School District’s Use of IHT ZONE Heart Rate Monitors Motivates Students to Significantly Improve Activity and Fitness Levels
The positive steps taken by students wearing IHT ZONE heart rate monitors motivates Bremen High School District 228 (Ill.) curriculum supervisor Terri Schrishuhn to keep moving forward with a program that combines movement and technology.
“Everyone is in year four and they are obviously more comfortable than they were in year two,” Schrishuhn, the district’s curriculum director for health, driver’s ed and physical education, said.
Bremen first started using IHT ZONES in 2019 as part of a small pilot program. The immediate results proved so successful in creating greater student engagement – and a commitment to fitness – that Schrishuhn twice used federal grants to expand. As this school year began, PE teachers – both traditional and Adaptive PE – at all four high school campuses are using monitors with their classes.
“We can do so much more than simply put heart rate monitors on the kids and have them go be active,” Schrishuhn said.
Bremen uses IHT’s suite of resources several ways, including but not limited to:
- Recording and storing all its fitness testing data;
- Sending parents summary emails every time their children wear the monitors in class;
- Using reports to create cross-curricular opportunities for students to use on English or writing assignments; and
- Using data to create an emotional connection to what a health-enhancing workout feels like.
“Improving students’ willingness to increase their activity levels – thereby improving their health and fitness – remains the district’s primary motivator for using the technology,” Schrishuhn said, and the teachers tasked with using the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors can detail how that’s happening.
“Where this story really comes to life is when we have teachers who value the heart rate monitors and use them throughout the day,” Schrishuhn said.
An Introduction to Fitness with a Focus on Heart Rate
At Tinley Park, Johnson introduces her 9th grade students to the heart rate monitors and begins with an explanation of what physical fitness is and how that can look very different from person to person, student to student.
“What does it mean to be fit?” Johnson said. “We talk about what fitness looks like for an 8-year old, a 15-year old, a 25-year old, a 40-year old, a 65-year old. Each of those people can be fit, but it’s going to look different body-wise and also through the energy they are using. We start here because everyone is individual and you can’t compare what you’re doing to what you think someone else is doing. Their data is their data and you need to focus on you. You are the only thing that you can control.”
After encouraging students to challenge themselves, Johnson explains what they see when they wear the IHT ZONE monitors during class, specifically:
- Their heart rate changing along with their exercise intensity; and
- The heart rate monitor changing colors to reflect their heart rate zone.
“This allows them to start to see and experience what their fitness looks like,” Johnson said.
The heart rate technology allows Johnson to immediately connect with every student, regardless of their fitness, activity level or interest in sports and games. Since she began using the heart rate monitors, two student success stories stand out for her.
Motivating an Elite Athlete to Improve Her Fitness Level
“I taught a competitive swimmer who wanted to figure out why doing PE was going to help her in the pool,” Johnson said. “My background is in swimming, so we broke down what swimming is. We looked at the skilled components and we looked at the health-related components and she found that swimming hits across the board in all of those areas.”
The student gauged her physical fitness by her ability to control her breathing while practicing and swimming races. Together, they built a strategy to help the student improve her fitness – and thus her ability to breathe while swimming – in PE class.
“Her goal was to be able to challenge herself on land to get winded and then try and keep her heart rate in that yellow (moderate exertion) to high yellow zone,” Johnson said. “Last semester, you could see that something clicked for her. She would talk about a certain event or how she had changed her breathing pattern from a breath every 3 strokes to a breath every 5 strokes. She also talked about looking forward to the challenge of a 500 (yard race) whereas she only wanted to do the 100 before.
“She started to fall in love with becoming a distance swimmer because she knew her body could handle it.”
Teaching a Student to Start Changing His Life - and Health - for the Better
Johnson also works closely with students at the other end of the fitness spectrum. In 2022-23, she taught a 9th grade boy who, by his own admission, weighed nearly 450 pounds. From the moment Johnson first saw him, she saw the struggle he endured every day simply walking to class.
“The effort it took him to do things was absolutely exhausting,” Johnson said.
When class started, the student wore the IHT ZONE heart rate monitor just like his classmates, but unlike other students, his monitor immediately spiked into the yellow zone. Early on, Johnson talked to the student about how he felt and then asked one vitally important question: “do you want to feel different?”
The student did. So Johnson gave the student an attainable goal every day.
