In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast we speak with Joel Smedes a passionate Phys Ed teacher working in Laos. Throughout the episode we explore how he got started using various technologies and how he’s applied these in swimming lessons.
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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 episode number 99 of the PE Geek Podcast and as always, it’s a pleasure to have you listening and I’m joined today by Joel Smedes. How are you?
[00:00:39] Joel Smedes: Good, thank you Jarrod thanks for having me.
[00:00:40] Jarrod Robinson: Very welcome, where are you in the world are you joining us from on today’s episode?
[00:00:47] Joel Smedes: I’m in Vientiane in Laos, and I’m at home at the moment, chose an early morning time when everyone else was still asleep.
[00:00:56] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, and we were just talking before that your journey in this like educational teaching world has had you visiting many different continents and countries and but home base for you like is Melbourne, Australia or in Australia but you’ve been all over the place. You can just tell us a little bit more about that?
[00:01:15] Joel Smedes: Yeah, so I was in Melbourne and taught for a few years there before I decided to go and look at the overseas scene. I went to England first and —
[00:01:24] Jarrod Robinson: As many Ozzies do.
[00:01:26] Joel Smedes: As many Ozzies do you, yeah, it’s good to get recruited to there. They’re pretty straight forward. Then I was in Oman for a little bit. And moved to Latvia and in Latvia was my first international IB school doing the PYP. After that we were in Angola for three years, my wife and I. And she’s a teacher as well. And now we’re in Laos and we’re into our seventh year at VIS – Vientiane International School in Laos.
[00:01:57] Jarrod Robinson: Isn’t it amazing that this career, you have the opportunity to do that, like you can sort of see the planet, get a feel for different cultures and places and all the while you’re still teaching that same core job that you would be doing if you were here in Australia or anywhere else. It’s quite extraordinary isn’t it?
[00:02:15] Joel Smedes: Yeah, fantastic. We’ve enjoyed it so far. I met my wife in Latvia, she’s America background. She taught in China before she moved to Latvia as well. And then from there we’ve done another couple of posts and we’re enjoying where we are at the moment. But, you know of course you’re always starting to look on, oh where’s another place we could go teach next and we haven’t done South America yet, what about South America.
[00:02:44] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah, I mean it sounds like you have done quiet, pretty much nearly all the continents by —
[00:02:50] Joel Smedes: Yeah, it’s getting there.[00:02:52] Jarrod Robinson: Getting close. So, what sort of, what’s the appeal with obviously the travel part plays a huge role. But are there other things that play as well that sort of entice you to want to stay in the international school scene?
[00:03:06] Joel Smedes: Yes, well as I mentioned before my wife’s actually American and as it stands Mara doesn’t actually have a visa to live in Australia and I don’t have a visa to live in the States yet because when you do that you’ve actually got to go and live there permanently and stay for a while to make it all official.
And we’re enjoying doing this at the moment so we’re both like well, we can’t just choose to go to live for one year in Australia or to go for one year to the States because we if I go to get the visa I have to stay there for a long time to make it a permanent. So, we’re not ready to do that at the moment and we’re just, let’s keep on doing these international schools. So, get to travel around, visit friends and family. And I’ve got a brother who’s also an international school teacher and we match up on holidays when holidays connect and so it’s really good, yeah.
[00:04:01] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, so great option for people listening that are phys ed teachers or any teacher for that matter and they’re looking for ways in which they could potentially take their family out and explore new places. So, how do you actually get started with that because it’s probably new to many people who are listening, like where do they go if they wanted to do the international school thing?
[00:04:23] Joel Smedes: Yeah, so there’s a, we’ve been through a couple of recruiting agencies before, Search Associates is a big one that many people use and they run recruiting fairs in different places throughout the world, there’s Bangkok, Sydney, Dubai, London. There’s also a couple of other international school services and CSI- The Council of International School run recruiting fairs a lot of the time.
But there’s also many other companies that you can get online with to look for job placements and recruiting agencies and they just enter your information, what you teach, your experience and where you’re willing to go and what you want to do and at first, it’s a little bit, oh my goodness, where are we going to go, where are we thinking of going. But, after a bit of time you can see the pattern, figure out what sort of places you like and what you want to go to.
[00:05:21] Jarrod Robinson: So, how has your teaching evolved over that period of time. Like obviously you’ve worked in a lot of different schools and different sort of backgrounds, I’m sure there are some that have been more resourced than others. How has that impacted the teaching and how has your teaching changed across the course of that time thinking way back to when you first started in Australia.
