Heart rate technology enables Lesher Middle School (Fort Collins, Colo.) teachers Jo Dixon and Matt Moeller to give their students a more holistic approach to their overall wellness.

“Everything we do is through that Social-Emotional Learning lens,” Moeller said. “We want to hone in on those interpersonal skills, and then by using heart rate on the back side allows us to make sure that they are moving at the same time.”

SELThe teachers use the IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitors to keep students motivated to work hard during class, where the curriculum looks very little like the way they taught five or even 10 years ago. 

“Our whole curriculum is based around Social-Emotional Learning and it’s not based on skills,” Dixon emphasized. “We really do nothing traditional. Everything is either small-sided games or large group fitness. It’s notes, heart rate monitors and incorporating that with our technology. We are very data-driven, giving an email to parents. In my 20 years of teaching, I am resurrecting my teaching partly because of this and I think Matt has, too.”

Middle School Students Focus on Movement and Motivation

Moeller and Dixon both played intercollegiate sports during their undergraduate days. Dixon played basketball and softball; Moeller played football and wrestled. Despite their background and success, they don’t teach sport-specific skills in their classes.

“We don’t play basketball,” Moller said. “We don’t play football. We don’t play soccer. We feel like that’s a very small subset of kids that can successfully do that. Honestly, in a short unit, you can’t teach the skills to do that effectively and so you’d have a lot of kids who hate it and then you have low participation.”

Instead, Dixon and Moeller have turned their gym into a health club. Every student attends an 85-minute training session every other day for a semester.

“We say we have a health club fitness approach,” he said. “We do CrossFit. We do a ton of dance and we work on modifying activities so there’s far more movement. We just really want the kids to think about their heart health.”

Motivated by the heart rate monitors, students have indeed focused on their heart health. The students wear the ZONES nearly every time they have PE, and the data shows that students waste no time getting to work.

“We come in, get dressed out and get after it,” Moeller said. “The expectation is that they spend at least three minutes exercising in the red (vigorous exercise). has been a real game-changer in terms of getting them in and ready to go.”

Students Meeting Teachers’ Expectations of Effort and Movement

Dixon said results are especially noticeable when students undergo fitness testing.

SEL“You can really see that spike when they run the PACER ,” she said. “When we saw that, we knew we were truly testing their cardio and testing their max heart rate limits. That was easy to see on the printouts.”

After each session using the IHT ZONE, students, teachers and parents receive a printable email with detailed information about the workout, including the heart rate graph for that student’s session. Dixon said the reports – along with the ZONE itself – are beneficial during testing because the real-time feedback helps students meet expectations.

“It becomes a little motivational factor from the angle that we don’t want to see kids drop out of an activity until they have reached the yellow (moderate exercise) or red zones,” Dixon said. “We love the visual piece of the blue, yellow and red zones. I think that’s genius.”

The heart rate monitors helped the teachers simplify their approach to grading. Since they don’t focus on sport-specific skills, their rubric looks different. The heart rate data contributes to the fitness elements of the class. Teachers also focus on the SEL aspects, Dixon said:

  • “Are students hitting their target heart rate?
  • “Are students able to shake hands with others and introduce themselves?
  • “Can you be a good teammate and learn what spirit of the game means?”

“Those components are lifelong,” Dixon said.

‘Heart Health and Positive Interaction’

As the school year began, Moeller and Dixon focused on getting their students moving, but movement – both during fitness training and small-sided games – is only as important as how the students interact with each other.

“We want to make sure they can communicate effectively, that they can problem-solve when necessary and that they are courteous to each other,” Moeller said. “That is our main focus, and again we rely on the heart rate data to make sure they are moving at the same time.”

To reinforce the fitness lessons, Dixon and Moeller want students to add a writing element to their post-class reflection. Students will use the data from their heart rate reports and fitness test results and write about what they felt during each session. The system allows students to reply to the session report email to make journal entries.

“We are hoping that what we see in the students’ writing will show a powerful shift in their understanding of their health and where it is,” Moeller said.  “We are concerned with movement, heart health and positive interaction between students.”

“We want to promote heart health,” Dixon said. “That is our number one priority because the heart is the most important muscle in your body. We want the students to understand what that feels and looks like. The ZONE allows us to really focus on teaching about heart health. We have all this information and we share it all with the students.”

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