Following teacher’s favorite activity, students pedal their way to improved fitness
By relating daily health lessons to her favorite activity, a Colorado teacher is developing heart rate training life skills for students in her middle school health class.
“Even though I’m in the health classroom, I’m constantly bringing in who I am and what I do and trying to set an example that these kids can buy into and continue with for the rest of their lives,” said Fort Lupton (Colo.) Middle School teacher Lindsay Yost.
When not in a gym or health classroom, Yost races mountain bikes – she won the 2013 U.S. Downhill National Championship – and coaches downhill riders during the summers. A former college heptathlete, Yost fuels her passion for exercise by focusing on her heart rate, both on her bike and in the gym. By teaching students what motivates her to remain active, she’s found an improved sense of motivation from her students when they exercise.
“The buy-in and effort levels are 180 degrees different,” Yost said after adding heart rate monitors to her health classroom this year. “To see excitement, to see buy-in and participation…of all the days where we did the activity, I think I only had one student who chose not to participate 100 percent of the time. Those percentages were completely different in my past experiences when they didn’t have the technology help with the motivation.”
Incorporating physical activity into a classroom setting
Fort Lupton separates health and physical education, and Yost has been teaching strictly health since 2014. But she hasn’t let her lack of gym space limit her planning. This spring, thanks to a grant from the North Colorado Health Alliance, she’ll combine her two passions with her students. They’ll learn to mountain bike while studying heart rate wearing the IHT Zone wrist heart rate monitors.
“My plan is to spend a few days teaching how to use the heart rate monitors and going through some of the material that’s in my own health class and then supplement that with the IHT curriculum and have the kids assess what zones they were getting into when we are on the bikes,” she said.
Yost used the heart rate monitors with her students earlier this year as part of a pilot program introducing heart rate training and continues to find time for students to be active whenever she can despite being constrained primarily to a classroom. The Zone heart rate monitors have been vital to helping students maximize their activity time.
“Via these heart rate monitors, I’m able to implement physical activity again, even if it’s a small little piece, into my classroom since I don’t have access to teach physical activity on a regular basis,” she said.
Still, Yost incorporates activity into her lessons as often as she can. Her strategies include:
- Using Fit Sticks purchased with a Fuel Up to Play 60 grant, for students to lead classmates in scripted exercises such as scissor jumps,
- Popular line dancing beside desks during a break between lecture topics, and
- Taking students into an adjoining wrestling room for heart rate-focused activities such as yoga.
“The kids are understanding,” she said. “They want to see it get into the yellow zone. Some of the kids are so into it, even though we were trying to stay in the yellow zone, they would let me know when they got into the red zone. They want to work much harder.”
From ‘intriguing’ unit to personal fitness passion
Fort Lupton becomes the second school at which Yost has boosted her curriculum with a mountain bike unit. While teaching in the Adams 12 Five Star School District, Yost spent a professional development day learning about branching outside of the traditional gym space. She left the development with a three-week lesson plan about mountain biking – she’d never ridden before — and vowed to add it to her curriculum.
“My goal any time I go to professional development is to bring away and try to implement at least one new thing,” she said. “The mountain bike unit intrigued me. I’d never ridden mountain bikes. I came from a track and field background.”
Her competitive running days behind her, Yost had been searching for a new activity to fuel her athletic, competitive side. She’d dabbled in triathlons and, while swimming didn’t appeal to her, the cycling aspect did.
“That was something that worked for me to maintain my lifetime fitness, and moving into racing eventually fueled that competitive drive,” she said.
After obtaining permission from her principal to implement the unit with students who already had bikes, she went to work. “It was awesome because I learned to ride right along with the kids,” she said.
While the students developed a passion for activity, Yost found a new career. She joined a riding group, then a friend introduced her to cross-country racing. Yost discovered she didn’t enjoy racing up hills but coming down suited her very well. By the end of her second year, she had won a national championship and found a new passion. She continues to race and spends her summers teaching downhill bike racing.
“My classroom has pictures of me racing and riding bikes,” she said. “The kids know it’s my passion.”
Experiencing multiple health benefits
This trimester, her students will get to see Yost as more than the health teacher, though she’ll be sure to tie the health benefits to learning a lifelong activity to the heart rate training. She’ll explain the chemical reaction that occurs in the brain when you combine exercise with something you are passionate about.
“When we talk [during health class] about drug use and the release of dopamine and you need more and more of that drug and thus the addition piece happens, with exercise, your body is always going to reward you,” she said. “When you combine exercise with something that you love and are passionate about, something that’s exciting, it releases adrenaline as well. There’s not going to be a drug that compares to that.”
Whether they fall in love with biking the way she did, Yost wants students to understand the importance of finding a physical activity they are passionate about.
“I tell them that no matter what physical activity they choose, they need to find something they are passionate about that they can continue for a lifetime,” she said. “Lifetime fitness is the foundation that they need to strive for.”
She hopes they pedal a little further down that path with the upcoming mountain bike lesson.