Episode 62 – The Power of Creation with Ryan Ellis

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast I speak with the founder of The PE Umbrella Podcast ‘Ryan Ellis’. We discuss how an older brother influenced his journey to the classroom and how he eventually ended up in Physical Education. Ryan also shares how to foster intrinsic motivation and how technology can play a role in this process. Finally we discuss creativity and why our activities should foster this important characteristic in our students.

Resources for this episode include

  1. Explain Everything, Coach’s Eye & Evernote
  2. Splice & GoPro
  3. The PE Umbrella Podcast
  4. Follow Ryan on Twitter

Press Play to listen below. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here


00:29 Jarrod Robinson: Hello everyone, and welcome to episode number 62 of the PE Geek Podcast and, as always, it’s an absolute pleasure to be here. Now, these are my favourite episodes without a doubt, the episodes where we actually get to speak with phys ed teachers from all over the globe using tech, playing around with it in their classes. And today I’m very happy to welcome Ryan Ellis to the show. How are you Ryan?

00:53 Ryan Ellis: I’m fantastic, Jarrod, thank you very much for having me.

00:56 JR: You’re welcome. So where are you joining us from, this morning for you, I think it is?

01:01 RE: It is yes. It’s the morning, it is currently 7:05 AM I’m speaking from Harrogate in the North Yorkshire, God’s own county, in England.

01:10 JR: Perfect. And you’re currently… Well, it’s the weekend, obviously for us at the moment, but during the week you’re involved in teaching. What sort of age groups do you work with?

01:22 RE: Perfect. Yeah, I’m involved in teaching. So, I’m a qualified primary school teacher and I work with what we call reception age over here, which is kindergarten, and right through to year six and so it’s up until 11 years of age.

01:35 JR: Yeah. Do you remember what sort of prompted you to go down that route of working with kids that age and actually even becoming a PE teacher?

01:44 RE: I do remember it very clearly. Well, my older brother, he’s five and a half years my senior. He’s a secondary school PE teacher and he’s always been very sporty, and that brotherly relationship and competitiveness sort of sparked throughout my life. And I just wanted to follow in his footsteps, if you like. So, that all started with me wanting to be a secondary phys ed teacher as well. I went over to the United States and coached football over there, or soccer, and I really enjoyed working with the younger children whilst over there; six, seven, eight years old. And it kind of, in my mind, changed my tack or career projection and made me decide to actually go down the primary or elementary route instead. So, that was where the passion started.

02:28 JR: For sure. So, I’ve had… Obviously, I started in secondary school and then eventually ended up in some of the younger year levels. And I reckon it’s quite powerful because you actually get to see the learning a little bit more clearly, would you agree, with those younger levels?

02:45 RE: Absolutely. I think it’s a… It was that age group, where you can just see on their faces I think they’ve gotta, more of a passion for learning. Everything seems to excite them and you can see some real big milestones that they achieve in everything that they do. And I’m talking right from when I was in the classroom and I was teaching maths, literacy lessons, science lessons and to phys ed as well. And it’s great when you can see that, that moment click and you can see it on their faces and their passion. And they’ll be the first to come up to you, when they’re that age, and thank you and be smiling and tell you the story of how they get it all of a sudden. So, it’s a really powerful age group to teach, I love it.

03:20 JR: For sure and no shortage of motivation. Internal motivation and external motivation, I think both of those are quite relevant. And that actually leads into a topic that you presented at the Connected PE online conference. So, you wanna just touch on what that was all about?

03:37 RE: Yes. Well, I think intrinsic motivation is key to nurturing our children and I know it’s been said an awful lot, but children are born with that natural desire to explore and to find solutions to things. And I think through school, as children often get older, it wanes, it starts to disappear for whatever reason. Whether or not that’s at the fault of the teachers or parents using rewards, for example, which I personally think can be a detriment to a child’s motivation if not done correctly. But all that intrinsic motivation, how can we nurture that? How can we make sure that the child is self-determined to want to achieve and want to learn? So yes, as I spoke at the webinar it was all about different ways in which we can involve things in our lessons which can help keep children intrinsically motivated, to want to learn and do the best that they can. So, the things that I touched upon there were having a sense of purpose for the children, a sense of autonomy and also a sense of mastery in your lessons.

