International Dance Contests… in PE? Skype Helps Make Gym Fun!

Most of us don’t think of gym teachers as creative types—except maybe when it comes to the number of laps they make you run. Good news! Times have definitely changed. Innovative teachers, teamed with technology like Skype, are making phys-ed fun. (You won’t see anyone faking stomach aches because they want to sit on the sidelines!)

Jon Tait, a Skype in the classroom champion teacher with a passion for sports, has pioneered using Skype to challenge his students in new ways—both academically and physically.

Jon wears many hats: assistant head teacher at Woodham Academy in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham (UK) and a physical education teacher.  He was an Olympic torchbearer for the London 2012 Olympic Games chosen because of his dedication to teaching. As a result, he’s been a popular guest speaker on the Skype in the classroom website, telling classrooms around the world the story of his selection as a torchbearer.


We spoke to Jon to find out how teachers can use Skype to motivate their students to be active team players.

Could you tell us more about how you have used Skype to encourage physical activity amongst your students?

I set up an international network of PE teachers on Twitter called @PEgeeks. A teacher from Wisconsin, Matthew Pomeroy contacted me to ask if I would like to take part in an international dance project with his students. Initially we thought we would send each other videos of our dances and then judge them. Then I had the idea of doing it live on Skype, which was so exciting. Our students learned different dances before the contest. On the day of the event, we set up computers, webcams and projectors in our gyms. We divided our kids into groups and they danced for each other on Skype. We also set up an online poll for the students so they were able to vote for their favorite dances with their cell phones. It was incredible to watch. I live-tweeted about it and it garnered so much attention from the online teaching community. Everyone wanted to get involved.

Why do you think Skype is a good tool for teaching physical education?

My Skype dance project was accomplished because of a strong desire to break down traditional boundaries.  What Skype contributed was that kind of X Factor that children respond to so well. You can also use Skype to bring experts into your classroom, such as professional athletes and coaches.

What do you think makes a successful PE lesson?

It is really important to truly engage your students, keep them active and excited. Nowadays students are able to monitor each other’s progress by recording their performance and playing it back with various devices, which helps them gain confidence.

We did a Skype jump rope lesson during which students from the USA coached my students. It was so exciting to see the children learned from each other despite the geographical distance. Jump rope is now being taught at Woodham Academy thanks to this Skype lesson.

Which sports are fun to play and learn on Skype?

Sports that are usually played indoors are best because you need a reliable Internet connection. Activities that require artistic replication, like dancing, jump rope, gymnastics, trampoline jumping or yoga are better for Skype lessons because they can easily be followed online. A team sport might be harder, but that does not mean you can’t take certain skills from those games and teach them via Skype.

How do you convey your enthusiasm for sport to students?

Being an Olympic torchbearer means that I have a lifelong responsibility to spread the Olympic message around the world. I teach students about the Olympic values – respect, excellence and friendship I want to teach young people how they can achieve all three in their daily lives.

Thanks to Skype in the classroom, I have spoken to schools all around the world about my Olympic torchbearer experience. I have connected with students in Pakistan as well as homeless students in Oklahoma. Not only did we talk about the Olympic Games, we also talked about life in our countries – food, cars, even One Direction!