Episode 43 – Listener Stories of Success #4

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast, I’m joined by Physical Education & Health Teacher Jessica Shawley. Jessica showcases her passion for teaching, learning and how technology has assisted her to bring a whole host of innovative opportunities to her classroom.

Resources explored in this episode include

Press Play below to listen or visit the podcast page.  Alternatively download a full episode transcript here


00:30 Jarrod Robinson: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the PE Geek Podcast, and as always, absolute pleasure to be here now. I’m really excited today because I have a guest; we’ve been able to drill down a time that suits the two of us, and we’ve been going back and forth to try and make this happen. And I’m really excited to introduce to you, Jessica Shawley. How are you, Jessica?

00:50 Jessica Shawley: I’m doing well. Thank you, Jarrod.

00:51 JR: You’re welcome. And before we start, thank you for coming onto the episode, and I hope we can dive into some technology and PE stuff that excites you. But for those people that haven’t come across you online, whereabouts do you teach, and how long have you been doing that?

01:10 JS: Oh, yes. I’m a middle school physical education and health teacher in Moscow, Idaho, in the United States.

01:18 JR: Awesome.

01:18 JS: And I’ve been there about 12… 12 and a half years now.

01:23 JR: Mm-hmm. And, for everyone who’s listening right now, you’re currently not even in the country, that’s right?

01:30 JS: Yeah. I am in Dublin, Ireland and doing some vacation.

01:34 JR: That’s fantastic. That’s a really exciting thing about teaching, I think, we get this opportunity to do a little bit of travelling on our downtime, and teaching is universal. I think you’re over there learning at the moment as well?

01:46 JS: Yeah, absolutely. There just so happens to be a… There was the PE-PAYS Conference; it’s a research forum for the physical education, physical activity and youth for Ireland, all the researchers from the universities and other teachers. And they had a one-day research forum, and it was just absolutely amazing to be able to listen to the research that’s going on and just to learn about how there’s so many similarities in our profession across the globe, and then how people are tackling them in different ways, using different lenses and how there’s a lot of the same things as well.

02:24 JS: So, I kind of learned a ton of things. It was super exciting to meet people and to have a lot of people that we knew that were in common, or to meet people like, “Oh, I’ve read your paper,” or, “I know that name.” And I got to meet… And meet up with a friend, Deborah Tannehill. And her latest book just came out, the update for the editions for the Standards-Based Grading and it was fantastic to speak with her. So, it was really, just a great day. I couldn’t ask for anything better to be able to travel internationally and meet a bunch of PE Geek friends. In a way, it was fantastic.

03:04 JR: Awesome. And that’s what really attracted me to… And probably why I wanted you to get onto the episode is, you are seriously enthusiastic about the physical education profession, and there you are, you are on your vacation, and you’re still taking time to soak it all in, so that’s really impressive.

03:20 JS: Yep.

03:21 JR: Definitely, definitely ingrained in you, which is exciting. So, if you could think back to a time, maybe early on before you became a phys-ed teacher, was there a moment or something that actually made you decide that this is the path for you?

03:37 JS: Oh God, that’s a really good question. I have aunts that were teachers, and so it’s a little bit in our family, but being the oldest of several children and grandchildren, I was just always working with youth and really enjoyed it. And growing up in the States, we have 4-H clubs, which I know is internationally as well, so 4-H, FFA. I just really enjoyed working with other people and being active, and I saw the value in that. And so, I was enjoying coaching and different sports, I was just a really active kid. I grew up outside in the country as well. And so, that really all led down that path of teaching. And I actually was certified… I’m certified in multiple areas: Health, fitness, and math.

04:27 JS: And I wanted to be multifaceted and that’s what helped me land my first job as well as having those multiple certifications, but it just kind of hit me in high school when we were finalising our senior project, and I got to volunteer at a youth camp and design different sports activities for some youth groups, and it was just fantastic. I had a blast and always helped with our sports camps and stuff. So, it’s just something I’ve always enjoyed doing, and it was amazing that it could lead to a career path that now I just absolutely enjoy. I’m doing exactly what I love.

05:04 JR: Exactly, and it’s not too dissimilar to mine. I was at the same age in high school and I love sport, loved coaching, loved being involved in that sort of stuff, but I also loved technology, like I was teaching myself how to code. And the amalgamation of those two things really was, “Okay, I can be a PE teacher, and my second area of teaching will be information technology”, so [chuckle] that’s pretty much how the…

05:30 JS: That’s amazing.