04:37 JR: Yeah, excellent stuff. So, a question for you. What about technology? Do you think it can be a little bit of a… Some sort of motivator for students, whether that be the initial hook to get them interested in an activity or something a bit deeper?

04:54 RE: Absolutely. I think technology has got a solid place in education at the minute, and I think it will continue. I think the hook absolutely is there as well. It’s something the children are using obviously outside of school an awful lot. So, when it’s brought into that educational setting, for many of them, that’s very relevant. It’s a piece of equipment that a lot of children have.

05:14 JR: It’s real life.

05:15 RE: It is. They’re using it on a daily basis. So, for them it actually opens up a whole new world of possibilities and many of the children are better than staff and teachers at using the device, and you’d be surprised at the work that they can produce if given the correct apps to use it on.

05:32 JR: Correctly, yeah for sure. So it leads into a new whole world of potential questions here right now, but you mentioned that you got started with technology in… What was that? A generalist classroom environment? Is that correct?

05:46 RE: Yes. Yes, absolutely.

05:48 JR: Tell us about that.

05:49 RE: Yeah. I started when I was a… First, a newly qualified teacher and I was alongside another newly qualified teacher. We were in side-by-side classrooms and we both had a big passion for the use of technology and it was fortunate that the school I taught in had quite a lot of iPads at their disposal, at least enough for one between two. It started off, for me, using it in literacy and numeracy settings. Some apps in particular that I used to use quite a lot were Explain Everything. Don’t know if you’ve heard of Explain Everything?

06:20 JR: It’s amazing.

06:21 RE: I thought it was a phenomenal app for children to log and record their ideas, them to become the teacher and I would frequently share the videos they made on Explain Everything on our class blog or to children lower down school to teach them how to add numbers for addition, etcetera. A truly wonderful app. Things such as the augmented reality apps and Aurasma, things like that, we used to use for creative writing and for literacy. And that’s what sort of filtered me down the route of realising how important and how great the iPad and apps can be. I have to say the very first app that I used in a phys ed setting was actually Coaches Eye for the video recording, which I found to be a powerful medium to share with the children as well.

07:07 JR: We’ve come a long way. I reflect on the video analysis of the past and you probably have heard of DartFish and tools of that nature. Having to have cameras and laptops and this, that and the other to try and get that result. Now you can do it quite easily. You mentioned with Explain Everything just how quick it is for a kid to show what they’ve known and publish that to the world. It’s really quite powerful to go from that consumer to creator sort of idea. I think kids really enjoy the opportunity to be able to show what they know.

07:40 RE: I think they do. They loved it. They thought it was the coolest thing that they could create a video, they could use their finger on the screen to circle and highlight numbers and talk with their voice. When they played it back, the look of wonder and amazement in their face, that they’d actually made this video, and a child lower down school could watch it and learn from them, it really embedded their learning and it made them feel much better about themselves. I think if anything, it gave them more motivation in their learning to want to continue and do more.

08:11 JR: For sure. I always think back to this Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, the classic pyramid with the different levels of depth related to work. Right at the bottom you’ve got that knowledge level, the very bottom tier. Right at the top the revised one is create. The very idea of that if you are creating then you’re gonna have to know how to know things. You’re gonna have to be able to evaluate. You’re gonna have to be able to synthesise. This creation stuff is now really quite possible in classes. I still think there’s lots of teachers that don’t quite grasp that as an issue. You can make your kids creators of content now rather than just consumers. Have you ever had to battle any sort of issues around maybe dealing with other teachers or your own perceptions related to technology?

09:07 RE: Yes, it’s funny you say that. The first school that I was teaching at, I think between myself and the NQT, we were huge advocates of using tech. There was a lot of other members of staff who, not to name names, were almost set in their ways. They weren’t open to trying out new ideas and new ways of learning. It was almost as if, “This is how we’ve done it. This is the way we’re always going to do it.” The most dangerous words you could say in anything that you are possibly doing. It’s not the way we have always done it. Let’s try something new. And I feel like it did hold myself and my teacher friend who was next door, it held us back unfortunately. We did have to battle that. That being said, we did continue using tech an awful lot. Not that everyone agreed with it. But I think sometimes you just know in your heart of hearts that you’ve got… You’re onto something and it works, and the children respond to. That was the sort of tack that I took. That’s where I went with it and that’s why I continue using the tech, I think. If you think it’s going to benefit your children and you see it’s going to benefit them, then go with that. You know your children better than somebody else.

