Episode 80 – Data Drives Decision with Ross Chakrian

In this episode of The PE Geek podcast we speak about the privilege of being a Physical Education teacher and how we get to witness students striving for lifetime physical literacy. We also discuss the power of routines and frameworks in our lessons and how they can drive success.  Ross also shares his passion for technologies and how he has been able to utilise them to capture authentic data that can be used to shape his classroom decisions.

Resources & topics shared in this episode include

Heart Tech Plus

Loop It App

VGA Adapter

Ross’ Website

Press play to listen to the episode below or listen here. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here


[00:00:29] Jarrod Robinson: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the PE Geek Podcast and as always it’s an absolute pleasure to be here and I’m really pleased to welcome another phys ed teacher for episode 80 Ross Chakrian. How are you?

[00:00:42] Ross Chakrian: I’m great Jarrod thanks for having me on this evening, how are you?

[00:00:44] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah really good. Now I’ve been really intrigued with the work that you’ve been doing through Twitter and other social platforms over the last few months. So I was really happy to be able to get you to come onto the show and look forward to hearing about those things that you’re doing. But if you could trace right back to your work as a phys ed teacher where did that begin? Where did you start teaching and sort of what set the scene for you to become a teacher.

[00:01:11] Ross Chakrian: So I’ve been teaching elementary PE here in Maryland, in the States, for about the past seven years. I teach kindergarten through 5th grade every single day usually multiple classes of each grade per day. My kids have about 90 minutes of PE a week.

And probably what set me up to become a PE teacher was believe it or not both of my parents were actually PE teachers in the New York city public school system. Yeah, I grew up on Long Island in New York and they were both PE teachers, one in Brooklyn and one in Queens and they were great role models for me growing up. I often remember taking, them taking me into work with them sometimes and me just having an awesome time with their classes all day. And they set a really good kind of stage for me about being active throughout their life. And really getting me to buy into that from a young age.

So that coupled with the fact that kind of falling right in line with that was that I was a big athlete back in the day- soccer, lacrosse, football those are my big sports. And playing those throughout my youth and into high school and even a little bit into college as well. Kind of working with camps with those sports as well during my teen and college years. That led me to further believe that I really wanted to work with kids throughout the rest of my life and PE just seemed like a natural kind of path for me to take. And to this day I’m very pleased and happy with what I’m doing on a daily basis. So I’m grateful for that.

[00:02:45] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah for sure. What a story. Having -both parents as phys ed teachers. I can sort of attest to that too, the notion of being able to see what was a passion for you as a kid instilled in other people. Do you find that to be really rewarding as well when younger kids start to enjoy it like you did?

[00:03:06] Ross Chakrian: Absolutely, I mean I think that’s kind of the benchmark of what our work should be is that our students really need to find the enjoyment in what it is that we’re presenting them day in and day out in our lessons because the goal ultimately is for them to be physically literate for a lifetime and then for them to be able to take what we do in our gym and apply it outside of the walls and really be able to have the knowledge and the skills and the confidence to be active on their own outside of what we do on a daily basis. So definitely I totally agree with what you’re saying with that.

[00:03:43] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah for sure. So I can imagine that working with the younger kids you’ve got to have a lot of systems in place for when they come into class, they’ve got all different challenges and needs. I’m assuming that you being the teacher that you are have some strategies around how you deal with all sorts of things. Is there anything that comes to mind that might be shareable?

[00:04:05] Ross Chakrian: Yeah absolutely. Definitely routine is extremely important. I find with the younger kids, so each day when our kids come to the gym we have about 68 of them at a time because we’re usually doubled me and another PE teacher at my school. So there’s a lot of us in the gym at the same time and our gym isn’t very big. But that’s kind of all the more reason why we need to have the routines in place to get them moving as soon as possible.

So when they come in they know that they start their walk around our six cones. We do our interval training, warm up for about the first ten minutes where we play about a minute of music when they’re jogging. We try and keep a good pace around the outside of the cones. The music kind of fades out for about seven seconds and each of the cones has a different exercise on it with a picture and words that describe what it is.

They go to one of those cones and during the 30 second count down where my voice counts backwards from 30 all the way down to zero they’re doing that exercise for that 30 seconds and then the process just repeats for a couple of rounds, like five rounds I think. So a minute of a jogging and then thirty seconds of an exercise whether it’s muscular strength focused on muscular endurance focused or flexibility focused for the kids to kind of work on those different areas of fitness as soon as they come in from the, as soon as they come into PE every single day.

So routines are that are super important. I only see my kids 90 minutes a week ago so every minute counts. I really have to be on the ball, my co-teacher has to be on the ball with what we want the kids to do. And they know what to expect as soon as they come into gym. So routines are very important especially in elementary PE.

[00:05:48] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, that’s universal from all the teachers that we work with it’s very clear that the routines grow about habitual success from our perspective and their perspective and it really quite fundamentally game changing. Now the thing that caught my attention from you was the recent post that you’ve made related to the use of some animated gifs with technology. So before we get to that I want to talk a little bit about tech for you and where that sort of game about. Like has it been something that you’ve just started with or have you always had a bit of an appreciation for it in phys ed?

