’ll value it as well. So, that’s really great to see, and it’s definitely not something that everyone thinks about when they’re using tech. Some people are just using it because or just using it because it’s the newest thing. I think you’re definitely running down the right path. So, from that, is there a particular series of tools that you’ve become very fond of?
06:30 MB: Well, we’ve been very lucky at our school that we’ve had an iPad trial this year, so I’ve been provided with a school iPad for my own personal use, and that’s allowed me to try some things in my lessons…
06:44 JR: So, which year… Is there a year level that’s been given that iPad?
06:48 MB: At the moment it’s teachers and year eight, which they’re about 12-13 years old. But the exciting news is next year every single person in the school is gonna have a device, either an iPad Mini or a small laptop.
07:07 JR: Awesome. So, you’re just being given them, you had the opportunity to start to exploit and use the device, the students had their devices, what did it start to look like when you went down that path?
07:21 MB: It was really exciting. At first, I wanted… With some of my classes where they didn’t have devices, just my device, we wanted to use it as efficiently as we could. So, I used initially things like I created a warm-up wheel… I’d seen an idea of a warm-up wheel, and I created it using this Spin It! Your App, and then Decide Now! So, there are a few things out there that you can use. Just encouraging their students when they get out of the changing room to get straight on with some instant activity to provide them an idea of what we’re doing in the lesson and to use as their warm up, so we’re all ready to go as soon as we can.
08:04 JR: Yeah, I think that first five minutes is pretty valuable, isn’t it. In terms of its ability to engage the group and set the tone. And I think you’re touched on some really big points three, and the Spin It! App actually came about as almost just an afterthought, but has proven to be really useful for some reason, and I think it is because it’s quick, it’s easy, and it can be used in that first five minutes. You mentioned Decide Now! Was that the other one?
08:34 MB: Yep, it’s all around the same concept of giving five or more choices and just having a random way of doing it. Before this, before I had access to the iPad, I used a dice. We had a big foam dice and I had just a poster up on the wall of which number on the dice applied to which exercise, push ups or jogging, or dynamic lunges. And it worked really well but the problem was that the kids were all queuing up for the same dice, and that was then reversing the problem of inactivity.
09:12 JR: Yeah, there’s something to be said about something as simple as a randomising tool for serendipitous fun. It works always, and it works with adults, and it works with young kids. Just randomise it and make it unknown and it reaches a whole new level of engagement. So, those two deciding-type apps, is there any other apps that you’ve been playing around with and enjoyed as well?
09:36 MB: It’s really simple but the Team Shake app has revolutionised the ability to put people into teams or decide partners. The great thing in my classes now is the kids, they don’t even argue. It used to be, “Oh, can I go with this person, or this person?” Again, that’s all taking away from activity time, just fielding those questions. So now, a lot of the students in my class go “No, you can’t, Team Shake decides,” which is hilarious.
10:08 JR: Absolutely awesome. You said simple, but I think that’s part of the reason why it’s so powerful. Simple is often the best, and I think you even touched on a really impressive point there that I’ve never really thought of. A lot of people who might not be fans of using technology, even for something like that, would probably spend an extra 30 seconds to a minute to pick those teams or break up groups, and you’ve just been able to maximise the amount of time they have by getting rid of that, which could be easily replicated by a computer, would you agree?
10:42 MB: Definitely, and kids are really intuitive, you can only do the one-two, one-two, picking off the kids so many times until they work it out and they stand in the order that they want to be, so they’re with their friend. It makes things easier for you, it makes things more motivating for them, and there’s that structure and routine that they crave so that we can get on to the next activity.
11:09 JR: Absolutely. Obviously you’ve got the iPad and the students, they have all got their own as well. Are they doing anything with those in their classes, or is it just some of those decision type stuff? Is there anything that they’re doing, student centred at the moment as well?
11:29 MB: Oh, no, definitely. The ability to have more than one device in a classroom has opened up even more options. The use of QR codes, to be able to scan something and watch it getting onto… That you can move learning at your own pace. So, a couple of examples where I’ve used this, I have theory lessons with my year 10s, who are 15-16 year old and they are taking their qualification, we call them GCSEs over two years in physical education. And they have the opportunity then to come into the lesson, scan the app and it’ll take them directly to a video. Just a short clip about the topic we’re going to do. And it means that then, you’re not spending the first 20 minutes of the lesson trying to hook them into whatever topic you’re doing. They are already so keen and already have questions to pose.
12:27 JR: Yeah. The QR code is such a simple way to differentiate the group, isn’t it? Like, you’ve got people who can access it at their own pace, structure the learning at their own speed and time. And I always think of it as, it’s almost like you’re cloning yourself. Is that how you find it as well? Like you’ve actually replicated you as the teacher in the class, whenever you’ve used those things?
12:52 MB: Definitely, and I think it’s great because nobody is waiting to learn. They’re all going at their own pace. You can put them in small groups and then they can, if they’re more able, can teach others. And we all know that one stage of learning is teaching and if we’ve got to that stage then we have a real deep knowledge of that subject.