10:15 JR: Completely agree. The thing that really frustrates me, ’cause that’s not a rare situation to have some members of staff that maybe don’t grasp it. And that’s okay. Everyone has different ways that they deliver their content, etcetera. But the thing that I hate in any of those situations is people just refusing to at least try and have a go, exploring and using something new because things are never the same, like you’ve pointed out. There’s the illusion that they are, but they’re not. We don’t want to be static in anything that we do because we don’t expect our students to do that, do we? Like come in to class, what you learn in year one, that’s okay. You never need to know anything ever again. Imagine if we did that. Imagine if that was the norm.

11:05 RE: Exactly.

11:06 JR: But we’ve got teachers that do it.

11:08 RE: Yeah, it’s incredible. For me, to put something out, for me it’s just lazy teaching, just using things that you’ve already done. It just saves work and time. But it’s just doing a disservice to the children. It’s just lazy. I think you’ve got to move with the times and move with what’s working, in my opinion.

11:24 JR: Yeah. For sure, absolutely. That mindset of just continual development is… Whether it’s with tech or not I think is so powerful and great to model as well. I don’t confess to be an expert in all the tools that I’ve ever used with kids. But the willingness to try it even and be a learner with them is something that not as many teachers do as would be good.

11:47 RE: Yes.

11:48 JR: You’ve mentioned…

11:49 RE: I was going to just jump in there.

11:50 JR: Yeah, go ahead.

11:50 RE: Sorry Jarrod. I apologise for that. A just really relevant point in terms of being the learner. Another app that we used when I was a classroom teacher, which the children essentially taught me how to use, which was big a few years back, was Minecraft. Now on Minecraft we had the children in the lesson building Viking long boats using the Minecraft app. And then we would in our literacy session, write instructions about how to build it. Now I had no idea how to use this app. I’d never used Minecraft in my life, but you know we still went for it. And if anything I was learning from the children in that session as well, so it goes both ways. And the children felt good about that, that they could show me how something works.

12:27 JR: Completely agree. I mean it’s… And then again, leads back to that intrinsic motivation thing doesn’t it? Like it’s…

12:33 RE: Yes.

12:34 JR: It will empower them to wanna go on and focus that attention in other areas. So I think it’s absolutely worth pursuing. So we’ve mentioned some of the really positive things that happen when you use tech and I think they’re abundant, but have you ever had any situations where maybe things haven’t worked quite as you’d expected or things of that nature?

12:54 RE: Yes. I mean I have to say, the first couple of months of me trying to use the tech and the iPads, it was a bumpy road to say the least. I just thought you know what? Teacher bit naïve if you like. I went and said, “We’re going to use the iPads,” and it started in the classroom. And even in the PE setting. And as you can imagine without any ground rules or such in place and expectations, which I didn’t know at the time I had to, or should have set. Before you know it, the children were off task. They had jumped onto a different app that they shouldn’t be on when I wasn’t watching. They weren’t using it for a learning purpose and it was a rude awakening to me that… Actually, it got me questioning, “Is this the right way to go?” All it made me do is reflect on how I set the children away, how I had the expectations set for them, and as I moved forward in time, we came to a happy medium where the children knew what they had to do when they were given an iPad to use for a learning purpose. But the first couple of months, like I said it was a bumpy road and I didn’t realize the children would be so cheeky as to use them for whatever they wanted. [chuckle]

14:00 JR: They’re quite curious aren’t they? Like you give them a tool and especially when they’ve got a familiarity with it like in their own home environment you can see why they can head off in a billion different directions.

14:10 RE: Exactly.

14:10 JR: For sure. But it’s a really positive quality that you can reflect on that and take ownership over the fact that the next time you did it you’d do it differently and not just…

14:20 RE: Exactly.