[00:06:24] Ross Chakrian: Yeah so technology to me, probably when I started using it, when I was really introduced to it in terms of the physical education setting was during my masters work at the University of Northern Iowa. And I got recruited to go there to be a part of this one of a kind master’s program that focused specifically on using technology in PE only. So it was really a one of kind of program that we didn’t have anywhere else here in the country. And it was me and about six other people that got recruited to this program my year which was I think 2009/2010 school year.

So our course work was really focused on using PE specific technology and then kind of coupled with that was the linking of theory and practice. So we got placed in a local elementary school or a local school system, I got placed in the elementary school and it had actually won a multi-million dollar PEP grant from the federal government. And I was under the tutelage of a guy by the name of Rick Schubach who was an awesome, awesome physical education teacher, master teacher, amazing guy.

So that was kind of my opportunity to really put in place the things that I was learning in my course work into practice during my teaching with Rick. On a daily basis with our fourth and fifth graders we used heart rate monitors with them every single day. They had daily PE, I think it was 40 minutes a day the kids so that was awesome to have them so often and be able to really do a lot of things with them. [00:08:00] (unclear) the projector system so using a lot of things with connected to the laptop and throwing it up on the wall for the kids to kind of follow along with and view.

Back then it was actually PCs and PalmPilots and it was before the iPad. So I was doing assessments I remember using my little stylus on my little pocketPC on there and also using like activity monitors too with our students back then. So it was really a great–

[00:08:28] Jarrod Robinson: There’s some, even though the tech has changed there’s some common bedrocks that are foundational there. You’ve got your assessment being more efficient and effective with the PalmPilot and now obviously the way that you would do it now is through a different tool but the same fundamental use case is there in that you would try to be more efficient and effective or trying to use tech to capture data. So does that data tracking element still find it’s place in your school and with your students these days?

[00:08:59] Ross Chakrian: Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely something that’s important to me. We had a saying during my masters program when I was out at the University of Northern Iowa in that program, it was “Data drives decisions,” 3 Ds. We live in a three-D world. So you have to have the data, and you have to be informed and you have to know what it says, what it’s saying to you in order to kind of guide your teaching in the future.

So that’s really not any different I don’t think than any other discipline in a particular school whether it’s math or reading, whatever. Those teachers are constantly using data to drive their decisions and we shouldn’t be any different in PE. The way we capture data, that might be a little bit different than they do in certain terms but that idea is really central to what needs to be done in order to guide [00:09:49] (unclear) for the future. So it’s super important to me to be able to do that. We still, I still use it today currently where I’m using activity monitors still with our kids where they get to take it home for a week at a time and it kind of just tracks their 24/7 activity for that week which is pretty cool. We talk about what that means.

Also some other things that are coming up pretty soon with our fourth graders and I’m going to be hopefully talking about a little later in the podcast, the exciting and the data like you said now it’s the iPad, using assessment data on there as well to make informed decisions about what I need to maybe hit harder on or things that I think okay kids have mastered now we can move onto something else.

[00:10:40] Jarrod Robinson: I mean I think I love that word that you just phrased before, data drives decisions. And a lot of the time and I still work with many teachers that just don’t have the luxury of having data or haven’t made the mindful shift to actually trying to capture it. And as a result they’re a little bit in the blind about what they’re doing and how much impact it actually has. So I think that’s a great, yeah great piece of advice for sure.

So the thing that really caught my attention, I’ve mentioned a couple of times now is your use of animated gifs. Do you want to explain what an animated gif is and what you’ve been doing with them?

[00:11:14] Ross Chakrian: Yeah so an animated gif basically is an image that is moving that kind of allows the viewer to see what a particular movement would look like. It’s not a video, it doesn’t take as much space as a video which is really one of the main benefits of it. And it’s still animated so whatever you decide to show it on whether it’s an iPad or a projection system or whatever, the kids can see how the movement looks like and they can copy along with it. So it’s just a way for them to really kind of be able to again see it so they have a better understanding of it and I’ve been using them a lot lately thanks to your LoopIt app, I really appreciate that app, it’s been awesome.

That’s how, I usually take videos on my iPad and then I use the function on there that has it, that you can create a gif from a video and then I just save them and then [00:12:14] (unclear). I usually put it into my PowerPoints that I make that I use on a daily basis with my projector whether it’s a skill that we’re particularly doing or something for a little bit of a different warmup that day, whatever it is. Just so the kids can see it instead of just hearing what it is we’re doing. I think always the more ways that you can try to get their attention the better especially with the younger ones and elementary. So giving them that opportunity to see it and hear it as opposed to just one or the other it’s always more beneficial in my eyes.

[00:12:46] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah and the other good aspect too is that you’ve basically cloned yourself in some ways. So your demonstration lives on throughout the entire time that that animated gif is running. And I mean I saw some pictures of, I think it must have been the projector system that you had set up and you had multiple gifs as well on the one rather than just one playing it was quite a few.

