The Coronavirus Economy: How an elementary school teacher teaches P.E. online
Like many other teachers, Carrie Swidecki has had to adapt to conducting her classes virtually over the last couple of months.
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Like many other teachers, Carrie Swidecki has had to adapt to conducting her classes virtually over the last couple of months. But the fourth-grade teacher from Bakersfield, Calif. isn’t just giving math and science lessons over the internet—she’s also teaching physical education, straight from her laptop.
“One student told me she watched six hours straight of TikTok videos,” says Swidecki. “It’s very concerning for me.”
The shuttering of schools, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, has led to many concerns that academic progress will slip this year. But Swidecki is equally concerned that kids are now lacking what used to be daily opportunities to move. The long-time teacher points out that elementary school kids are missing out on recess, lunch break, P.E. classes and after-school sports. This loss of physical activity should be alarming to all—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.5% of American children ages two through 19 already fall under the “obese” category.
Swidecki has an answer for this: Prioritize P.E., even over the Internet. She’s particularly well-positioned to do so.
Swidecki started teaching at Laurelglen Elementary about 20 years ago. Around the time she started teaching, she weighed 210 pounds. Then, she discovered dance video games—back then, it was Dance Dance Revolution, the pioneer of the genre. Swidecki became obsessed with dance video games, eventually earning 13 Guinness World Records titles, including longest video game marathon on a Just Dance game (a later entrant to the genre) and most high scores achieved on a dance video game in 24 hours. She also lost 75 pounds, and began incorporating her passion for dance video games into teaching.
“It has helped me connect with kids and parents in a whole new way,” says Swidecki, who has launched several lunchtime, after-school and family fitness programs over the years, all centered around dance video games.
Almost immediately, as soon as California instituted a shelter-in-place order and schools shut down in mid-March, Swidecki figure out how to incorporate physical activity into her daily lessons with her class, now conducted over video conferencing tools.
“We do GoNoodle for 20 minutes each day,” says Swidecki, referring to a popular site for “movement and mindfulness” videos that’s used by many teachers. “We do a virtual dance party over Zoom.” (GoNoodle enables educators to share their screen and “host” dance parties over other video platforms too.)
The move to teaching—and dancing—online wasn’t a hard one for Swidecki. She had already been incorporating technology into her curriculum and her fitness routine for years, and was comfortable adapting to new sites and services. (Swidecki is also a “streamer” on Twitch, the Amazon-owned site where gamers livestream themselves playing video games.) But the move has forced her to work many more hours than before.
“All teachers are putting in more hours,” says Swidecki. “Not because they feel they have to, because they want to try and help the kids.”
To be sure, some teachers are having a tougher time adapting to the tech tools they are now forced to use. “We’ve all been supporting each other,” says Swidecki, who also serves as the “technology specialist” at her school.
For Swidecki, the hardest part of the shutdown has been, well, sitting down. “I’m not used to it,” says Swidecki, who exercises 35 to 55 hours a week. “In the classroom, I don’t sit down. I stand up the whole time, and interact with the kids.”
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