4 Things I Learned in Spin Class About Personalized Learning (that’s right, spin class)
I recently went to a spin class. I am normally a fairly small person who likes to lift fairly big weights so this was a departure from my routine but I got talked into it and I went. And all the time that I was pumping my legs, going faster, and climbing higher I was also, incredibly, thinking about how many things many K-12 teachers could learn from my spin instructor. Because everything about this class was personalized:
We all went in and picked the bike we wanted. I wanted to be close enough to the front to really see the instructor but not actually in the front in which case everyone could see me. So I found my perfect bike, adjusted it to my perfect height (I like the handle bars higher than normally recommended) and started to cycle, feeling like from the start I was set up to succeed.
She talked to us about owning the experience. At the start of class and throughout she told us to set goals and to achieve them. She told us to push ourselves as hard as we could and, motivated by the encouragement, I think we all did.
We used data. Lots of data actually. The bike screen told us our RPM (Revolutions per minute), displayed our power output (in watts), gave us our heart rate (if we had a compatible watch), our resistance, time elapsed, distance traveled and calories burned. And we actually used a lot of that data. We did several hills where we had to beat the time or distance we had covered before. We experimented with things like increasing cadence and resistance and seeing its impact on power output. This wasn’t a typical class where I was pushing myself but could not objectively say if I was going faster or harder or farther. Those numbers were right in front of me. And I was using them to make choices (choices that did make my legs very very tired later).
We compared ourselves to ourselves and made ourselves better...in most cases. Two things stand out: 1) because I could not see anyone else’s screen the only person I was racing against was myself and that felt pretty good. 2) because no one else could see my screen I could have slowed down or eased up. If I was having a bad day or had a hurt knee I could have adjusted for all of that without feeling badly or called out for it. It made the class a safer place to be.
And those are just a few examples. I have actually been thinking about personalization, data and spin for a while. I read a few months ago about an example where even more data is being used in a spin class (check out what Equinox showed at SXSW last year) and at the time thought, “Wow. All this investment in what happens in a gym….let’s get that type of R&D into our classrooms”.
The use of data is everywhere in fitness. There is a large number of Fitbits and Ups in our office, with people tracking and comparing steps, sleep and all sorts of other health metrics. My husband uses as an app that tracks daily food and calorie intake so that he can hold himself accountable to goals he has set. My gym (yep, here’s your shout-out HomeGrown Crossfit) uses Wodify where we can track our workouts. I can go back any time and see what my one rep max is for, say, doing a deadlift and then know what I need to beat. My coaches can also see how I did and make suggestions next time around adding weight or focusing on form. They give me feedback based on a mix of data from the system vs. data from observation.
And all of this is replicable in our classrooms and could help us to personalize learning more:
Pick your own bike, pick your own seat. Why not? What would happen if we let students do things like pick their own seats? Yes, ok, a lot of them might go for the back or sit next to a friend but a lot of them might also pick where they learn best. And this is just one of the many choices we can give students about their learning environments. There are great classrooms / schools across the country where students can pick different spots depending on different activities and different moods. (Check out this recent article by Michael Horn about school design to see just a few). Think about how you can improve learning environments and offer choice (hint, its not just about which desk / table students choose).
Motivate students by telling them they own it. There are so many ways teachers already do this and ways to do it more. Remind students that this is their education. They should take charge of it every day. They should make every day their best. When I was teaching I started my 6th grade class every day with that “Today has been given to me fresh and new…” pledge every day but there is more I could have done to reinforce that this time is about their learning, and that the goals they set can be about that day but also about all the ways that learning will help them with the goals they might have in life. Telling students education is something they own rather than something we give to them changes the perspective. Encouraging them to set stretch goals and reach them is a big motivator.
Data. We talk about this all the time but the use of data is so incredibly powerful not just when in the hands of teachers, but also in the hands of students. Knowing how I was doing, using that data to help me set goals, was extremely motivating. If we want to personalize learning and to help students to be more self-directed we need to give them the data to do this. We need to work with them to understand and act on their own data, just as we need to help our teachers interpret and act on data too (Hey teachers, good news, Highlight helps you do just that!)
Self not class comparisons. Don’t get me wrong, competition is a valuable tool. I have a 4 year old and we “race” to do everything because it helps me keep her moving (otherwise it might actually take 20 minutes to do something simple like buckle a seatbelt) but if we want to make our classrooms safe spaces for students to go at their own pace, keeping their own pace private is a really good thing. Tools like Achieve3000 which allow students to read the same information as everyone else but at their own lexile level are a great example of this. We have all seen the student who is behind get made fun of, and the student who is ahead get teased too. We can help all students be comfortable with where they are, especially if we don’t make it obvious to their peers. Being a kid comes with a pretty big dose of social anxiety - let’s ease it when we can!
I know that in that spin class I was supposed to be owning it and concentrating 100% on making it up each of those hills but since like everyone at Ed Elements I am pretty much obsessed with personalized learning, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander and wonder a bit. There are so many examples of personalization outside of the classroom (I say as I sit in a Starbucks with a coffee cup with my name on it and one pump of vanilla syrup added to my Chai) that we must constantly look for ways we can bring personalization into our classrooms. If the students in my spin class deserve that kind of attention, I think it is fair to say that students in our K-12 classrooms do too.
About Amy Jenkins
Amy Jenkins is the chief operating officer of Education Elements. Following a meandering path of teaching in Oakland, running an after-school program, working at NewSchools Venture Fund and being a strategy consultant she is thrilled to now focus on supporting districts to in their efforts to become more dynamic, responsive and outcomes-oriented. Amy splits her time at work between coaching district leaders and ensuring the health and happiness of everyone at Education Elements through creating an environment where everyone can thrive and grow. On the weekends she can be found chasing her kids around.