The Social Element & Play

This is the third in a series of real-time, as it happens articles about leading online Physical Education.

[Part one can be found here.  Part Two can be found here.]


We ended the last segment with a knowing need to provide more student social interaction.  Being someone who thrives on ‘aloneness’, I needed their help to create a means for peer connection.  This all stemmed from the last question on a ‘Physical Value‘ assignment, asking them what they were most lacking to improve their fitness and/or ability:


As I probed a bit deeper on what ‘motivation’ meant, I asked if they were motivated to participate in class under normal circumstances.  Their responses all circled around others:  my friends are there, a chance to compete and improve, teammates, etc.  It was PE Culture that they most enjoyed.  The act of play and interaction.

In hindsight it seems like such an oblivious oversight, but you don’t know (or value) what you don’t know (or value). I thought about that golden beginning of class, during dress down, where the kids are unwatched and have minimum expectations.  (Distance Learning is a lot like that.). What they knew and were prepared for was the task of picking teams, and sticking with those teams for a defined amount of time.

Let’s simply do that in the virtual space, we reasoned.  ‘Conversation Captains’ stepped forward (or were volunteered) and they were given a list of kids to pick from (ones that somewhat consistently attended zooms, like ‘class’).  I asked for their top five and made sure they received at least a couple from their list.  The captains’ job is to moderate the breakout rooms, kicking off conversations with questions and making sure everyone has a chance to speak. I gave starting talking points for the those who needed it, such as ‘What Academy do you go to?’ and ‘What grade are you in?’.  I asked for captains input on how long the breakout rooms should last (most said 5min), and turned them loose.  If a captain was absent for the day, I took over their room, but otherwise I did not pop in and just let them be.

When we returned to the main session, I first asked the captains how things went, and then heard from the teammates.  It was mostly positive.  I made a note to pop in next time for the few that struggled, but also specifically noted that ‘awkward silences were not frustrating, nor really awkward.’  I imagined it like a team in class that did not know what to do with the ball.  Interaction is a skill, one that might need to be learned how to perform in a virtual space.  (Extended pauses and looking for chat responses are much different than in-person conversation).

One particularly successful captain spoke of how she was trying to make connections of similarity like the game ‘Among Us’.  I had no idea what that game was, but both the faces of the kids on screen and the chat lit up with delight.  How perfect, I thought.  Role reversal.  They could teach me a game, be superior at it from the get go, and be given the opportunity to explain and communicate the rules and objectives.

The basic premise is this: you are on a ship with others, and one or more of your ‘teammates’ is an imposter.  Your goal is to complete tasks to keep the ship afloat (fix wires in the electrical room, download information from the command center, etc.) before you get killed.  There is voting and meetings and a whole lot more I don’t understand yet, but a game about trust and deception seemed pretty true to life (and honestly, not too different from arbitrary games we teach such as basketball).  You can create private games just within the class members (via secret code) and the entire experience is free.

I am learning this game slowly, mostly by jumping on the app and figuring things out (sound familiar, teachers?).  I know how to use the map to navigate and have practiced completing most tasks, but I don’t know how the team play works yet.  When I jumped into a live game I ran from those who had a knife in their head, and there were two fast votes I didn’t know how to vote on and an orange guy and brown guy got tossed into space.  I was then told I won.


Understanding how to participate in a game you have no experience or knowledge in is proving critical in empathizing with a student’s point of view.


While we have yet to use our 20min zoom time to play a game together, I give them time to get a private game organized at the end of Social Fridays.  As we build toward being able to play together, I am trying to tease out the essences of the game to give us fodder for team talks.  Since trickery is a leading element, our conversation this week utilized Two Truths and a Lie.  I model to the group what it is, essentially playing with the entire class, then send them off into their breakout rooms to continue in small groups.

I popped into rooms this week and left quickly if it was clear things were rolling along, and stayed for those who seemed ‘finished’ after a minute.  There is never any scolding of not doing anything (just like class), I just ask them about themselves and how things went/ what I missed.  We always end on a positive note, getting to know each other and how we operate a little more.  Having just completed the second Friday, I noticed several changes: 1.  more kids are showing up, 2.  more kids are both turning on their camera and speaking, and 3.  end of sessions are being flooded with farewells to the group, both by voice and chat.  A shift is happening, and making the students the subject matter/ cause for gathering for the day is proving to be an excellent use of our synchronous time.


For more insight into this process of ‘building with’, part one of this series can be found here.  Part Two can be found here.

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