February 6, 2020

The SAMR Model: Technology In Physical Education

These are the show notes for my latest episode of The #PhysEd Show Podcast. Take a listen to the episode by using the player below or subscribe to the show in your favourite podcast app!

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Show Notes

If you’ve been following my work on ThePhysicalEducator.com for a while, you’ll know that I can get pretty geeky when it comes to tech in #physed. Ever since I first laid my hands on that first-generation iPod Touch - before there was even an App Store or camera on the thing - I was obsessed with seeing how tech could be used in PE. Since then, technology has evolved (and continues to evolve) so quickly that I can totally see how getting into the tech game can be wildly overwhelming for teachers who are just getting started. I feel confident saying so especially since I personally get overwhelmed by all of the amazing ideas I see out there, and I’m as geeky as they come.

So in these show notes, I’m going to be breaking down how you can use the SAMR model to gradually bake technology into your teaching in a way that is both powerful and intentional in regards to your students' learning. I’ll also be sharing some PE-specific examples of what the SAMR model can look like in action as well as some pro tips that I can share after a decade of using tech in my teaching.

The Problem

Let me start off by saying that using technology in your teacher does not make you a great teacher. The opposite is true too: if you’re not using technology, that doesn’t mean you are a bad teacher.

Technology is just a tool and - just like any other tool - the purpose behind why you are using it is what will determine whether or not it is a great tool. If technology is being used in a way that truly enhances your students’ learning - and what I mean that doesn’t get in the way of their learning and doesn’t disrupt your instruction - then it can definitely be a tool that can radically transform your teaching for the better. However, if tech becomes the focus of your lessons, if it reduces the cognitive complexity of the tasks you design, or if it just flat out becomes a distraction to you and your students… well that means it is definitely time for you to go back to the drawing board.

Technology - in one form or another - has been baked into my teaching, I’m not trying to deny that. Over the past decade, I’ve done my best to integrate it into my pedagogy in ways in which the use of it has become almost seamless if not invisible. But to get to that point, it has required a lot of energy, failure, and frustration along the way. My advantage has been that I started teaching just as technology started to become more and more accessible to teachers. Things like web-based platforms, the App Store, and mobile devices really came into existence or at least found their footing throughout the course of the past ten years.

When I started teaching, there wasn’t such a deluge of teacher-friendly apps and programs to choose from. That’s not the case today where there seems to be a new app or tool being released every day. If you don’t believe me, spend some time on Product Hunt! Technology is moving so fast and evolving at such an insane rate that it can become so incredibly overwhelming to know where to get started when it comes to using tech in a way that will truly serve your students' learning.

The Solution

One of the solutions I have found that can help combat this sense of overwhelm when you’re getting started with technology in your teaching is the SAMR model.

The SAMR model was developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura in 2010. The goal of the model was to help guide teachers when it came to integrating technology in effective ways.

SAMR is an acronym that stands for substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition. Each letter represents one of the four steps of the model.

The model is also broken down into two levels, with each level being composed of two steps. The first level - which contains the substitution and augmentation steps - is where teaching and learning are enhanced by technology. The second level - which contains the modification and redefinition steps - is where teaching and learning are transformed by technology.

Ok, so what do each of those steps even mean? To help us break them down, let’s start with a classic SAMR example: a classroom teacher asks their students to write a paper - by hand - on their favourite athlete.

The substitution step is where technology acts as a direct substitute with no functional change to the learning task. You’re literally subbing in one tool for another without changing anything about what the students have to do.

In our “write a paper on your favourite athlete” example, the substitution step could involve trading out the paper and pencil for a computer in which the students could type their paper in a word processor like Microsoft Word or Apple Notes. I’m not talking about using spellcheck or creating a shared doc, I’m just saying the paper and pencil get replaced by the computer. That’s it. Absolutely nothing changes except for the tool.

The importance of the substitution step is that it is a low-stakes way of starting to be comfortable with just having technology in your lessons. I say low-stakes because - if the tech doesn’t work - you can just revert back to the original tool you were going to use anyway.

By slowly bringing technology into your teaching, you start to get used to the things people never think or talk about when it comes to tech. Things like:

  • Do my students and I feel comfortable using this tool.
  • Does my classroom have the infrastructure - things like access to power or the Internet - to support the use of this technology.
  • How do I manage the technology throughout the lesson? How do I hand it out? How do I get it back? Where does it go everywhere in between those moments?

