How I Teach: Adam Howell

The more I teach, the more I realize how lucky I am to be a part of the #physed community. Every day, I find myself being inspired and wowed by this group of amazing teachers from around the world. That’s why I’ve decided to take a second each week and highlight one of these incredible educators. This week’s post is by a very passionate teacher from the USA:

Name: Adam Howell
Where Are You From: Marysville, Michigan
Where Do You Teach: Wy’east Middle School in Hood River, Oregon
One word that best describes how you teach:

What apps/tools/resources can’t you live without?

I was joking with several staff members the other day that I need a “fanny pack” to carry everything I need on the daily. I am always on the move so my Macbook Air and iPhone are the two most important pieces of hardware that I use. Additionally, I carry a heart rate wand, an iPod touch, pencils, pens, permanent markers, dry erase markers, highlighters, stylus, keys, and I wear a Samson Airline Micro ( Basically, I carry everything but the kitchen sink.

I do not use a whistle in my PE classes and I would recommend to every PE teacher out there to purchase a wireless microphone PA system to amplify their voice. No longer will students think you are yelling at them when you were only trying to use your “PE voice.” It also has been great at saving my vocal chords.

As far as apps are concerned, I love productivity ones! I use Dropbox, Evernote and Google Drive to organize my school life. I use Tango Remote to wirelessly control my music and Ubersense to do video analysis with students. Google Forms and Socrative are tools I use to formatively assess. Recently, I have been using the music workout app by @MrRobbo to help time intervals during circuits. One new app I am really excited about is Vine, which I am using to showcase the learning that is going on inside my classroom.

Our district installed WiFi in our schools several years ago and it would be very difficult to do what I do without access to the internet in my classroom.

What do your #physed classes look like?

I teach grades 6-8 and the first thing you would notice is that music will be playing during my classes almost all day long. It brings up the energy and allows me to manage my classroom very easily. For example, we will be doing an activity or playing a game with music playing. When the music pauses, it is the students cue to freeze and await a redirection or transition.

My class length is 60 minutes long and I try to maximize the amount of activity time we get during that time. I do not use role spots for attendance. Students immediately participate in a dynamic warm up and instant fitness activity upon entering class. I use collaborative learning groups in every unit so I use very little class time trying to have students randomly sort themselves into a group for activity. I use a “clean up song” (courtesy of @oneoldkid) to cue students in that they need to quickly pick up equipment and report to the center circle for lesson closure.

I feel I am very student centered. I try very hard to empower students to take ownership over their own learning. I think student choice is a vital component to my classroom style. I am a bigger believer in the power of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.

One of the really cool things about living in Hood River is the chance to participate in outdoor recreational opportunities. One of the signature things about our PE program is we take our 8th graders wind surfing. This is a tradition that was started over 20 years ago and my understanding is that we are one of the few PE programs in the country that have the opportunity to have wind surfing in their curriculum.

What’s the most unique thing about your teaching?

The word that I used to describe my teaching: gumption. I have great passion for giving my students access to unique opportunities. I have always been a huge believer in the underdog, and that “chip on my shoulder” comes through in my personality. I work tirelessly to advocate for my students and equity in education. I have always fought the perception that anyone can teach PE. Professionally, I view myself as an educator. PE is the lens through which I have directed my passion.

I have two very proud moments at my current school. The first was successfully expanding our PE program from a semester length to a full year program. Our kids 6-8 have PE every other day, year round.

The second was in 2011 when a few weeks into the school year, my students and I were without a classroom to learn Health in. We decided to take it upon ourselves to convert part of our mat room into a classroom. You can watch our story here.

The company Ideapaint took notice and chose us as their 360 makeover contest winner! They came out to Hood River and featured us in their own story. It was one of the coolest things that has happened to me as a professional.

What’s the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?

There are several one liner’s that I have taken to heart over the years.

One of my favorite professor’s at Central Michigan University, Gary Arbogast, was famous for his quips, “Backs to the wall!” and “Always say WHEN before WHAT.”

“Physical activity is like cognitive candy.”

“Trust the process.”

I have to give props to my teaching partner, Ashlie Keimig, who introduced me to always having a common “freeze position” that you have your students assume when trying to transition or re-direct.

One piece of advice I would like to give: Surround yourself with people who compliment your strengths, and let them do great work. Don’t micro manage. Truly believe in the power of collaboration.

Finally, my very first education professor was always fond of saying, “teach to the heart of the child.” Because, at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about.

Where can people find you online?

I tweet a little bit: @adamphowell

I help moderate the #pegeeksunite Google+ group

The #pegeeksunite YouTube channel


Joey Feith is the founder of He currently teaches elementary physical education at St. George’s School of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.

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