The Reality Distortion Field in Physical Education

In the Walter Isaacson’s book, “Steve Jobs”, Bud Tribble at Apple claimed that Jobs created a “reality distortion field”.  This was how Jobs would bend reality to convince himself and his team that the idea he had that seemed impossible, was in fact, possible and would be incredible.  People thought he was crazy, that deadlines couldn’t be met, that the budget wouldn’t work, but if Steve said it would happen, people got on board and made it a reality.

I will admit that I feel that way sometimes.  I see an idea online, read about something in a book, or hear it on Voxer, and I just know that I can tweek it, own it, and make it happen at my school.  It’s often a tough sell with the other 3 coaches on my team, with other teachers and even my administration, but I do my best to rally the troops and do something so different and outside the box that it blows everyone (including myself) away!  I don’t do this for my own glory, but for my students, who learn something new, something unforgettable, and something that will make them think that anything is possible!

Every day and year I try and improve my craft.  I want to bring new and exciting games and ideas to my K-5 students.  Here’s how my 6 years as a PE teacher has gone so far and the things I’ve added each year:

Year 1: I barely knew what was going on and was simply treading water the entire year.  If it wasn’t for Mark Manross and his @PE Central website full of fantastic ideas, I might not have survived!

Year 2: I added some new twists, got my routines down and had a lot of fun!  It was my first and only all-guy PE crew (me and 3 paras).  We had a great time with the kids, playing all types of games with them from dodgeball to capture the flag.  We also played a lot of pickleball, tennis and basketball, just the 4 of us after school. Our principal allowed us to grill out on Fridays which was great, but in hindsight, I don’t feel like I was pushing my teaching abilities to the limit.  But that was all I knew, to make a poor excuse.  There was (and still is) virtually no professional development for PE teachers in my district.  I didn’t realize there was an entire P.E. World out there waiting on me to discover it…yet!

Year 3: Breakthrough!  Actually, 2 of my paras left to teach elsewhere, so I got 2 new ones…females.  We added more dance to our warm-ups, started bringing in some guest speakers and new units (a semi-pro football team, bike trailer, less standing in lines and more movement-based games).  At the end of the school year, I started reading It’s Now Possible, by Jarrod Robinson (@mrrobo), the “PE Geek” and quickly realized this was only the beginning of what my program could be.  I was energized and couldn’t wait to start a fresh year 4!

Summertime between years 3 and 4: I ran a sports camp with one of my paras and was able to purchase an Ipad mini with an adapter that could plug into our projector in the media center or cafeteria on rainy days.  I started purchasing apps and became a PE Geek member, receiving advice and free apps on a monthly basis.  My head was exploding with possibilities for the new year.  I also joined Twitter and then Voxer which changed the game for me.  I began speaking to PE teachers from all over the world about best practices in education.  This was incredible to me: speaking directly to so many amazing and inspiring teachers like @andyvasily, @joeyfeith, @SchleiderJustin, @NicholasEndlich, @PhysedNow (Jorge Rodriguez), and @LovePhyEd (Jo Bailey), to name a few. No more dodgeball, elimination games or standing around for my students!  I wanted to start my own PE revolution no matter what everyone else thought.  I couldn’t wait until the school year started!

Year 4: This was the first and only time, thus far that I began the year with the entire team I had ended the previous year with. We jumped right back into making our program the best that it could be. I attended a seminar that was hosted by the Foundation for Education in my county regarding grant opportunities and knew that it could be done at my school in my department. I sat down with one of my paras and she and I began to outline and draft several ideas we had then sifted through our options and developed 2 grant plans, wrote the proposal and waited. We eventually found out that both of the grants were awarded to our school and the merchandise would be headed our way very soon! This meant my students would be able to utilize heart rate monitors, funky cones, and Dance Dance Revolution with additional training pads and pedometers.  We really pushed our technology limits that year.  We also incorporated a tchoukball sports education unit for our 5th graders.  Tchoukball is a fantastic invasion game that requires a lot of communication and cooperation.  We turned tchoukball into our big 5th grade project for the year, with a round-robin style tournament and final game in the cafeteria that resembled an arena filled with fans going crazy for their teams!  We’ve now done this for 3 years since then, as our “annual” tournament.

