Dressed in a white apron and black bow tie, teacher Matt Wood races down the street, dodging soft serve ice cream cones tossed out of a van. He grabs healthy snacks miraculously dropped from the sky. He leaps, he twists and gives an encouraging thumbs up.
As Wood hops over ice cream sundaes and jogs at a steady pace, students watch him on screen and mimic his movements.
And that’s just another day at work for this incredibly creative physical education teacher at Stafford Elementary, who was recently awarded a KCTS 9 Golden Apple Award for his innovative approach to teaching in a year of remote learning.
His self-created videos are getting students interested and moving, wherever they’re watching them. Do they realize they’re developing their cardio-respiratory endurance and learning to make healthy choices as a result of the “Food Fight” video? Maybe not, but that’s probably not the point.
“They’re exercising and they’re creating good habits,” Wood said, and that’s what matters.
Movements and movie making
Even before COVID-19 and remote learning hit, Wood dabbled in technology. He used short dance videos for his students, and they loved it.
Then, in March 2020, Wood realized he would need to create an entirely virtual way to teach P.E., and his hobby became top of mind. Finding himself frustrated with a lack of online resources for the kind of teaching he envisioned, Wood’s own ideas percolated, and he dug deeper into learning how to use technology to make his visions for inspiring students to stay active come to life.
“I always tinkered with tech and tried to figure things out, but I’m not a techie,” Wood said. “It’s not anything I’ve been trained on. I just watched YouTube videos and figured out how to make animations. Then I started using PowerPoint and iMovie to improve them.”
“It was fun trying to figure this stuff out and make it fun for the kids,” Wood said. “They are more engaged when we use my video lessons.”
Using his self-taught skills, he spent the last year getting increasingly creative with a series of videos meant to activate and entertain his students. Near Halloween, he donned a blond wig, white sweatshirt and orange tie as Fred from the animated TV show “Scooby Doo,” leading the charge to solve a mystery and rescue friends in the “Pumpkin Smash.” In December, he ran among candy canes and gum drops to beat all the levels and make it to the North Pole disco party.
From “Jurassic Parkour” to “Among Us” video game adaptions to his newest creation, “Food Fight,” Wood’s videos get kids up, running, leaping and generally engaging in fitness the way they want to do it.
“It’s hard to teach movement when the kids are sitting at home,” Wood said. “I’m trying to make exercise fun and get the kids up out of their chairs. It’s screen time, done right. Using screen time like this is OK and effective because it’s changing what’s happening in their bodies and brains.”
Filming with a green screen at home, it takes him about 20 hours to put together an eight-minute video. But it’s worth it for the return of seeing kids exercise and work toward having their own healthy routine.
Wood’s work is getting noticed across the world. He recently taught a virtual class to 65 third-graders in Pakistan and regularly shares his ideas and new-found know how with teachers across the U.S. He keeps a close eye on his YouTube channel and sees that his videos are getting thousands of views.
The most popular? “Among Us.” His personal favorite? “Jurassic Parkour.” After all, what’s not to love about a teacher running from a hoard of angry dinosaurs?
Ryann Nelson, assistant principal at Stafford is amazed at what Wood has been able to create and accomplish.
“I could not believe the kids’ reaction to his videos. During class, every single kid was following him. There was no embarrassment – just excitement and activity,” Nelson said. “Kids have high expectations of his videos, and he’s meeting them. That’s a super tough thing to do virtually, and I’m so impressed that he’s keeping them excited and active.”
Golden Apple Award
Wood’s innovation in the classroom earned him the recent honor of winning a KCTS 9 Golden Apple Award; he joins six other educators in Washington this year in this recognition from the TV station.
“The top quality for this program is innovation in the classroom. Teaching in a normal year is already a tough job. Now add the obstacle of connecting solely via a laptop screen,” said Debi Naanes with KCTS. “We were very impressed with the way Matt created fun videos to engage students remotely. His videos create a world to tour beyond the confines of home and provide motivation to stay active.”
For Wood, the innovation doesn’t stop just because students are making their way back to school as a part of hybrid learning.
“This past year, we had to reinvent the way we teach,” Wood said. “My videos are a product of that reinvention, and how we connect with and teach students. They love it, so I don’t see myself stopping.”
Watch all of Wood’s P.E. videos here: https://youtube.com/c/firewoodssfc
About Tacoma Schools
Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...