Ministry of Education’s Response to Troubling 2011 Report Drives Better Test Results, Students’ Understanding of Healthy Fitness Habits
By integrating heart rate monitors and assessment software into their daily physical education curriculum, Bermuda Ministry of Education (BMOE) officials have started making measurable improvements in the fitness levels of island students, reversing a previously troubling trend.
In 2011, a World Health Organization report indicated that 70 percent of Bermuda’s population had already developed or appeared on the path to developing significant health issues consistent with poor physical fitness. Following years of study and debate, Ministry of Education officials concluded that their best chance to address – and reverse – the trend would come through improving the island’s physical education program.
Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, the BMOE partnered with IHT and equipped each school – primary, middle and high school – across the island nation with IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitors and IHT’s Spirit Assessment software, in particular its Presidential Youth Fitness Program software, which is now the official data collection software of the PYFP. After an adjustment period, teachers, students and officials are all seeing the benefits.
“Each year more teachers implement the program into their schools,” said Whitney Institute Middle School PE teacher Lyndsy Ford, one of the teachers who’s been utilizing the technology from the beginning. “Students love the technology.”
Along with introducing the technology, education officials increased the amount of time during the school week that’s dedicated to physical education and physical activity for students. Ford said she now sees students three times each week – twice for physical education and once for a fitness class – for 150 minutes all told, up from 120 minutes two years ago.
Adding Active Minutes to Curriculum
With more time to work with her students, Ford spends time teaching new fitness strategies. While there are mandatory activities and skills she must teach, she now has time to add games and fitness activities that students have shown they enjoy.
To begin each class Ford explains the day’s goal – how many minutes students should spend exercising in their target heart rate zones – and the activities. She said they can’t wait to get started so they can reach their goal.
“During fitness classes students are comfortable [picking up] monitors, reading the lesson goal,” Ford said. “At the end of class, students enjoy returning the monitors and observing their performance.”
Each student can check their IHT ZONE monitor throughout class to see if their intensity level meets the day’s objective. Upon returning their monitors, they check Ford’s computer for an initial self-evaluation. They see:
- if they met the day’s goal for total minutes spent exercising in the target zones;
- how many minutes they exercised in the target heart rate zones; and
- how many minutes they spent exercising outside of the target zones.
“They are more driven to participate in activities that are fun and goal-orientated,” she said.
Simplifying PYFP Assessments
IHT’s ability to easily capture fitness data – and in particular the elements of the FitnessGram® tests – fueled the BMOE’s original decision to change the way it administered its fitness assessments. Officials created the Premier’s Youth Fitness Program, modeled closely after the U.S. Presidential Youth Fitness Program, and students go through fitness testing each September and May.
The September testing gives officials an initial look at overall fitness levels and May testing helps measure improvement throughout the year. When implementing the program for 2016-17, officials hoped that 60% of the island’s students would test in the healthy fitness zones by the end of the 2018-19 school year. They are on track, Ford said, evaluating the data she collected last year: 60% of female students achieved healthy fitness zone levels in four of the five assessments.
In an effort to keep students engaged with their fitness testing results, Ford does two things. First, she has students record their own results, and she later transfers that information into her IHT PYFP software so she can generate reports for school and ministry leadership. Because all of the island’s PE teachers utilize the software, officials get a consistent, complete look at student progress.
“All data is easily accessible and archived, which is great for research and goal setting,” Ford said. “There is a consistency of fitness testing across all schools. The software allows for supervisors’ insight and analysis/support of PE programs across the island.”
Second, starting this year, she’s requiring that students wear their ZONE monitors during PFYP testing.
“This year I will use the monitors for fitness testing as I feel it will have a positive effect on motivation and performance,” she said.
Adding Cross-Curricular Elements to Physical Education
Educators focused on academic development often disagree with decisions that add time to physical education classes if it takes time away from STEM classes, no matter how much data proves the direct relationship between physical fitness and academic readiness. By using the student handbook, Ford incorporates elements of math and language classes into each PE session, doing her part to ensure students don’t ignore their other subjects.
“Students use math skills to analyze and set realistic goals, and also when calculating max heart rate and target heart rate ranges,” Ford said. “The curriculum is great as it encourages reading, comprehension, writing, and self-reflection.”
The road to improving a nation’s fitness can be long and winding. Bermuda is still in the early stages, but initial results are encouraging. Through teaching and technology, students are on the right path, Ford said.
“I’m excited at the level of student engagement and their interest in physical fitness and setting goals to reach for each class,” Ford said.
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