Years 5 and 6: I’m still learning, revising and adding to our program, such as a martial arts unit for our 2nd graders taught by a local school, a nearby college comes in to teach basketball and baseball for a day, and we’ve added even more dance into our warm-ups.  It’s amazing that inspiration is everywhere!  Our family goes to Disney World once a year, and this past November we were walking around Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).  There was a DJ playing music on a stage, and everyone was singing and dancing along to bits and pieces of famous songs.  As soon as we got home I began creating these “montages” to play at PE.  The kids absolutely love it! Songs that I formerly couldn’t play because of inappropriate words are now ok because I just play the parts that are acceptable for the students (like “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys- 1 “bad” word!).  My goal is to keep incorporating new and exciting ideas, games and concepts to enhance my student’s knowledge and keep them engaged and moving, and to become physically active for a lifetime.  Create your own “Reality Distortion Field”!  Year 7, here I come!


Are You a Knuckleballer?

One of my favorite  books is Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon, who also wrote Steal Like an Artist (a great short read as well).  In it he discusses Toronto Blue Jay’s pitcher R.A. Dickey, a knuckleball pitcher.  The thing about knuckleballers is that there have only been a few successful ones throughout baseball history.  It’s such a difficult pitch to master, hit and catch that the teams with that pitcher often have a special catcher for him.

So in that book, as well as the documentary “Knuckleball” on Netflix, some themes played out.  The biggest one I saw, and that Kleon pointed out in his book is that although most pitchers are secretive of the “how-to’s” of their pitches, knuckleballers work together and share their secrets with each other.  In fact, a good portion of the movie showed Dickey meeting and talking shop with fellow knuckleball greats Tim Wakefield (who retired a few years ago), and the Niekro brothers, who were legendary pitchers when I was growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s, along with Charlie Hough, another fraternity member from the 80’s and early 90’s.  It’s such a rare pitch that in 2014, Dickey was the only knuckleballer in the major leagues!  This brotherhood is so tight that they teach their craft so that their legacy doesn’t fade out entirely.  Wakefield said in his retirement speech that R.A. Dickey now has to carry the torch for their art.

What does this mean for our PE community?  I have to admit that when I first started teaching PE 5 years ago, I didn’t really share my ideas with anyone.  The reason?  I wasn’t connected to any social media outlet and I didn’t know the other teachers in my county.  Then, when I first started using Twitter and then Voxer for professional development, I was more of a lurker because I wanted to see what other educators were doing. I was nervous that my ideas weren’t like theirs, and therefore didn’t have value.  What I eventually realized was that our PE community is made up of “knuckleballers” that are willing to share and help their fellow professionals, even from across the globe!  Within moments, a tweet or a “vox” can formulate ideas and answers from any country in the world.  This made me more comfortable to share my work online without fear of being ridiculed, and also connected me with amazing educators from all over.  How great is it that a teacher from Ft. Myers, FL (me) can speak to an awesome and intelligent innovator from Australia (Jarrod Robinson @mrrobo) and have an answer to my question in seconds?!  And through Voxer, collaborating with Jorge Rodriguez (@physednow)from Texas, he helped me change and refine a game we now play called “Hunger Games”. It started off as a small idea for a game, but talking back and forth with him, and getting feedback so quickly, it became a brand new game.  That is the power of sharing and helping each other!

What about the people who charge money for lesson ideas?  I’m not very fond of this practice.  Ideas need to be shared, tweaked, and  built upon.  If we want to grow as a PE community, we have to be willing to give ideas freely and neither hide them nor sell them.  My exceptions to this are when educators build apps or programs, or if they write a book.  The reason for this is that the time and resources put into creating these are much greater than someone who has a lesson idea.  I understand the compensation for this, and I don’t mind paying something for the content.

So the big question is this: are you in or out?  Are you a “knuckleballer” who is eager to grow our craft or do you want to hide your talent from the world?  Everyone has something unique and creative to share.  Be a part of our community and help us take it to a new level!