05:30 JR: The enthusiasm for what has become the PE Geek originally started. It was because I had the love for both of those two things. So, what about technology for you? You seemed to be well connected with educators online, social media, and so forth. And from what I’ve seen, you’re using lots of other tech in your class. Why did that happen? Or, where did that happen for you, and why?

05:51 JS: Well, I guess the best way to describe that really is through my grant writing journey, and that’s been a big part of my teaching is writing grants, and that was because I guess I was tired of hearing people complain about, “Oh, we don’t have the budget. We can’t do this. We can’t do that.” I’m not a “can’t person”.


06:11 JS: I just… I’m like…

06:13 JR: There has to be a way. Has to be a way.

06:15 JS: There has to be a way, yeah. Either that, or you can’t complain about it. I’m like, “I don’t wanna hear myself complain about it, so either I’m gonna do it or not do it.” And I looked into a lot of grant writing early on in my career, because I just knew there was a way, and it was really… There was also just that time. That timeline, and it was just that catalyst time where health and fitness was beginning to make more of that forefront out there in the media and research-wise still early on, and so there was a lot of these grant writing opportunities that on the forefront weren’t PE-only grants, but they hadn’t awarded grants to PE teachers yet. So I applied for…

07:00 JS: It was the Quest Education Foundation Technology grant, and they hadn’t funded PE yet, and I was like, “Well then, why not me?” And so it was our local Idaho Quest grant, and that was my very first grant, and it was a $7,500 grant for heart rate monitors, and I’d been doing a lot of research. I was reading all the articles from now SHAPE America, just trying to stay really current, and that was still at a time where there wasn’t all these wonderful blogs and all these wonderful websites that I read a lot. I do a lot of the websites, but I also still love all the journals, the hard-copy stuff, and I was really thankful for that as I got this heart rate monitor grant after reading about how great heart rate monitors could be for my students. And then that next year, I got a small grant through our Idaho Association for pedometers.

07:57 JS: I just knew these heart rate monitors and these pedometers could really be a catalyst for my program. My program was really… I inherited a more traditional program that was trying to change and was really integrating in more fitness. So it was at that time where students were kind of fighting it ’cause it was very new to them, where you had young teachers who were trying to find a way, and I knew technology could be that bridge. And then from there it’s just exploded. And then, a lot more of the grant opportunities are out there now, too, so I’m always looking for those grant opportunities. All my small grants, it’s like $50,000 over 10 or 12 years. That’s a lot of money, and it’s not just been for my PE program.

08:43 JS: It’s been for my school as well, ’cause there’s great programs through like Fuel Up to Play 60 here in the States where it’s not a PE-only grant, it’s for your entire school community. So I’ve been able to build up my own program and get that grant money and do innovations and technology, and then I’ve been able to give that to my school as well. And then now, our district, we received the Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant, the PEP Grant. So we just finished our first year out of a three-year grant, and that… Oh boy. From start to finish, to look at the start of my career, these small grants, now to where there’s this huge grant that’s brought in an exponential amount in one year. It’s just been amazing. And I know that technology… The kids feed off of it. They love it. They love the innovations, and then they can apply it at home. It’s just been a fantastic bridge, really, with my students.

09:40 JR: For sure. I really wanna touch on the fact there that you mentioned about the grants, and particularly your mentality that you have that there’s always a way that’s possible, and these aren’t necessarily just barriers. They can be overcome if you have that mindset that you certainly have. And I mention that because one of the most popular emails that I get on a daily basis is related to grants and funding and so on, and a lot of people just immediately assume that if they can’t get that, or maybe they haven’t applied before and they think it’s in the too hard basket, but you’re living proof that you can definitely do it if you put your mind to it and apply for these things, and then it starts to snowball and you start to see the really big benefit that you’re experiencing now. So for you, what has been some of the… You mentioned pedometers and heart rate monitors. What have been some of the other things that you may have experimented with and had some success with?

10:37 JS: Technology-wise, right?

10:38 JR: Yeah, technology-wise.

10:40 JS: Yeah. Well, so for sure, starting with the heart rate monitors, the pedometers, and then just trying out the different kind of pedometers, and now my entire department and our district now, we have the downloadable ones that go for FITstep Pro pedometers that download, and so we have our Surface Pro laptop, which before our larger grant we just had any old laptop that we could get through the school, and we even had two teachers on one before we could even have our own, each have our own. And I love these downloadable pedometers for the kids to be able to see their work every day, for me to be able to see their work every day, for me to get the feedback that these pedometers provide on, did I design an active lesson?