[00:05:42] Joel Smedes: Definitely changed, definitely changed. I would say the biggest change I’ve had and what I’ve really enjoyed is becoming connected with the IB schools and doing the PYP. We, I do with the PE now and I really enjoy having the freedom that I have to be able to create units that I want, within the PYP framework that can really work for the students at our school where they are at this moment. And the way we do connections and make connections with their classroom learning, what we can do between PE and carry over to issues and topics that they’re covering in their classroom as opposed to some other curriculums that I’ve taught in, structures where it’s very regimented and this is what we’re doing in term one, term two, term three, or term four.
With the IB stuff I have great opportunity to create my own units within the framework and make it what I want, reflect on it and change it totally up again and when you’ve got a good coordinator as well they let you get away, or try many different things so that’s great.
[00:07:02] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah that is cool and that whole framework idea where you can sort of bring in other subject areas and have the learning happening across multiple different domains is really attractive. And Dan Popescu who is a Connected PE member and presenter at Connected PE conferences, he did like this whole parkour thing and he used obviously the phys ed time to do the skills for parkour. It was gymnastic-esq but then outside of that there was all of this thing happening with art teachers doing their stuff, supporting that unit and there was writing things happening. And you can just see how it becomes this really rich tapestry of more authentic learning. And I guess that was what happens at your school too.
[00:07:44] Joel Smedes: Yeah, absolutely. The, what I really try to do at the start of the year is to identify some units that the students are doing in their classroom that I can really make a good connection with. Oh, look this unit here, there’s something solid to try and connect to with some PE learning engagement that we can do.
One example is a grade two unit. They look into forces in motion within a science unit they’re doing. And when I looked at that and I thought oh some biomechanics stuff popped out at me and we could do experiments with push verses pull experiments in the swimming pool with buoyancy pushing kickboards underwater, testing the different forces.
The best part of that unit was their trip to the bowling alley of course to roll different bowling balls down, I had them set up with the different size bowling balls and pushing them down the ramp and observations on the force and the impact it makes when it’s smashing down the pins.
And but it just had a real impact on the students and they went back to their classroom and talked about oh yeah, we talked about this and we’ve done these experiments in PE and they were able to make connections to the unit that they were doing in the classroom.
[00:09:04] Jarrod Robinson: Makes it more real. The problem with a lot of, some of the more traditional curriculums is they are very siloed and very rigid and you’re in PE and you learn this but then when you go to the next subject there’s no connection or no even, not even though that there should be connection but realistically there are connections and we can explore them with great benefit.
So, is it, is it right in saying that somewhere along this line you working in the IB framework you saw that technology could play one of those roles to help bridge connections as well?
[00:09:37] Joel Smedes: Definitely, that’s been a big change for me with the PE classes adding more technology and new stuff. As the years go on we’ve added to what we’ve got in our PE department. But it’s also, yes being able to open up the units more for deeper inquiry so students can really inquire a bit more and take charge of their own group work that they’re doing, video record their own group work, put together that they watch videos, reflect on it, try something different again.
With our iPads that we have at the moment now students can, if they’re working in a group on some activity or some inquiry can go into search something by themselves in, on the net and go back to what they were doing, recording group work. So, that has definitely deepened the inquiry having greater technology.
[00:10:38] Jarrod Robinson: Well, it makes things that weren’t possible before possible, like without the technology the mere thought of going and researching a video of an elite performer and then contrasting that to yourself it’s not something that you can actually achieve.
So, the technology brings about more opportunities and smart teachers like yourself leverage it and it seems like you’ve had this sort of affinity to the aquatic environment to test some of these things out, whether that’s with the iPads or whether that’s with some other tech. So, what are some of the things that you’ve done in that aquatic environment that I’ve heard so much about.
[00:11:18] Joel Smedes: So, again I try to, I mean we run swimming at the pool, a few years ago we were fortunate again to push to get a 25-meter pool and a 10×10 meter learn to swim pool built at the school and that’s been a big change for the aquatics program.
So, once that was built of course many parents are always interested in learning to swim programs and how do students become really good at swimming. But, I also wanted to make sure with that we’re sticking to our PYP curriculum and that we view the swimming pool as just another venue to continue learning what we want to do with our unit not just get in the pool and swim laps up and down because we have a pool.
