Connection Creates Paradigm Shift for PE Program by Adding Motivation, Accountability to Students’ Off-Campus Exercise
Students enrolled in the Simon Youth Coast High School Academy (Huntington Beach, Calif.) PE program use the IHT Spirit Mobile App to ensure they log enough activity to stay healthy between their once a week PE classes.
PE teacher Darla Merrill deployed the IHT ZONE heart rate monitor with the IHT Spirit Mobile App to keep students she only sees on Fridays engaged with her class – and their own fitness – during the week.
“Our school is a School of Choice Alternative Program for students who aren’t able to do their best work or find success on a traditional campus,” Merrill explained. “We pride ourselves on being very individualized with our learning. We meet the students’ needs where they are.”
From Merrill’s perspective as an award-winning PE teacher, that meant finding a way to extend her class beyond the 50-minute session each Friday, where she leads students through sessions designed to challenge them to exercise at a moderate to vigorous activity level for at least half of the period. Students go through a warm-up, then spend between 15-20 minutes on elliptical machines before moving to a yoga session designed to bring their heart rates back down.
“I don’t want them to just go through the motions when they’re with me during that time period,” Merrill said.
Merrill also mixes in a variety of high-intensity exercises. At the end of class, she leads students through a discussion about what they felt at different stages, then reminds them that there’s more work to be done before the next Friday’s class.
“[Once-a-week-PE is] not really enough to impact fitness on a long-term basis,” Merrill said. “I try to focus on life-long fitness and health education.”
A PE Program’s Paradigm Shift
To encourage her students to remain active during the week, they connect to Merrill’s program through the IHT Spirit Mobile App and take their IHT ZONE heart rate monitors home with them. Where past home-based PE programs relied on students to have their parents verify that they exercised, students have been charged with using their mobile phones to log into Merrill’s Spirit System class.
After logging in, they choose an activity and start exercising. When they finish their exercise session, they end the session on their phone and the workout data – how long the student exercised and how much time did they spend in each heart rate zone – goes directly into their file in Merrill’s Spirit System class.
“It’s really been a large paradigm shift because students really haven’t up until this point had to be accountable for their individual wellness through physical education,” Merrill said. “Before, all that was necessary was to keep an activity log that said ‘I walked three hours’ and have a parent sign it.”
That old model left too many unanswered questions, Merrill said:
- How did students walk?
- Did they exercise at an elevated heart rate?
- What other exercises did they complete?
“Before we had the ZONE monitors, there was no individual accountability for students working in the moderate to vigorous activity zone outside of class,” she said.
Merrill’s students find that accountability by wearing the ZONE wrist heart rate monitors. Students exercising at home can see when they achieve moderate-to-vigorous activity on their heart rate monitors, and Merrill hopes that feedback also resonates with parents.
“Health and wellness benefits are only achieved when the students participate in moderate to vigorous physical activity,” she said. “We want them to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day.”
Empowering Students to Meet Minutes of MVPA Goals
Merrill’s program reinforces key habits during class and then empowers the students to find exercises that motivate them during the week to develop key skills. She says students have increasingly met the standing goal of at least 50 percent of their exercise time with a heart rate in the moderate-to-vigorous categories.
“They’re empowered and more confident,” she said. “It’s each kid on each kids’ individual time, just very individualized. The goal is 30 minutes out of a 50 minute period of time in the yellow [moderate] and red [vigorous] and I’m having more and more students be able to achieve that.”
Students, Merrill said, make the most of the ability to do the exercises they prefer to increase their fitness. Enabling them to complete workouts they are already passionate about helps with engagement. Students’ exercise choices include skateboarding, boxing and surfing, though IHT does not recommend using the ZONE in the ocean.
And because students are connecting to her class through the App – selecting an activity and starting and stopping their ZONE heart rate monitors with their phones – Merrill doesn’t have to guess each week which of her students have been exercising.
“I’m not relegated to my own observations of their fitness level,” she said. “You actually can see it in data [that the Spirit System collects on each workout logged through the app]. I just want them to have the motivation to be a little bit better today than they were yesterday.”
“More often than not, you’re seeing them make the strides that you want them to make,” she said. “I want to challenge them to be their best self and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.”
Linking Physical Fitness with Academic Progress
Merrill wants that improvement to manifest itself across all elements of education, not just in physical fitness or wellness.
“For me, the extra benefit is on the education side,” Merrill said, citing the growing volume of studies that link improved physical fitness with increased academic performance. “Being able to use this technology in an independent study PE program or small classroom setting has been a lifesaver. Honestly, it’s more than just about the need for PE.”
By teaching students essential fitness skills including how improved cardio-respiratory fitness enables them to control their heart rate and breathing, Merrill is helping empower students to overcome other social and emotional obstacles such as anxiety.
“A lot of our students come to us with extenuating circumstances,” Merrill said. “We’re trying to give them tools to be able to overcome those and empower them to be their own personal advocate not just academically, socially and emotionally but health-wise.”
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