[00:13:07] Ross Chakrian: Yeah so I think that was probably we were, right now we’re in a striking unit and our older kids are working more on volleyball skills. So I kind of had the older kids start to work on their overhead pass, their setting, and I had them kind of working through a level progression. So I had six levels of gifs up on the projector on the screen so the kids can kind of, as soon as they finish one level they can go to the next level and in case they didn’t understand what it was, what it’s supposed to look like they can just kind of walk up to it, watch it for a little bit and it loops over and over again which is another great thing about it, so I don’t have to worry about it. I can just set it and forget it and let the kids kind of see what it is again and then go back to working.

[00:13:51] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah and effectively cloning yourself through different stages of their development. And like sure videos a great thing but the problem with video is that you’ve obviously got to be there to replay it or rewind it or whatever and a lot of the time the same goal could be achieved with an animated gif. So if you’re sitting and listening the app that was used was LoopIt and literally you just record a video taking action over a couple of seconds or whatever it maybe. Turn it into an animated gif which is effectively an image and in this case add it in a PowerPoint and display it for your students. I think it’s tremendous. So do you use any of the in-built features in the app to sort adjust the speed or anything like that?

[00:14:31] Ross Chakrian: Yeah one of the best features that’s in there that I want to thank you for is the frame rate. So being able to change that kind of determines how fast or how slow the different stills within that animation are moving from one to the next. So from my younger kids, from like K-2 students I tend to slow it down quite a bit so they can see it a little bit more and have time to process more what I’m doing. For the older kids I tend to go a little faster on the frame rate because I think they can process it a little bit better. But that’s a huge plus for it because again it just allows you to differentiate kind of, if you think if it’s a complicated skill and you think wow my kids might need a little bit more time to really see what this is and process it you can slow it down really as much as you need to. And it’s awesome. I love that frame rate feature in there.

[00:15:25] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah for sure. So what is exciting you at the moment with technology? Have you got any projects that you’re thinking about in the background or things that you might like to try next time you get a chance?

[00:15:37] Ross Chakrian: So one thing that’s actually really exciting that I kind of alluded to early, my 5th graders when we get back from winter break, we’re about to leave for winter break on Friday. When we get back from that they’re going to be starting to use heart rate monitors in PE using a company called Heart Tech Plus, they’re a platform which is super awesome, it’s a web based system basically that has an iPad app and it uses forearm based optical heart rate sensors to capture students’ rates.

And the cool thing about it is that each of the sensors that the students are wearing, their heart rate data gets sent live right to my iPad in real time so I can see all their heart rates live on my screen and I can connect my iPad with a VJA to lightening adaptor to my projector and project up on the wall so the kids can see what their heart rates are as well. All they have to do is just kind of look up on the wall and see what level they’re working at, intensity level. So the data that’s collected through that it’s synced from my iPad to the web platform. It gets aggregated and we can make custom reports and stuff for individual students or for whole classes.

So we’re starting a six week unit right when get back from break kind of focusing on the central question of how do different types of exercises or activities effect our heart rates. So I plan on having my students analyzing that the identified heart rate data, the graphs and the number tables and things that I can create from customs reports within the web based feature of the Heart Tech Plus platform. And kind of opening up for cross-curricular themes of math and literacy to deepen their understanding of fitness concepts and knowledge. So I’m really excited about that when we get back from break. It’s one of my passion, I mentioned I used them earlier. Different company back in the day when I used them at Northern Iowa but this very excited.

[00:17:25] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah and we’ve come a long way with heart rate tech like if you think back to the early days they had a lot of promise but they were still quite messy in terms of just getting them connected and obviously they were based on watches and things like that and it just made it much more difficult for younger kids. So we’ve come a long way, that’s the basic reality and it means that you’re able to use data more effectively now without getting caught up in the messiness of trying to capture that data so that the real goal is quite achievable for most people. So yeah really thank you for coming onto the episode, there’s a lot of really good material here and I love that work that you’re doing. Where can people find out and follow the stuff that you’re up to?

[00:18:08] Ross Chakrian: So you can follow me on twitter @Mr_C_PE MR_C_PE. I actually just started a little Weebly page as well over the weekend. It’s purposefulpe.weebly.com. So you can check out either one of those things. I’m posting on there all the time. If you’re part of the Facebook PE Central group I’m posting on there all the time. So those are the best places that you can see kind of the things I’m doing on a daily basis.

[00:18:39] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah excellent stuff and I want to thank you again for stopping by. There will be links for all the different resources and items mentioned in today’s episode over at thepegeek.com/80 for episode 80 as well as a word for word transcript which you can read if you don’t get a chance to listen. So we’ll speak soon Ross and thanks for stopping bye.

[00:18:59] Ross Chakrian: Thanks a lot Jarrod, I appreciate you having me on.

[00:19:01] Jarrod Robinson: You’re welcome, see you mate.


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