Thousands of Middle and High School Students Take Charge of Their Fitness Using Real-Time Feedback from IHT ZONE Heart Rate Monitors
Students and teachers across the San Bernardino City USD (Calif.) continue to benefit from wearing IHT ZONE heart rate monitors after the district added the technology at six new campuses.
A few years after adding the monitors to revitalize his program, PE Specialist Scott Smith said the latest expansion – to three middle schools and three additional high schools – created the same impact.
“I don't think you could have predicted the results that we are getting,” Smith said. “I can tell you for a fact that every class – every one – has shown an increase in participation, engagement, and excitement.”
Today’s feedback reminds Smith of feedback he got from students when he added IHT ZONE heart rate monitors to his PE program at Arroyo Valley High School. At the time (2019), Smith said the monitors “supercharged” the program by personalizing assessment for each student and giving them the power to effect change in their performance, not to mention their health.
Adding the IHT ZONE monitors was part of a program reboot that included shifting the focus from specific games and skills to a program rooted in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Smith gave students a goal for the amount of time in each class he wanted them to be exercising at an elevated heart rate – as shown by yellow or red on their heart rate monitors.
Almost overnight, students became more engaged and worked toward meeting the goals.
“As soon as we gave them the heart rate monitors, they really felt we cared about them as individuals,” Smith said. “It allowed them to set their own personal goals and their excitement became focused on achieving that (goal).”
With data specific to their individual physiology, students realized their performance compared to classmates no longer mattered.
“They understood that they were no longer being graded against somebody else,” Smith said at the time. “Kids are working harder than they’ve ever worked before. Kids who hated PE started liking it.”
Years later, Smith and his colleagues are still seeing high levels of student engagement and achievement.
“With the addition of 6 schools, IHT HRMs have changed the lives of thousands of students and teachers in a way I couldn't imagine,” Smith said. “The energy, spirit and excitement of physical education is at an all-time high.”
Giving Students – and Teachers – Years of Data to Learn From
When SBCUSD expanded its IHT ZONE program, the district looked at how it could maximize the impact for students. Smith said officials looked at two things:
- Which schools were struggling to get students to engage in PE?
- How could the district engage those students for the long term?
“We focused on schools where it traditionally has been tough to get students to engage,” Smith said. “The second thing, which has really worked out great, is the middle schools are feeder schools to the high schools that also have the heart rate monitors. So their data will go with them.”
The early results validate the district’s decision. Engagement at the middle schools has gone up considerably.
“The impact was instant,” Smith said in Oct. 2023. “They can see the results of what they are doing on their (wrists). Students are taking a more active role in their engagement. We’re talking about schools that traditionally are tough to get kids to be motivated. Now, one of them is one of our highest (performing campuses).”
Why? The combination of personalized heart rate data and lessons that emphasize MVPA is a powerful pairing that encourages students to take the lead on their fitness journey.
“They have exploded because now the students get a daily understanding of what the lesson is providing and how it is relevant to their physical health,” Smith said. “They become in charge of that environment. It really becomes a student-centered environment.”
So much so that students who are meeting – and beating – their goals want to know how they rank among all the schools using the IHT ZONEs. One student even suggests a district-wide challenge.
“A student at one school will ask me if they can have a challenge against another school to see who can have the most minutes (of MVPA) next week,” Smith said.
Improved Student Engagement Creates New Excitement for Teachers
The excitement goes beyond the students. Teachers feel it as well. Now that they don’t have to spend significant portions of class getting students to engage, they focus more on planning lessons and working with students when they seek advice.
“Just as much as (the heart rate monitor) excites the student to go forward, it excites the teacher,” Smith said. “If we look at the teacher aspect, I think we forget about that.”
Why are the teachers excited? First, the monitors give them concrete data on how students are performing.
“The teachers are running an MVPA program and they’re thinking ‘this is cool and we’re seeing some improvement,’” Smith said. “But they couldn’t really assess if their lessons were good because they didn’t know the impact it was having. Now, with the heart rate monitors, they are seeing that impact the same way the students are seeing the impact.”
And they can spend more time evaluating their lessons and to see where they can make improvements that translate to even greater student achievement.
“Our teachers have had to become more creative and open-minded about their teaching style, how they look at lessons, how they motivate and how they facilitate,” Smith said. “They are becoming better professionals and leaders in our district.”
Second, the data creates an undeniable layer of transparency in the way students are assessed – and graded. Conversations with stakeholders become much easier.
“The communication among all stakeholders has gotten more clear on what is expected and what is actually happening (in class),” Smith said. “With the information that goes home to parents, goes to the student, goes to the teacher and goes to the administration, everyone is on the same level of clarification. There is no hidden message. There is ‘here is the monitor, here is the lesson and here is the data.’”
Helping Students Identify and Handle Heightened Emotions Through Heart Rate
Along with improving students’ physical fitness, the schools are using the IHT ZONE to teach about emotional health as well.
Teachers start each week with what Smith refers to as “Blue Monday.” On Mondays, the teachers focus on low impact days. With lessons designed to keep student heart rates in the blue – or relaxed – zone, they can identify when students may be feeling stress or anxiety because their heart rate might show as elevated – yellow or red – despite the low impact activity.
“We’re trying to get data where kids are in yellow or red (zones) when they aren’t supposed to be,” Smith said. “Our conversations during those periods are ‘hey, let’s talk about what will spike our heart rate and anxiety.’ We give examples and then we give them some tools to deal with situations where they feel stress or anxiety.”
Smith sees adding the emotional health component to the district’s PE program as a natural fit, especially given his teachers have tools that can help students see what they might be feeling.
“We carry a lot of anxiety, and we have a lot of stress,” Smith said. “So, when we see a heart rate spiking, it allows us to have different conversations with the whole group. So we talk about stress. We talk about anxiety when they are going to take a test. Or we talk about how you’re coming from a situation in the neighborhood that isn’t great. You have to step back from it. You’re starting to have real-life health and wellness conversations. They had never had these conversations before.”