So, trying to make connections with units, again, with a grade two unit I was able to do some of those forces experiments in the pool and things like that. With other units I’ve done lots of adventure challenges units where we can make different games and challenges in the units, water based Frogger leaping from mats to across to mats across to mats to across the pool and stuff like that. Different blindfolded, we’d get googles and darken the googles out and doing blindfolded challenges in the pool, in the small pool. Can’t do that in the deep pool. But and trying different things in the swimming pool other than just swimming laps and moving up and down.
[00:12:53] Jarrod Robinson: Which is the typical sort of swimming and a lot of schools still sort of stick to and it has this either love it or loathe it sort of mentality but if you look at how people interact in the pool environment if they choose to do it on their own accord it’s usually a bit different to the just do laps idea. So–
[00:13:13] Joel Smedes: Absolutely and you see that on the weekend where you do a lot of, we open the pool up more over the last year for weekend community swimming at the pool and when the students and parents come on the weekend there’s not just swimming laps up and down. But, at the same time, we understand the balance, parents, I’m a parent as well, we want our children to be able to learn and develop their swimming techniques. So, we have to try and find the balance between doing some standalone swimming and some great challenges and activities that they can do. And then if I can, find some connections to doing some what of they’re doing in the classroom and making some there as well.
[00:13:54] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, that’s the exact philosophy that we have with our swimming program and it lead us to build the swim games app which was an opportunity to leverage some more fun activities that had a byproduct of some of the swimming skills that we were hoping to achieve. And because I just distinctly remember when I first turned up at the school and this is the list of things that you need to teach and do and I just remember a lot of disengaged people and people deliberately forgetting their swimming gear and it’s just becoming this battle but when we switched it to a different focus these things happened organically and we got results without really making them the priority. So, I believe in that philosophy.
So, you mentioned something about Go Pros to me earlier on in the conversation. Like what were you using those for?
[00:14:48] Joel Smedes: Initially started using Go Pros just to record swimming styles, swimming strokes, techniques, sharing them online with parents, we use SeeSaw as our online platform. And initially starting to use that but then I wanted to try to expand it so that again it’s not just looking at swimming technique.
So, we trialed a couple of different units, we did a unit for in grade three I think it was a movement composition focusing on gymnastics. And I thought well try and open it up is there, it’s not maybe any real unit that anyone else does anywhere, get some students, why don’t we try some gymnastic movements in the water, in the small pool. Can we do forward roles and backward role, going to do handstands in the water. And the kids just, some of the kids loved it, a small group said this is fun, let’s give it a try.
I didn’t know what would really come of it. But for that unit they thought it was fantastic having the Go Pro and holding it underwater and filming each other’s movement composition that they created inside the small pool. And then they were able to upload that onto SeeSaw and comment about it and write about how they constructed the routine and why they chose the movements in that composition that they chose to put in there.
[00:16:14] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, I mean a lot of people underestimate just the pure value of simply seeing yourself on video. Like we, a lot of people get caught up in the idea of okay if I record it then what are we going to do with the footage, like are we analyzing it, are we comparing or contrasting it.
But, I mean all that stuff is really valuable but I think there’s this inherent opportunity to just simply motivate and engage that we can’t ignore. Like, I remember how powerful it was to see myself on video performing something when I was a young kid. So, that opportunity alone is quiet, is quite massive.
And just the ability to share that with parents and you mentioned SeeSaw and for those that aren’t aware of what SeeSaw is it’s like a digital portfolio tool, you capture footage and you assign them to student portfolios and you can take that further can’t you, like you can give parents access to then view their own kid’s material.
[00:17:12] Joel Smedes: So, that’s actually a good, safe part about SeeSaw is that you can secure it that only these parents or whoever you invite, grandparents through an email request to click on this link and that will only be the people who can access that content that you put up for this student.
[00:17:31] Jarrod Robinson: It’s amazing, it really is.
[00:17:32] Joel Smedes: So, like the, something to post or the students post, we’re trying to empower the students to post as much themselves. Then they select their name that they’re involved, it’ll tag them and send an email to their parents that there’s a new posting for their student and they can go up and have a look at it. And it’s also a great way to get them to interact and do things. I’ve started this year putting more tasks onto SeeSaw and the students then get a notification. We can, here’s a task to do before we come to PE and you’ve done a little bit of frontloading as well especially for the grade fours and grade fives.
