Naperville high schools add IHT ZONE Heart Rate Monitors to On-Campus PE Classes After Two Years of Use in Online Classes
Thirty years after introducing heart rate monitors to his PE classes at Naperville Central High School (Ill.), retired PE teacher and heart rate pioneer Paul Zientarski believes more school districts should invest in heart rate technology.
“Not only does the heart rate monitor provide an assessment for the student, it’s an assessment for the teacher,” Zientarski said. “We can use heart rate monitors to evaluate our program and our teaching instead of simply evaluating the students.”
The Origin of Truly Objective Student Assessment in PE
Zientarski, along with future Learning Readiness PE partner Phil Lawler, discovered the value of heart rate monitors in 1992. Assessing students by whether they were moving or not or by how quickly they ran the mile each week didn’t tell the full -- or even accurate -- story. When Lawler put heart rate monitors on his class at Naperville North, he saw that a student who couldn’t run the mile in less than 15 minutes was actually working at a highly elevated heart rate the whole time she ran.
“The heart rate monitor showed that she had 15 minutes in her training heart rate zone and her heart rate was really high,” Zientarski recalled. “That was an eye-opening experience. We knew we could use this as an evaluation tool for our students.”
The school board agreed and supported the teachers - and students -- by including physical education in the students’ grade-point-average calculations. That motivated the teachers to seek funding to add more heart rate monitors. The funding search proved challenging but not insurmountable.
“Every school district has discretionary funds and every PE teacher needs to go and seek those funds for heart rate monitors,” Zientarski said. “We went to our technology department and kept pestering and pestering them and they finally relented and saw that we were constantly harping on heart rate monitors so they just gave the money to us. Before you knew it, we had enough monitors to make a classroom set.”
The teachers used that set of monitors to focus first on student fitness and then on academic readiness. When studies began to show that students are more ready to learn after moderate to vigorous exercise, Zientarski and Lawler launched their Learning Readiness PE program at Naperville Central.
The initial LRPE class met before school to pair with a first-period academic reading class. Zientarski’s LRPE program -- connecting physical fitness with academic success -- caught IHT President Jen Ohlson’s attention in the early 2010s. In researching her documentary “Health Needs a Hero,” Ohlson leaned heavily on Zientarski’s findings and included the LRPE program in the film. She credits LRPE as a driving force for creating IHT’s heart rate-focused solutions for schools.
When test scores among the LRPE students who followed with the academic reading class improved, the district took notice. The early positive results prompted Naperville district leadership to make the program a part of the school day.
Naperville North High School PE teacher John Fiore became one of LRPE’s early adopters.
“It proved so successful that they put LRPE into the academic day and moved academic reading to second or third period,” Fiore said.
With heart rate data to show exactly how the LRPE class – which used heart rate monitors to document student activity levels – prepared students to be at their best academically, Fiore approached his administration about increasing his inventory of heart rate monitors.
“I feel very supported with my administration,” Fiore said. “They see the value of what we’re trying to do in our PE program. They see the passion and sincerity that we demonstrate toward the kids. There’s no better money spent than on something that directly impacts instruction.”
Fiore’s program includes several different heart rate monitors including the IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitor. Naperville’s used the ZONE in its online PE program for the last two years and is expanding its use to include them in its on-campus studio fitness classes beginning in January.
“There are people in our district who are intrigued with what we’ll do with the IHT heart rate monitors,” Fiore said. “I want to see the students while they are wearing them so we can manage everything together.”
Like his mentor, Fiore’s been a long-time proponent of heart rate monitors in his PE program. The technology is potentially more important today than when Zientarski first incorporated them into his program. Fiore teaches students of all fitness levels and the technology evens the playing field for everyone.
“We have kids who have been highly trained for a long time and kids who have done less than the average kid has done,” Fiore said. “We can find whatever reason there is for that, but it won’t change the fact that I have 30 kids in my class who are all over the place with their fitness levels and I have to teach them all. That’s where heart rate comes in. If you do a lesson with heart rate monitors, they are so much more engaged. They use the instant feedback. They appreciate the consistency (of the assessment).”
Feedback for Teachers as Well as Students
Fiore also appreciates the consistency of the feedback. In the early 2010s, Fiore worked diligently to put together a workout that he knew would deliver great results for his students. The heart rate monitors he used at the time projected data onto the wall, and he wanted to see his students reach their target zones. Very few did.
“I thought I’d put together the greatest workout in the world,” he said. “We went up to the workout room and (nothing went the way I thought). I wondered what was going on there.”
At a county-wide training session the next day, he visited with a colleague who raved about a lesson he’d created around a different version of an elementary-level tag game.
“He talked about how his students enjoyed playing with (pool) noodles and how effective that was in raising their heart rates,” Fiore recalled. “I did noodle tag on our next heart rate day and the results went through the roof. That was the ah-ha day for me. It’s a learning tool and an assessment for the teacher as well.”
Reaching the Next Generation of Teachers
Teacher self-assessment is a main reason Zientarski wants today’s teacher training programs to include heart rate monitors.
“A big problem is that students who are future physical education teachers coming out aren’t getting access to heart rate monitors,” he said. “We are trying to get kids to understand the benefits of health and movement and true activity.”
A number of teacher training programs introduce heart rate monitors -- including the IHT ZONE -- to their students. The college students often get to take the IHT ZONE monitors with them on student-teaching assignments, including those in programs at:
- University of Nebraska – Kearney
- University of Northern Colorado - Greeley
- North Dakota State University
“That’s a training tool that our future teachers need to understand,” Zientarski said. “Not only does the heart rate monitor provide an assessment for the student, it’s an assessment for the teacher. People need to use heart rate monitors to evaluate their program and their teaching instead of just evaluating their students.”
The message, Zientarski says, is clear. As Fiore learned, the data not only has benefits for the students. The data also tells teachers everything they need to know about the effectiveness of their lesson.
“Not only does the heart rate monitor provide an assessment for the student, it’s an assessment for the teacher, as John found out,” he said. “I think that’s what’s missing.”