Learning comes from doing. The more you substitute technology into your lessons, the more you start to get a feel for how it can live there in a safe, effective, and productive way.

The second step of the SAMR model is augmentation. Just as in the previous step, technology here acts as a direct substitution for another tool. The difference is that, at the augmentation level, technology brings some functional improvement to the task. This is where both you and your students begin to feel the benefits of technology.

Going back to our example of the paper on the favourite athlete, the augmentation step could have the students typing their paper in Google Docs. This allows students to turn their papers in online (via Google Classroom), include links and images, make use of spellcheck, and invite the teacher to leave comments directly in the document.

As you can see, the task here has remained the same but technology is definitely bringing benefits to both the teacher and their students.

The third step of the SAMR model is modification, and this is where technology really begins to transform both teaching and learning. The modification step is where technology allows for a really significant task redesign.

For example, if we’re still going with our original task, the modification step could have the class producing an ebook that focuses on an athlete the class all voted on as the subject of this task. The book could be broken down into different sections with different groups of students being assigned to different sections of the book. Working in their groups, students can begin to collect writing, videos, images, and more that can be published inside their section of the book. By using a platform like Apple’s Pages or Google Docs, the whole class can work together on the book at the same time. Once the book is ready to be shared, it can be published to Apple Books or to the web as a PDF so that it can be shared with others.

This step represents a significant jump from the “write a paper on your favourite athlete” task. As you can see, the modification step begins to give the students a larger role in their learning all while increasing the complexity of the task.

The fourth and final step of the SAMR model is redefinition. At this step, technology allows you to create new tasks that would have been inconceivable without it.

For example, after having published their ebook on the selected athlete, each student could go through the document and produce a few questions that could be submitted to the teacher via a Google Form. The teacher could then produce a separate Google Form and have the class vote on their favourite questions. The top five questions could then be asked directly to the athlete during a video conferencing call with the teacher's class.

That’s just an example off of the top of my head, but you get the idea: the redefinition step is where doors to new opportunities get opened in ways that could never be possible without the use of technology. It’s the ultimate level in which teaching and learning are totally transformed in meaningful and purposeful ways.

The SAMR Model In Physical Education

So what could the SAMR model look like in PE? Well, let’s go with an example from my own teaching.

In my striking and fielding games unit, my students work towards being able to strike a pitched ball with power. To help them do so, I want them to know the critical elements of the skill so that they can reflect on their performance and compare their work to those cues.

To assess this knowledge, I have my students fill out a post-it sheet exit card that they’ll use to list the critical elements that they know.

Now, if I were to apply the substitution step here, I could replace that post-it with a Google Form. I’d build the form, grab its url, and create a QR code that links back to it. At the end of class, my students could scan the QR code with the iPads we have in class and fill out the form (which would basically ask “what is your name” and “what are the critical elements of striking).

I could also take things further and step into the augmentation area by using our Google Classroom to create the exit card as an ungraded assignment. I can distribute the exit card, leave comments on my students’ responses, and start conversations with them about the answers that they shared. All of this happens online and outside of class time so that students are going into their next lesson with the feedback that they need to keep going deeper in their learning.

Now for modification, I might switch things up a bit. In the past, I’ve have students use the Coach’s Eye video analysis app to record themselves striking a pitched ball. Once they’ve done so, they get to record a screencast of themselves breaking their performance down while highlighting the critical elements of the skill.

Once they’ve finalized their screencast, I have them AirDrop the video to me so that I can upload it into their Google Drive-based student portfolio.

Honestly though, I’ve always dreamed of taking things even further by moving onto the redefinition step. I would love to break the skill down with my students and then divide the class into five smaller groups. Each group would be assigned one of the critical elements of striking and would then need to produce a video that highlighted the importance of the cue, showcased the cue being performed, and presented it all in student-friendly language. The idea would then be to collect and publish all of these videos into a YouTube playlist that could then be shared with other students in the school. This is kind of what I had in mind years ago when I started the Skillbook initiative before that all fizzled out. I haven’t lost hope though! It’s gonna be a thing!

Tech Pro Tips

Ok, so now that we’ve seen the SAMR model in action and have a better idea of where to get started when it comes to integrating technology into our teaching, let me hit you up with some pro tips that I’ve had to learn the hard way over the past few years.

