Past Teachers of the Year Rely on IHT ZONE Heart Rate Monitors to Create Class That Addresses SEL Competencies and PE Standards

Poudre School District (Colo.) Health and Physical Education administrator Jo Dixon wants her district to become the national leader in teaching physical and health education and she believes using IHT ZONE heart rate monitors can help achieve that goal.

“We want to be the best district in the country regarding Physical and Health education, and my goal as a coordinator is to seek funding to put (IHT ZONE heart rate monitors) at every secondary school in PSD,” Dixon said. “It will make our teaching rise to the next level.”

heart rate monitors

Lesher MS students wear their IHT ZONE heart rate monitors during a recent ultimate frisbee session.

Dixon taught PE, most recently at Lesher Middle School, for more than 20 years before becoming Poudre’s Teaching and Learning Facilitator for K-12 Physical Education and Health Education.  Dixon and teaching partner Matt Moeller introduced the IHT ZONE to Lesher’s students a few years ago and the heart rate monitors continue to be integral to the school’s – and district’s -- PE success. Along with Lesher, five other PSD campuses are using the IHT heart rate monitors in 2022-23.

Dixon, the 2005 SHAPE America national middle school PE teacher of the year, said she’s spent the first few months in her new role visiting the PE classes on each of the district’s 48 campuses. She sees a significant positive difference in classrooms that use the heart rate monitors. 

“IHT heart rate monitors provide the management of almost another teacher in the room,” Dixon said. “Students are focused on achieving their heart rate goals. It provides management, time on task, and direct feedback to students in real time. Management, movement and motivation is at the center of our learning in Physical Education, and IHT directly supports this.”

Expanding Students Social-Emotional Health

Lesher’s PE program takes a different approach. The program focuses on students’ Social-Emotional Learning core competencies while using heart rate monitors to reinforce the importance of movement and physical activity. Working first with Dixon and now with Abby Ney-Hawley, Moeller works to ensure that students receive a well-rounded experience.

“What I love about the monitors is that they allow us to focus on SEL concepts very deeply but allows us the heart rate data on the backside to give us hardline information to know that our kids are moving efficiently,” Moeller, the 2021 SHAPE Colorado Middle School PE Teacher of the Year, said. “That’s the beauty of it.“

heart rate

Jo Dixon and Matt Moeller

Unlike PE programs that primarily focus on empowering students to meet the national standards set forth by SHAPE America, Lesher’s program includes those standards but in a supporting role to SEL core competencies.

“Most people start by saying ‘we have to meet these (PE) standards,’” Moeller said. “We say we’re going to meet these social-emotional core competencies and we’re going to embed the standards based on meeting those. We’re starting from a different place.”


Lesher’s program takes a backwards-designed approach to their curriculum. They create units based on SEL core competencies and then weave different movement-based activities into those units. 

“I haven’t seen anything around the country that does it the way we do it at Lesher,” Dixon said.

The program focuses on the five SEL core competencies

heart rate monitors

Matt Moeller and Abby Ney-Hawley

The competencies are easily embedded in small-sided team games that require decision-making, awareness, and relationship skills. Each class session begins with a high intensity interval training (HIIT) warmup and then students choose from activities based on the unit Moeller and Ney-Hawley want to focus on. Their daily lesson plans are flexible enough that they can meet students where they are on a given day.

“We adjust lessons based on student need,” Moeller said. “If we see that our heart rate thresholds haven’t been where they need to be, we can give them a HIIT day to encourage them to bring them up where they belong. Or if we have something like math testing going on, we can do some grounding and centering and let them have a different focus.”

Evolving Based on Student, and Teacher, Needs

Not long ago, Lesher’s program looked like most PE programs across the country. The curriculum focused on sports-specific skills and physical literacy. But students didn’t enjoy those classes and lower-than-anticipated engagement kept students from maintaining or improving their fitness. 

“I knew when I started at Lesher – we did a football unit and a basketball unit – that it just wasn’t working with the clientele we had,” Dixon said. “We had to change something. Kids hated it. Five kids play basketball on a team and 65 don’t. That’s the reality of the world.”

At the International Baccalaureate campus, Dixon and Moeller built the program and eventually added the heart rate monitors. Students – and equally as important, teachers – embraced the new concept and the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors that the school district invested in.

Not only are students more engaged and more accountable, the data helps teachers become more accountable to continually improving the program so it best suits the students’ needs.

“There’s a piece about student accountability, but there’s a piece about teacher accountability too,” Moeller said. “Do you understand what the (heart rate) ranges are? Do you set activities? Are you efficient in your planning? Are you doing best for kids and setting this up in a way where they can be successful? This is a two-fold deal. It holds both the student and teacher accountable.”  

Lesher’s program continues to excel. Moeller and Ney-Hawley are excited that sixth and seventh graders who’ve spent more time away from campus over the last two years than on it have hit the ground running. They are mastering their grade-level competencies while meeting or exceeding their goals for time spent exercising at an elevated heart rate.

And they’re making the connection between exercise and academic readiness. Dixon cites the chemical reaction that occurs in the brain when we exercise.

“Movement creates dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin,” she said. “All of those great hormones are produced in our brains when we move, and the heart rate monitors only accentuate that.”

Students feel good when they leave their PE class and that translates into academic readiness and performance. 

“We know that if we get kids moving and get them in certain heart rate ranges, when we send them to class the next hour, they are going to be successful,” Moeller said. “They are leaving our classroom red-faced and sweaty, and their next teachers are telling us that they see a difference in how those students are learning.

“All of those little milestones, those little victories, mean something,” Moeller said. “We’re all in this together. We’re trying to navigate this and help these kids be successful not only in our space but in all the spaces.”

For Dixon, ‘all the spaces’ means every secondary campus in Poudre. The more classes she can get using the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors, the more students will learn the value of movement and exercise, both now and as they become adults.

“The bottom line is that we want to get the message and lesson to students that heart health is the number one thing that is going to make a difference in their life, their fitness, their ability to find joy in movement,” Dixon said.

The IHT ZONE monitors help teachers with already full plates instill those lessons for students. 

“Teaching is hard right now because there is a lot of management of many external factors that affect the success of students,” Dixon said. “I think IHT is a piece of growing teachers and I’m going to work my hardest to get IHT into every secondary building we have.”

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    Past Teachers of the Year Rely on IHT ZONE Heart Rate Monitors to Create Class That Addresses SEL Competencies and PE Standards
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