11:30 JR: Yeah.

11:31 JS: How did what I plan really resonate with the work that was done, and what were the MVPA levels, and what was the activity time? And being able to just encourage kids just to be active. That’s been a huge one for me, and then being able to use the Surface Pro to show any PowerPoints or any online videos, and I love using my iPad. All the apps that are out there, having that available for the students with the Apple TV and the remote is just, is huge. I’ve really, really enjoyed that, being able to project things. We setup in our gym, we hung a sheet from a curtain, we have the curtains that… We have three different smaller floors, and so we have curtains that can come down. And so, we hang a sheet from one of the curtains so we can project it up for everyone to see. And another great piece of equipment that I love to use is a wireless mic, and I know that’s not like acting technology apps or anything like that, but it saved my voice.

12:41 JR: Yeah.

12:42 JS: I have a very small voice in a way [chuckle] and when I was coaching, I would always go through that, in beginning of the year teaching, I always go through that, lose my voice first and then build it back up, but for the kids to be able to hear you while you’re pumping up the music, I think music is such a huge, huge thing for the students to keep them moving and to keep you excited. It’s been really neat to be able to build that framework or that platform where I come out in the morning, I hang up my pedometers, I get my computer plugged in, I have my iPad ready to go.

13:19 JS: We’ve got the projector going, that’s ready to go, we’ve got the remote, we’ve got the music blasting, it’s been really neat to piece all these things together and I’m kind of that person that is always looking for those new ideas. And then I’m trying it out, and then if it works, I’m sharing it with everybody else in my district, “Hey, here’s an idea. Here is a speaker that we just purchased that we really like.” Yeah, it’s… I am willing to try it all and when I find that it works I share it.

13:48 JR: And then a good part… I mean, the best part about that, and the thing I admire most in teachers is that willingness to try things and to learn. Because ultimately, I’ve said this many times before on the podcast, that’s what we expect the students to do. We expect them to learn, and to try, and to fail, and to succeed, and when teachers assume that they don’t have to do the same thing I think it’s a recipe for disaster, so you’ve proven again that that’s a really good asset to have. So, you mentioned before about some apps and websites and so on, what are some that you’ve used recently or had success with that you’d be willing to share?

14:27 JS: Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. Some of my go-to ones I’ve really enjoyed using is, I like to use Team Shake on a regular basis.

14:36 JR: Isn’t that amazing?

14:37 JS: It’s so great, and oh gosh, I am like, “Where was this? [chuckle] Where was this earlier?” Such a genius idea, being able to mix up the kids and get the teams going right away and not wasting a lot of time with picking the teams. Tabata Pro, or Seconds Pro, those interval music timers are…

14:59 JR: Seconds Pro is seriously powerful [15:01] ____. Yeah.

15:02 JS: It’s essential, it’s really essential for people, and to build those different timers up and to be able to use those at a moment’s notice. I mean, you can do anything with that and a good play list. I really enjoyed purchasing the Tabata Kids Playlist recently on iTunes as well. He did that presentation, Pete, I believe is his name, SHAPE America, and him and his brother mixed up some really great tunes and I like to bust that out with my students. And get a Tabata in with whatever we’re doing, and talk to them about it, and it’s some great music. And being able to teach the students how to use these apps is really, really something that I enjoy doing as well.

15:45 JS: We actually had a fitness technology app showcase week, we do… We have 72-minute periods twice a week, and then twice a week we have 49-minute class periods. So, on our 72-minute class periods, instead of focusing on just one topic, like so if I’m doing tennis for the week, it’s not just tennis, there’s always other things with it, but on those 72-minute days, we’re doing some large group training, usually with all three of the classes at once, that’s for our health-related fitness, our skill-related fitness, our nutrition content comes into play, and so we have two lessons on that.

16:22 JR: Yeah.

16:22 JS: And we had a week or two where we were showcasing health and fitness app technology, so we were showing the students the seven-minute workout apps. I really enjoy the Johnson & Johnson 7 Minute Workout App, and so we’d go through that. The Nike Training Club App, being able to show the students the different levels of workouts and how they can challenge them differently. And then we did showing them the MyFitnessPal or the Lose It! The tracker, just to log their food, log their activity and to be able to set goals for themselves. And just to… Just like that food blog, we do food blogs now that are a requirement of the PEP Grant, but we were already doing that previously with our students. So, food blogs and exercise logs, or physical activity logs, so they were just aware. So, it’s the technology really creates that platform, ’cause it’s so much easier to use the technology ’cause it’s right there, rather than writing it down on that piece of paper that’s been lost 10 times in your house.