Pro Tip One: Do The Work, Build It Up!

Remember that both you and your students need to get comfortable with having technology in the gym for your lessons. Trying to go all out right from the start will most definitely lead to a lot of frustration and lost time. I’m all for learning from failure, but we still want to be smart about it.

My recommendation is to start with a single lesson and ask yourself “ok, what tools am I using here that could be substituted by tech?” This will help you ensure that you’re using technology purposefully since it’s achieving the same goal as the other tool you would have been using.

From that substitution step, slowly start working your way up the SAMR model. There’s no rush, so take your time and have some fun with it!

Pro Tip Two: Plan, Plan, & Overplan!

Listen, no matter how prepared you think you are, something will always go wrong. I work at a school that has an amazing infrastructure set up to support hardcore uses of technology in our buildings and still things go wrong on a regular basis.

You want to go into your tech-infused lessons with a backup plan and also a backup plan for your backup plan. Be ready to think on your feet and react to whatever may happen so that it doesn’t significantly disrupt the flow of your lessons and rob your students of their physical education time.

Pro Tip Three: Fail, Reflect, Learn, Repeat!

Like I said: even in the best-case scenarios, things are going to go bad from time to time. When they do: don’t get mad, get curious.

As challenges present themselves, write them down and start brainstorming possible solutions right away. This is where a strong social media-based professional network can be so powerful as it gives you access to thousands of teachers who are further along their educational technology journey that you are. Lean on that network, learn from those teachers, and don’t forget to reach out to your colleagues in your building. I can’t tell you how many times I was facing a problem I couldn’t figure out only to have a colleague point out the absolute most obvious solution that I had missed. Like the time I was freaking out about the TV not working only to realize the Apple TV HDMI cable had been unplugged.

Pro Tip Four: Get Crafty With Hacks!

No matter what, know that there is always a way forward. Finding that way stems from having a very clear vision of what it is you want and then pushing yourself to think outside the box in order to find a way to achieve it.

Can we just acknowledge the fact that Jonesy's "imma build a local network using an old wireless router, Wordpress server, & retired laptop so my Ss can geocache at school" was the most 2019 moment of 2011. Thank you for always being a part of my PLN! https://t.co/08TtaKAZMC

— Joey Feith (@JoeyFeith) January 2, 2019

I always talk about Brendan Jones - a PE teacher from Australia - who like 9 years ago wanted to take his students' geocaching in the woods. He set up this crazy system with an old laptop, a wireless router, and a local Wordpress server to create a QR code scavenger hunt that his students could complete outside. He basically built this insane mini-Internet that students could tap into to complete the activity.

When I first started teaching elementary at my old school, there was no wifi in the gym. When we scored a set of first-generation iPads for our school, I was desperate to make use of them in my teaching. I got a long ethernet cable and ran it from the phone in my office so that I could plug into the Internet that way. From my MacBook, I then created a wireless network and connected all of the iPads to it. It was - in the words of the super angry tech rep that came to my gym a few months later - super against school board protocol. But, it gave my students a couple of months of glorious, wireless Internet access in PE. Besides, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

Whatever it is that you are trying to achieve with technology, don’t let speed bumps get in your way. Ask parents to donate old phones that they no longer use since they upgraded, start a Donors Choose page, talk to your admin or local PE association about grant opportunities, create partnerships with outside organizations. In other words, do the work and make it happen.

Pro Tip Five: Keep Learning At The Heart of All You Do!

Remember that your #1 job is to make sure kids are safe and learning in your lessons. Technology can be amazing, but it’s also very flashy and designed to get you addicted to using it. Always make sure that your use of technology is intentional, purposeful, and meaningful in your lessons.

If learning isn’t taking place, or if tech is causing too much friction in regards to learning, then it’s not worth it and you need to go back to the drawing board. Your students deserve that.


So that’s it for these show notes! I hope you enjoyed this episode of The #PhysEd Show Podcast. If you did, I’d so appreciate you taking the time to go rate the show in Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts from. Recommending the show to a colleague also goes a long way in terms of helping this thing grow.

Remember to take advantage of the SHOWTIME2020 promo code before February 29th when you sign up for my #PhysEdU course on standards-based instructional design. If you thought this episode was informative, there’s a whole lot more learning waiting for you there.

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Happy Teaching!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com.
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