14:20 JR: Completely abandon ever using it. I can imagine if I had done the… And just abandoned using certain tools and lots of things in my practice that I really enjoy now probably wouldn’t exist. And I was the same using tech the first time. Like, “Is this… ” “Am I… ” “What’s going on here?” Like I’ve maybe not got the result that I was after. I’ve wasted a bit of time, but it’s through that reflection where the magic happens, and I really value that as a process, and that’s actually how the PE Geek website started. A lot of people don’t know, but it was a reflection site purely for me. And over time became useful for others. But yeah, I mean that’s how you grow isn’t it? Reflection.

15:05 RE: Exactly. It is obviously the whole analogy of failures, first attempt to learn, whatever you want to call it. Famous failures. If they’d given up after the first time they’d done something, then they wouldn’t be where they are today. I often share some of those stories with my children. Whether it’s Michael Jordan talking about missing his shots, whether it’s JK Rowling who takes her book to be published and gets told it isn’t good enough, which obviously of course we now know Harry Potter’s done very well. So all these famous failures. If you give up after the first try, then you’re not going to sort of uncover the golden nuggets which lie ahead if you keep persisting with it.

15:40 JR: For sure. No, I couldn’t agree more. So you’ve mentioned a couple of tools and so on that you’ve used. Are there any others that you’re quite fond of over the years?

15:48 RE: In terms of being a teacher, one which I found very useful back at the beginning was Evernote. Just for teaching reasons in terms of storing, planning. In terms of annotating planning, attaching photos, audio notes. I found Evernote very, very useful across the board. I thought it was fantastic.

16:06 JR: It’s like your brain online, isn’t it?

16:09 RE: It is. It is a phenomenal, phenomenal tool and I started to filter that down through school and get other teachers to use it too when they saw the power of it. And yeah, it really is incredible. I couldn’t have lived without it. Like I said before, phys ed I started off, it was mainly with Coaches Eye, using that for a purpose of filming bits of, I would say team games. And I used to take it back into the classroom, hook it up to the smart board, and we’d watch it back. We’d look at the positions and the shapes of the children. Are we making small triangles for passes? We used to do a bit of an analysis and a breakdown of where we were, so it was very useful for that which was superb.

16:45 RE: And one which has become more prevalent for me recently, which I only discovered, it wasn’t so long ago actually, which is a video app which can make very cool, quick videos and it’s called Splice, S-P-L-I-C-E. And it’s sort of in collaboration with GoPro, but it’s a great tool which I’ve been using to do almost quick-lesson, or block summaries, and making videos to go alongside that, which I can then send to other relevant staff or show the children how far we’ve come in our learning. And it’s a great tool for the children to watch back, see things that they’ve remembered, share with parents, and also with the other teachers in school.

17:23 JR: I love the power of video. It’s so versatile. My very first memory of video and its power was as a student learner as well, and seeing myself do something for the first time. And that was so motivational. Like I didn’t even look at it from an analysis perspective, or performance, etcetera. It was just the fact that I was seeing myself do something. And I tell you what, I went out and kept doing that, and it was training for long jump and triple jump, which is the first thing I ever saw. And you can imagine how much more effort I put into it just because I’d seen it. So a lot of time people discount maybe that it might take time to do these things, but if that’s the only thing you ever got from watching yourself, I think that’s worth pursuing. So I think, yeah, we’re on the same page with video for sure.

18:14 RE: Absolutely, like I said before you learn so much don’t you from watching yourself? And I had a rude awakening my first time. It wasn’t even using an app, but one of my friends videoed me when I was out on the golf course and…


18:27 RE: Little to my knowledge, I didn’t know he was videoing me. And when I watched my shot back, and watched my golf swing, to say I was alarmed would be an understatement. It was awful. So ever since then…


18:38 RE: I’ve been very determined to improve my golfing standards, Jarrod.

18:42 JR: Oh man, that sounds exactly like a golf experience I had. I was on the opposite side though…


18:46 JR: Filming some of my friends.

18:49 RE: Nice.

18:49 JR: And they were the same, they’d never seen themselves playing it. I’m like, “You are lifting your head. This is clearly showing you, that you’re doing that.” They could tell us a story that maybe we couldn’t see earlier.


19:01 JR: So, some amazing reasons why tech has been part of my practice and as well as yours, but you’ve gone on to start creating a podcast of your own and it’s gone on to be really quite successful. What’s the podcast and what sort of led you down that path?