17:23 JR: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s the really big attractive feature of it, you’ve always got it, so the students always have access to it so they can make changes, that’s powerful.

17:33 JS: Yeah. And so, when we were doing that, it’s that shining moment when the student who comes to you the next week, this girl comes up to me during the warm-ups and she’s like, “Ms. Shawley, guess what? We downloaded that app and I made my dad do that with me two times. And then my cousins, we did it another two times.” And so, they were doing the seven minute workout app over the weekend as a family and she just had a blast, and she had a blast challenging her dad and there, she was getting her dad active. That’s what it’s all about is connecting with the kids, they’re applying it at home, they’re making connections with their parents and it’s a tool that she has. And so, I was just like, “Ah, this is why I do what I do. They’re taking it home. They’re applying it.”

18:24 JS: You’ve reached one kid, you’ve probably reached more but it’s always nice when that one’s willing to share with you that story just freely. “Hey, Ms. Shawley, guess what?” and she was so excited and so proud of herself. So we really like showcasing those apps. We were really fortunate enough to get… We only had one iPad and we worked that iPad to death in our department for so many different things and now we each have our own teacher iPad, and then we were able to purchase some iPad mini as well with that. We really kind of started to test the gamut of using technology in PE because we didn’t have a gym for a year, so we didn’t have that multi-purpose room to use either, so we were doing our physical education classes out of classrooms for the last year.

19:16 JS: So it’s only been within the last two months of this school year that we got our gym back and that was a whole process in itself trying to settle back into a gym at the end of the year. So it’s like starting a new year at the end of the year. It was quite odd but in the classrooms we were just like, “You know, we’re gonna pilot out and try things out we’ve never done before.” So we had our iPad minis that just came in. We did the Ubersense and Coach’s Eye apps to kids and recorded themselves, analysed themselves. We’re gonna be able to use that even more now in the future of them designing their own workouts and they loved it. They were out in the halls, they were analysing themselves. My co-worker John, he taught that unit.

19:58 JS: He had a blast teaching the kids that. The kids built their own… They bounced the ball off of several different items in the classroom, whether it’s a stack of books or a chair, they were using angles to land in the bucket. We have the large cup stacking buckets, and we used a full ball and they had to use math and angles and trajectories to bounce it off in different ways, record it, write it down, and they had to film it with the iPad minis when it was successful and then the kids were showing different classes, their successes. And in one of my rotations, I did activity break filming with the students. That’s just an initiative we’ve been trying as part of the Active Healthy Schools model is.

20:47 JS: Brain boosters or activity breaks, whatever name you wanna use is providing teachers with some training and tools and I thought, “Well, why not really train the kids? Like really go grassroots?” So, we learned several of them in our classroom and then the students got to design their own activity breaks and then we used the iPad to record them, to share them with the students. They got so excited because they got to choose their own music on the iPad. They got to wear the teacher mic, so I let them wear my wireless mic. They got all mic’ed up and they led a routine with their smaller groups, and we’re gonna carry that into next year with another… We’re gonna expand that and really try and get kids involved and maybe get them “certified,” get them a little business card that they’re…

21:37 JR: So cool.

21:38 JS: A certified activity break leader. They could show that to their teacher. They can be called on at any time to do a quick brain booster, and that’s gonna be through our Fuel Up to Play 60 partnership, part of that program. So, we’ve done a lot of exciting things in a small amount of time, and that’s really because we’re not afraid to fail and we laugh at the times we do fail and we share that with each other and learn from it and move on and it pays dividends, really to take those risks.

22:08 JR: For sure. And that’s, coming back to that same point again of how much she says she can attribute to being willing to try things and being willing to fail and on that fail front, have you had any situations where something hasn’t gone into plan? My teaching career is full of them and people often assume that because I write the PE Geek website that nothing ever goes wrong. It couldn’t be further from the truth. What about you? What’s happened that hasn’t gone into plan?

22:42 JS: Yeah, no. Plenty of blooper moments, really. One of the most recent ones was… Even my principal got to take part in it, which is always great when your supervisor comes through and you’re having that great moment. Just even silly simple things like, we’ve gotten… We’ve pieced together this, new to us, tech cart. So we found an old cart that no one wanted, so we always take those. We’re like, “Okay, no one wants this, we’re claiming it.” We love the wheeled carts. So we found this great big one. Oh, it’s awesome, beautiful. We put our amp on it and our projector, an old projector; our old combo VHS, DVD player. I’m so proud of this tech cart and we just were getting back into the gym, so I was like, “Okay, it’s all wired together.”