They have, well actually all the students now we’ve rolled out a one-to-one iPad device in the primary classroom. So, the grade four and five are using them non-stop and they get their own emails, they get their own notifications, we can send them something and say alright, get this ready for Wednesday’s lesson or something like that.
[00:18:28] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, I mean the greatest part about the iPad and other tablet style devices is just that they’re so friction free. They’re so easy to use, there’s high level battery life, they’re intuitive, the experiences make sense the opposite of this would be a tech device that might do the same thing but you spend ten minutes trying to log on and get access and find the page. But, with the iPad it’s just very intuitive so I think that’s–
[00:18:55] Joel Smedes: Well, that’s right that was only a matter a few years ago where I didn’t have the things I’ve got at the moment. We had a few flip cameras and some notebooks. But, we tried to spend one lesson for example doing a reflection, they’d say okay let’s stop and sit down for a few minutes, do a reflection at the end of this unit, let’s open up the notebooks and log on and fill out this form that I’ve created, I thought it would be wonderful and it was taking 20 minutes to log on and get onto the network and all this sort of, so it was right, we have to fix that and change that.
[00:19:30] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, and that’s why the best experiences are those that have really been intuitive and efficient and that’s why I personally continue to advocate for these type of experiences and things like tablet and iPad devices and so on. I firmly believe that there isn’t a perfect device, like I’m a fan of Android, I’m a fan of iOS but they just have to be intuitive, they have to not use up too much time. They have to get a result.
[00:19:54] Joel Smedes: Yes, the, certainly. The other part with the reflection and the medium feedback you were talking about a bit earlier using the iPads and one changer for me has been having a screen an Apple TV box within inside classroom and I’ve just finished the other day. We got one installed near front court and we’re getting it all connected up. So, we’re doing something on front court we can video it, stop, let’s go over to the screen, quickly mirror your iPad, press play and show the students right there again and let’s try again. It’s been really amazing doing that.
[00:20:35] Jarrod Robinson: Well, the argument here is that you’ve turned your PE classroom into a classroom, it’s not just a place where people get active which is still how a lot of programs think about phys ed is just one goal which is get active and moving. And don’t get me wrong, there should be that element to it, but we are a classroom, we are supposed to impart things and have outcomes and if you’ve got a space and a display to make that possible you just make it easier to do that stuff. And I get so frustrated with departments that don’t understand that value. So, you guys obviously having some good wins with that.
[00:21:14] Joel Smedes: And I’m discovering as well that more I’m using these devices that we can, if I just set an up an activity which might be an inquiry based stations activity, just let the kids go for it and try different things at different stations and they might see something on a device to try it, alright I’m going to trial and that they just get involved more with we’re not stopping, talking about some instructions or how to play this game, how to try that. It’s just short sharp stations but they keep moving for a lot of the lesson and they’re do it, they’re more engaged, they’re more active because they’re trying to access something different, something new, let’s try out this activity.
[00:21:58] Jarrod Robinson: Love it, big fan. So, I know that you actually have a website as well that you sort of update with some swimming related material and other little thoughts and so on. Where can people go to find that?
[00:22:11] Joel Smedes: At peswimstuff all one word, you have peswimstuff.com, I try to think up of some groovy name a few years back after being encouraged by a couple of people, Andy Vasily in particular you said make a blog, get your stuff up on a blog. And so, I thought what can I do? Well, I wanted to add swimming there as well because I try to do as much swimming and so like a PE and swim sort of stuff so I came up with that name.
[00:22:41] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, I know it’s insane, it’s how powerful that, the blogging can really be. And you come up with this idea, peswimstuff.com but to someone it’s useful and they find some value and to yourself they, it’s really valuable for your own reflective experience. I look back at some of the stuff that I wrote in the early days and I almost cringe. But that’s the whole point of this thing it’s like, it’s a vehicle to improve and the great part about it is it doesn’t just have to be solo, you can share that.
So, I really thank you for putting work out there. And there will be links in the show notes at thepegeek.com/99 for episode 99. And you go and check out the work that Joel’s doing. So, thanks again for stopping by. It’s an absolute pleasure and I look forward to speaking with you soon.
[00:23:35] Joel Smedes: Absolutely Jarrod, thank you very much.
[00:23:37] Jarrod Robinson: Thanks mate.
[00:23:39] Joel Smedes: Okay, cheers bye.
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