This fall has been a fall like no other for student, athletes, teachers, and coaches. COVID-19 has completely changed how schools operate, how classes are run, and how sports and athletics are facilitated. It has been a time of both struggle and resilience. All things considered, what we have been doing with our weight training classes at Farmington High School (MN) has worked pretty well, so in this post, I’m going to discuss what we have done and how we set things up for our students to be successful. I know that every school district is doing things differently, but hopefully you’ll be able to adjust these tips to work for your scenario. 

The Use of Technology in School 

A little background on Farmington first. We are a suburban community and school district located just outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. The use of technology in our schools has always been important, but we took a huge step in 2012, starting a 1-to-1 iPad program for all our students in grades K-12. All students were assigned a device and we as teachers were tasked with coming up with new and innovative ways to use those iPads and technology within our classes. 

Now in our 9th school year with iPads, most students have experienced flipped classrooms, self-paced classes, and have fully included the use of technology in all classes. For our Physical Education classes that include weight training activities. We use a platform called TrainHeroic for pushing out strength training workouts (and other workouts) to all of our students. Rather than getting their lifting workouts for the day on printed paper sheets or written up on a whiteboard in the weight room, our students get their workouts on their iPads. Weights are individualized based on each student’s strength levels, and tracking their progress is extremely easy as well. There are many other advanced features which make platforms like TrainHeroic a fantastic tool to have. Our athletes and all teams that lift after school for their sport, use it as well. 

Technology Helped for an Easy Transition 

Last spring when schools started closing and switched to distance learning because of the COVID-19 outbreak, that transition was a pretty easy one for our students and staff from a logistics and instructional delivery aspect. For the past few years, we have had several built-in “Flex Learning Days” where students do not come to school but work remotely from home – a solo distance learning day. We also have not had any snow days the past several years, other than the ones where the Governor has closed all schools in the state.   

If weather has prevented us from having school in person in Farmington, rather than cancelling school that day, it becomes a distance learning day for all of our students. We learned a lot from our first year doing this and then tweaked and adjusted things since then. When COVID struck and we were forced to close schools, it was almost business as usual for us. We just had weekly (and then monthly) distance learning rather than one or two days at a time. Our staff stepped up to the task and wholeheartedly accepted the challenge before us. 

For our weight training students and athletes, the routine was exactly the same as if they were in school. Open your TrainHeroic app, pull up your workout, and then enter and log everything as you do it like normal. The only thing that was different is that their workouts were done at home rather than in the weight room at school. 

Using a Hybrid Model to Distance Students 

program PE with TrainHeroic

Having gone through almost an entire trimester of distance learning last spring, we were even more prepared for our situation this fall. We started with a hybrid model. Students were split into two cohorts, with only half of our kids in the building while the other half of the students were learning at home, and then switching after two days. There was also a third cohort of full-time distance learners who were also enrolled in our classes. So, the goal of our department was to come up with a plan that would serve all of our students, but could also easily shift into full distance learning at some point in the future, as everyone was expecting. 

program PE with TrainHeroic

The other twist to our scenario in Farmington was that students would only have half of their classes each of the two days that they were at school. This would cut down on the number of classes/groups/students that would be intermixing during the day and would also reduce the number of passing times where students would be switching classes. This, I think, greatly reduced the number of COVID transmissions we had in school compared to other high schools around us. So instead of having 5 classes each day, students would only have 2 or 3. The downside to this then meant that teachers only got to see each student in-person one time each week. On the positive side though, our class periods were lengthened to 90-minutes which meant we had time to include things that we normally wouldn’t have time to do had we been in our normal 5-period day. 

Weekly Hybrid Schedule 

Here is what our weekly schedule looked like: 

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday 
Cohort 1: In School Even Hours (0,2,4) Cohort 1: In School Odd Hours (1,3,5) Cohort 1: Distance Learning Cohort 1: Distance Learning Cohort 1: Distance Learning 
Cohort 2: Distance Learning Cohort 2: Distance Learning Cohort 2: In School Even Hours (0,2,4) Cohort 2: In School Odd Hours (1,3,5) Cohort 2: Distance Learning 

So here is what we came up with. Rather than splitting the cohorts for each class up into different groups on TrainHeroic, we kept our classes together like we normally do. All workouts, in school and at-home, would get posted for everyone each day. Those students who were in class at school, would do their regular lifting workout in the weight room. Those students who were not at school, would choose from the at-home options. 

program PE with TrainHeroic

Each week, students are required to complete three workouts. Cohorts 1 and Cohort 2 would do one workout at school on the day they had their lifting class, and two workouts at home. The full-time distance learners would do all three workouts at home. This set-up also made it very easy for any students that missed class or those that ended up quarantining for two weeks because of possible COVID exposure. They simply did all three workouts at home instead during those weeks.  

Providing Workout Options for Students 

program PE with TrainHeroic

Because every student’s situation is different, we decided to provide different workout options. Some had access to weights at home or had a membership to a gym or health club, so they could still do our regular strength training workouts when they weren’t at school. Those students were certainly in the minority though, so we also had strength training workouts that could be done at home using just bodyweight exercises or makeshift weights for resistance. We included speed training workouts as well that could be done outside since the weather was nice, but we realized that would change as we approached winter. So as the trimester progressed, we added two more indoor workouts options – a High Intensity Interval Training option that required no equipment and yoga. 

By providing multiple workout options each week and literally each day, we empowered our students to have some say in their class experience. Rather than forcing them to do certain things on certain days, we gave them the choice to pick what they liked to do most, while also being flexible enough that all students could pick something that best fit their situation outside of school. 

Workout options and the days they get published: 

  • Bodyweight Strength (minimal or no equipment necessary) – Monday/Wednesday/Friday 
  • Our regular strength program (weight equipment required) – Monday/Wednesday/Friday   
  • HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) (no equipment needed) – Monday/Wednesday/Friday 
  • JAQS (Jumping, Agility, Quickness, Speed) – Tuesday/Thursday 
  • Yoga – Tuesday/Thursday  

While these workout options were published on certain days and spread out over the week, we gave our students the flexibility to actually do them on the days of their choice and what might fit best in their schedule for their week. We explained that things would work best if they did the workouts on the prescribed days, but it was not necessary. And by having workout options every day of the week, those students who wanted to train every day had a sound program to follow. 

Planning for Second Trimester 

We were able to successfully complete trimester 1 using this hybrid model but will actually be starting our 2nd trimester in distance learning for all students. Our plan will remain the same, but the situation is slightly different. Gyms and health clubs in the state are closed for at least the next month, so that option is unavailable for those students who trained at one of these facilities this fall. And winter is almost upon us, so speed training and sprint workouts outside are not really an option any longer. So rather than adding additional options later in the trimester, we will be starting out with all options available to begin with. Then we will add the in-class lifting workouts back in, whenever we get to the point when we can have students back at school. 

These are unfortunate circumstances and unfortunate times that we are all dealing with. We have tried to make the best of it in Farmington and are trying to provide the best school experience possible for our students. So far, we have been very pleased with the outcome.