23:34 JS: My co-workers helped me wire it together during our collaboration time. I was like, “All right, I’m using this next week.” So, I get up there to start turning it on, I get it turned on, and I’m starting to log in and then I realized, “Oh, the projector’s upside down.” Because it used to be mounted and so it was flipped and I was like, “Oh, no problem, I’ll just use the remote.” And of course, I’m getting my kids already going with some instant warm-ups and some activities and they’re going and doing, and I cannot flip this projector and I’m like, “No, it’s this easy. I’ve done this a million times, the remote.”

24:09 JS: Then my principal’s coming in, and the remote is not working, either the battery is dead or it’s just not responding and I can’t flip the projector, and then it was just as simple as resetting the projector, but of course, my principal and I were stubborn and we were trying to make it, make the remote work, how we knew it should work and really we should have just reset it, trying to get the Apple TV to work correctly and the kids, they’re so patient and funny and they’re like, “Just do this, Ms. Shawley, or just do this.” And I’m like, “I know, I’ve done this a million times.” And it has to do with the WiFi, the new WiFi and the gym setting and the other great… It’s always so important to have a backup plan because…

24:52 JS: Another time I was teaching the dance unit and of course, I’m trying to show a new, I teach some of it but I like to show videos too, so I was showing… The lesson was part of this, to show this dance video and then we were gonna do it, well, that was when the tech crew decided to come in and they had to redo the WiFi, so, WiFi was down, like right in the middle of the lesson, and so I was like, “Okay, here’s my iPhone, plug that in, get some music going, teach a song. We’re gonna do a different dance.” I think anything that can go wrong has gone wrong for me and I look forward to more of those fun blooper moments ’cause all I can do is laugh and be frustrated or I’m sometimes impatient with the speed that which it happens.

25:39 JS: I’m like, “This worked faster last time.” Or in my mind it should have gone a lot faster so just having that patience I think is always that… It always teaches me that like to have patience and my co-workers laugh at me, they get a good laugh when I share my technology stories.


25:55 JR: I think it’s awesome, definitely is. And PE teachers in general seem to be more willing to actually be out there and experience failures, and we’re a little bit more adaptable in some way, so the fact that you mentioned that you’ve only just got your gym back. How many other areas in the school would be willing to lose their classroom and still make it work and still innovate and still do some really impressive stuff along the way? So, really appreciate your time today, Jessica. Where can people find out or connect with you if they’d like to do so?

26:30 JS: Well, I’m on Twitter at… It’s just @jessicashawley and I’m on Facebook, I’m on Voxer, and my Voxer…

26:40 JR: Tell us about Voxer. What’s Voxer?

26:42 JS: Oh, I love Voxer. Yeah, that’s another app I use all the time and Voxer is like this wonderful behind the scenes chatroom, there’s so many different great chats that are going on, in the physical education realm, there’s a pedometer chat, there’s probably heart rate monitor chat and there’s the secondary PE chat, an elementary PE chat, a general PE chat, and I’m enjoying the kinesthetic classroom chat, that’s my summer reading, and just being able to talk with folks like you and Andy here, who’s also over there in Australia, it’s just to send people different messages. You can do more information than just a 140 characters like on Twitter. It just really expands Twitter and the other mediums because you can text, you can do pictures or you can leave voice messages and that’s what’s nice.

27:40 JS: Its kind of… You can have this ongoing conversation with one or more people and you pick up right where it was left off. So, you don’t have to always be, all there, all at the same moment especially when people are 18 hours apart and that’s what I really appreciate about that. I’m able to just learn different ideas, share different ideas and check in with people and when I have the time, when the time allows that’s wonderful.

28:06 JR: It is, I mean, I think of it as a global staffroom and I wake up in the morning and there’s been all these conversations that have happened while I’ve been asleep, and I get to press play on them and I get to sit there and listen to it as if it was a podcast. I mean, if you are listening right now and you’ve never been on Voxer then head along to the thepegeek.com/voxer, which is V-O-X-E-R, and you’ll find a tutorial video of how to use it, how to get started. And you’ll be able to connect with myself and Jessica. So, thanks again Jessica, for taking the time out of your day and your vacation to come on to the episode and I really appreciate it and I look forward to seeing you online.

28:46 JS: Absolutely, thank you, Jarrod. Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

28:49 JR: You’re welcome, thank you.



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