“I told him, ‘Every time you come to this class, your job is to make your body that much (pinches her fingers to indicate a tiny amount) stronger to try and change some of that stored energy into muscle mass so you can handle the basic day-to-day activities,” she recalled. “There’s nothing about this student that’s athletic. He didn’t want to be on any teams. It was all about getting through the day without being exhausted.”
Classmates noticed how his heart rate monitor was always yellow or red, but Johnson reminded everyone about the differences in physical fitness and the work it takes to get fit.
“I told him it doesn’t matter what anyone else in here thinks, it matters how you handle you,” she said. “I told him that when I tell the class to do a certain warm-up, you have to figure out what that looks like for you. If they are doing cardio laps, then I just need you busy for a minute. It doesn’t mean you’re doing the same activities that they are, but we need to modify it so it feels okay for your body.”
Diligently – and sometimes painfully – the student put in the effort.
“Throughout those 18 weeks, it was just ‘keep moving forward,’” Johnson said.
The school year ended and the student kept at it, and when he saw Johnson again at the start of the current year, he looked much different – still obese but much less than when they originally met.
“He came up to me at the beginning of the school year and let me know he’d lost 52 pounds,” Johnson said. “I asked what he’s doing differently with his life, and he said he’s doing things on purpose and seeing if there’s anything he can do to help himself feel better.”
Johnson praised the student’s willingness to make a positive change in his life.
“The fact is, the more we sit still, the more we say we’re good with where we’re at in life,” she said. “If we get up and continue to move, then we’re saying we’re going toward the person we want to be. He is one of my success stories. You could see him. He started paying less attention to what others thought and was focused on himself, and now he’s got a physical difference to see for it. I told him ‘you’re in puberty right now so your changes are going to happen faster at this age than they will later in life. This is like a cheat code and you have to take advantage of it.”
Heart Rate Monitor Feedback Drives Students to Meet Daily Goals, Stay Active
Larson uses the IHT ZONE monitors to motivate her 11th and 12th grade students who don’t want to push themselves into the target heart rate zones in class.
“The big thing I see is that students see they are being held accountable,” Larson said. “Actually, as long as they have something to see, and this gives you the instant feedback of either ‘you’re in red’ or ‘you’re in (yellow)’ or ‘you’re where you need to be.’ When they get that instant feedback, they are willing to do more.”
The monitors also give students the opportunity to control the way they exercise. For many, getting their heart rate up doesn’t have to mean running long distances or sprinting from line to line in a gym. If walking gets their heart rate into the target zone, as shown on the IHT ZONE monitor, Larson’s fine with that.
“Once they start to realize, ‘okay, I can walk and my heart rate goes up…I don’t have to run.... I can walk and get my heart rate up and I’m burning calories, then they really start to buy into it,” Larson said. “And once you have them bought into it, they’ll do anything.”
Shrishuhn’s district guidelines ask teachers to use the monitors with their students at least 10 times each semester. Even on the days where Larson doesn’t plan to use the heart rate monitors, students still ask for them. In those cases, Larson often lets students wear the monitors, but she also notes that the students remain focused on heart rate even if they don’t wear the IHT ZONES.
“When we go into the weight room and are doing a cardio session on stationary bikes, students are constantly checking their heart rate because we have the bikes that have the heart rate sensors built in,” Larson said. “They’ve bought into the heart rate concept after having the monitors on.”
Larson also makes full use of the heart rate graphs that students see after their session and the emails that go home to parents. The emails, Larson said, have added an extra layer of accountability for some students. Emails show parents exactly what students achieved while wearing the monitors, including:
- Time spent in each heart rate zone;
- Time spent in the Larson’s target zones;
- A graph of the student’s heart rate for the duration of the session
“I had a student tell me that his mom wanted to know why he wasn’t doing anything in class today because of where his heart rate was,” Larson said. “After that, I did notice that he wanted to check and see where he was, knowing that the information was going home so he constantly gave me a lot more effort. Again, it might be more because his mom was on him, but at the same time, that’s just another tool for us to get the kids moving.”
And getting kids moving, Johnson, Larson and Shrishuhn say unanimously, remains the ultimate goal.
“This is a really good resource for us, and we must continue to leverage the platform and everything IHT can do for us to help show students the value of exercise,” Schrishuhn said.