13:16 JR: Yeah for sure. I always think about, when you talk about QR codes, the over and over, sort of mention that QR codes are dead. And this is something that people have been saying for five years now. Practically, that really hasn’t happened. A lot of people talk about the next thing and sort of augmented reality and lots of other things that are on the horizon and that they will surpass QR codes. But they still are so useful; they’re still so simple, and they still work. I’m just a massive fan of them and the way in which they can be used to differentiate. I just recently finished in episode 31 talking about how I was using them to differentiate volleyball instruction, and it literally, like I said, felt like I’d cloned myself. So, if you’re listening and you’ve never created a QR code, I recommend heading over to qrstuff.com, and you should be able to create them pretty quickly there. I’ve seen some other things you’ve done with QR codes before. Do you want to enlighten us?
14:17 MB: Sure. Earlier in the year I had a problem where… We have quite short lessons in our school. They’re 35 minutes maximum with changing times, so you’re getting about hopefully 20 to 25 minutes of activity time, and I decided that, because I couldn’t set up all the lessons I wanted to, I needed to create task cards with QR codes groups, if possible, so that we could just get on, start the lesson, and use the most amount of activity time we could to progress our learning. So I started, using the key words that I think Joey Fife first introduced which was what, why, and how. And it structures my lessons in a really simple way. The students come in, they have a task card, they know what skill they’re looking for, they know why it applies to a game situation or a bigger picture. And then they have a QR code and a success criteria to get on with the learning.
15:27 JR: Yeah, that’s really powerful stuff. That sort of framework that flows into probably all your sessions, I guess as well, and becomes routine and as you know that routine definitely drives learning in many ways as well. So, where do you tend to learn a lot of your stuff? You’ve gone and got connected through social media and how did that happen? Where did you hear about it and how did you jump on board?
15:50 MB: Well, I have to say that, it was two influences: Yourself, the 14 day Twitter challenge and also podcasts. I’m a real audio learner and it’s got great benefit if you drive or commute to work, or do exercise, go for runs in the week. So, I listened to the PE Geek podcast. I listened to some other podcasts from people in the community and got hooked onto Twitter to connect. And there’s a variety of sources. You’ve got Twitter, you’ve got another great site in the UK is PE4Learning, the guys over there and mypeexam.org. But there’s a lot of cool stuff, and I think there’s so much out there on Twitter. I recently got on Voxer which is a group message, you can use voicemail. I think just having this huge community of people bringing different ideas to the table is incredible.
16:53 JR: Absolutely. Do you find or have ever had to sort of defend the fact that you’ve ever been on a social network to people, and initially they’re like “Why would you be on there?” for this type of thing?
17:06 MB: Sure, and I think you need to be sensible about how you use it, but I think if you are using as a tool for professional development then nobody can really defend or have a problem with that, because if you’re a reflective teacher, just always trying to get better and there’s no downside to that.
17:29 JR: Oh my God, absolutely. I only mention that because over the many years that I’ve been on Twitter, and I signed up in November in 2008, very different world to what it is now. For physical education, that’s for sure. And then I remember the hurdles that I had to jump over and the things I had to say to talk about why it was beneficial, and I’m just so glad that people jumped on and over time that’s just become even more clear and… But in saying it, there’s still so many people who just haven’t made that connection, and it is pretty powerful to do, and you mentioned the 14 Day Twitter Challenge, is that how you got signed up and sort of got connected to people?
18:13 MB: Definitely. Twitter was something that I had never used. I’d always thought it doesn’t interest me because of the social side. I had Facebook to connect with people who I wanted to abroad. But Twitter, for professional development, has been great, because it’s something you can scroll through, you can save things you want to read later, and it’s just full of great ideas.
18:41 JR: Yeah, absolutely. I like it. It’s like drinking from a fountain. If the fountain was on full bowl, you wouldn’t get every drop of water but you’re gonna get some, you’re gonna get filled up. But the best stuff keeps coming back as well. So, a lot of people go on there and they just say “How do I keep up with it?” You don’t have to keep up with it. You just have to know where to look and know how to search for hashtags and that sort of stuff, and I’ve seen so much growth in people who have gone from not being connected to being connected. And then literally just learning as they go and there’s plenty of examples in our community. And I think Voxer’s almost like the little next step, isn’t it? What do you like about these Voxer social media platform that people have started a lot to hear about?
19:31 MB: I think the big advantage with Voxer is it’s like having a personal message group with some friends. But you’re talking about work in a exciting way. There’s none of the admin that perhaps you have to do in your day to day job, you jump on there. It’s not limited to the 140 characters that Twitter is. And you can really delve into problems that you might have at school that you want solving. I’ve got this class of 30 students and I want to entertain them all at once, how do I do that? There’ll always be somebody who can come back with a new idea, looking at it from a perspective perhaps you haven’t thought of.