19:19 RE: Yes, so it’s the PE Umbrella and podcasting, blogging, primary and elementary PE. And what led me down that path is listening to podcast first and foremost, obviously your own website and your podcast. And I used to listen to a lot of business podcasts, Entrepreneur on Fire, Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income, things like that. And on EOFire, which is John Lee Dumas I think hosts it, he used to talk about a free podcast course and about niching down into something which is very relevant to you. And it just got me thinking one summer, I thought, “You know what. I don’t know of any specific primary/elementary phys ed podcasts which may be about the resources, reflections and interviews,” which obviously EOFire is an interview-based podcast, “Why not do it?” I thought, “I’ll research into it, I’ll sign up for the free podcast course to see how you make it.” And I just made it my own personal goal and mission to produce and release one on a weekly basis there, just to share with others and you’re right it’s gone well. It’s gaining traction and momentum. And I thoroughly enjoy doing it, it’s absolutely wonderful.

20:26 JR: I couldn’t agree more. The whole process of podcasting is just on the up and up too. So these shows like yours and mine, etcetera, that are niche, can exist. We have a place to do that now. So there’s absolutely probably people here, listening to the show and they’ve got an interest in a particular area, whether it’s PE or it’s another hobby that you’ve got, it’s not hard to do it these days. You can do it with a microphone on your computer. Simple as that and host it for free. And because of just the sheer low volume in podcast, you can have people listening to them really quite quickly. So, I love the platform, I think they’re tremendous. And I just love how that you can be on the go and learning as well. Is that how you tend to consume yours?

21:14 RE: Yeah, absolutely. For me, it’s always when I’m in my car driving around predominantly. So I drive from school to school on a daily basis and whilst I’m in the car for 15 minutes, instead of just putting on music, I’ll think, “Well, I’ll take 15 minutes to perhaps learn something new.” So I’ll stick on a podcast. Perhaps learn something I can take into the rest of the day or I’ll jot it down and make a note for it for later. And always be learning on the go and I found it invaluable. It is a wonderful, wonderful medium and I have to say I’ve learned so much about, whether it be phys ed, whether it be about business, or life and mindset through listening to podcasts. I just think they’re tremendous.

21:50 JR: Yeah, for sure. I couldn’t agree more, I’m such a big fan.


21:53 JR: Do you listen to them on the 1.5x as well?

21:58 RE: Is it… Well, at the moment, no. Do you know why? One thing I’m very slow down in doing, I don’t… I keep them at regular speed and I don’t know why I do that, ’cause a lot of friends of mine do make it a little bit quicker to consume them faster. But I’m very old school and I like to listen and absorb every single word at regular speed at the moment, but perhaps I’ll try that.


22:15 JR: It’s worth it. I was the same, I used to put it on at 1.5x and listen to it and think, “I can’t follow what was happening here.” But slowly trained myself over a period of time and now I’ve… Now, when I go back and listen to them slower, I’m like, “What is happening?”


22:33 JR: If you’re listening to this podcast and you’ve… We’ve gone for about 20 minutes so far, you could be listening to this much faster if you switch it to 1.25 or 1.5x and you’ll be able to get some of that valuable time back. So I recommend trying it out.

22:49 RE: Yeah.

22:50 JR: Thank you for jumping on to today’s episode. Where can we find out more about the things that you’re up to?

22:57 RE: Well, if you head on over to peumbrella.com, that’s where I have an all mighty list of all of my podcasts that I’ve released thus far. Show notes in there, links to all the previous ones. You’ll obviously find the PE Umbrella on iTunes. If you head on over to Twitter, I’m on there too, which is @RyanSporting. I’m quite regular on Twitter posting on there and trying to discuss with others too. And also I work in day-to-day for Sporting Influence. If you head over to sportinginfluence.com, you’ll see all the good things that we’re doing with phys ed in and around Harrogate in England as well.

23:28 JR: Perfect. Absolutely love it. So as always absolute pleasure to have you listening to the podcast today. If you’ve got any questions then you know where to fire them away to. Otherwise head along to the thepegeek.com/62 for episode 62 and you can find all the links mentioned in today’s episode as well as a word-for-word transcript. So look forward to speaking with you next time and thanks again Ryan for joining us.

23:54 RE: Thank you very much Jarrod, appreciate it.

23:56 JR: See ya.



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