20:20 JR: Yeah. I just love the fact that you get to hear the person’s voice and the sort of enthusiasm that goes with it and it just adds a whole different dynamic. I definitely treat it as my virtual staff room in many ways, because it’s the conversations that maybe a lot of people don’t get in their own school.
20:40 MB: Definitely.
20:40 JR: And then sort of getting them somewhere else. And it’s pretty easy to connect, just head along to thepegeek.com/voxer, V-O-X-E-R, and you’ll see a tutorial video about how to do that. Now I remember looking through some of your Tweets earlier on in the year or it might’ve been late last year and there was some… You were doing some stuff regarding behaviour management. Sort of a five step lesson routine that you had set up for… And one of those things included ClassDojo. Is that right?
21:13 MB: That’s right. I went on a great course last year about behaviour management and I took some really cool ideas from there to apply to PE, because as we know, as PE teachers, we don’t have the luxury of people sitting down at desks and having this inbuilt formal routine at the beginning of the lesson, “Pens out, books out, ready to learn.” We need to create the environment we want to see. And I think it’s really important that you do that at the beginning of the year and try and maintain it. And we get the luxury of being able to do that at the beginning of every year, reflect and readjust anything we need to tinker with.
21:56 MB: So, I did some posters for my different age groups. And it essentially all had a five step routine of the things that I wanted them to independently do, so they were ready to learn as quickly as possible. And ClassDojo came into that because I could allocate points through each of the five steps that they wanted to achieve. And it was… Made it, again, a bit more of a game. This gamification is coming in a lot of aspects of our teaching and learning now, and they were excited to learn that at the end of each term, if they’d racked up the most amount of points, they were the one who took home the certificate, took home the bragging rights.
22:38 JR: I love it. The ClassDojo is just so powerful. Particularly for that gamification factor in it. I think they’ve just done it really right from the outset, very innovative, just a great tool, just another example of something that’s simple that works. So, what about things that you’ve done, we’ve spoken about lots of success here and I think we’re probably both from the same page that along that journey to have these great successes, things go wrong. I’ve got examples of that aplenty, and I dedicated a whole episode to it recently. Has anything ever happened to you, like in the middle of trying something, and it just hasn’t worked out like you’d had thought?
23:19 MB: Oh sure. I was really enthusiastic at the beginning of the year of using Big Screen PE, and I had sourced an old projector from the school, I’d bought myself a lead to connect the iPad to the projector, and it was great. And for a long time I was building up my lessons and basing it around that technology. But there were so many lessons and it probably took me four or five occasions to learn. You’ve got to have a backup, because the light might not be favourable enough to see the screen. The kids, there might be too many people in that class to be able to gather round the projector. And I think it’s really powerful to use technology, but it’s really important to have a plan B, if it doesn’t go as you planned it in your mind.
24:20 JR: Yeah, it’s so powerful, and I think sometimes we only learn that because of the mistakes that we make, that’s part of the journey and I always mention this, but we seem to hope that students will learn through trial and error, and mistakes. It’s just nice to know that you’re in that boat of, you put yourself in those same situations where you could potentially have something go wrong, and you learn from it. And that’s exactly the same philosophy that I have about this, that we should be doing the lifelong learning approach that we want our students to have as well. So, really appreciate it. Before we go, is there any other little tools that you’ve been experimenting with, or something that you can share with us before we disappear?
25:06 MB: I think you’ve touched on it in a couple of your podcasts. If you have non-participants, somebody who is unable to physically participate in the lesson due to injury, then the technology, the tools that you can use are really powerful, and they feel an extra level of responsibility, and the learning that takes place from that non-participant is, I think, so much more with technology. That’s not always gonna be the case, but in the time we are at the moment with it developing so quickly, even if you haven’t got to [25:45] ____ in that yourself, by giving that app to the students, say, “You could really help me out if you use this app today, and give me a bit of a product review at the end.”
25:56 JR: Yeah, yeah, that’s powerful stuff. Engaging that non-participant is something that I think is really valuable, and something that you can get a double effect out of. If they were collecting portfolio artefact content for you, video content, video pictures, etcetera, of the students who are participating, then you get the benefit of having that being curated for you, but then you’re also engaging them in something meaningful that matters while they’re unable to participate, so thanks for mentioning that, it’s a really big thing. Where can people catch up with you online? You’re on Twitter, you’ve mentioned Voxer, is there any other places at all?
26:36 MB: Yeah, I have a WordPress blog, which is missbowepe.wordpress.com, and definitely on Twitter @mbowepe. B-O-W-E-P-E.
26:54 JR: Awesome, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to come and speak with us here today, and I really want to give you thanks to everything that you are doing in the Phys Ed community. It really is inspiring, and it definitely drives innovation for everyone, so keep up that great work.
27:14 MB: Thank you for having me.
27:15 JR: You’re welcome, see you.
27:17 MB: See you.
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