Wearing new wrist-based heart rate monitors that track student progress toward daily class goals, Crestview School of Inquiry (West Des Moines, Iowa) physical education students are proving that a little motivation can last a lifetime.
“It’s a really strong motivator and it’s something that pushes the students,” said Crestview PE teacher Chris Amundson. “It becomes an internal motivation, an intrinsic motivation.”
Crestview is part of a West Des Moines Public Schools initiative to introduce the IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitors and the IHT Spirit System Assessment Measures software platform in classes this year. Students began wearing the heart rate monitors regularly in August, and Amundson said students now look forward to working hard in PE class.
“Students are loving the ZONES,” Amundson said on Jan. 17. “They get mad at me if they come in the gym and the ZONES aren’t set up and ready for them to use. They are mad that they have to go and do something else first before they can put them on. It’s just kind of normal for them to use the ZONES.”
The difference between days when students use the ZONES and the rare days when they don’t is stark.
“Yesterday I had a class where I didn’t get the ZONES out for that class,” Amundson said. “First, they were complaining that I didn’t have them out. Then they were just moving kind of because they had to. It wasn’t like they were pushing themselves. They weren’t really motivated. I can see a big difference between the days. That’s why I try to get them out there every day or at least as often as possible.”
On the few days Amundson finds himself scrambling – he estimates his students have worn the heart rate monitors for more than 90 percent of their class sessions, he’s been rewarded by student effort once the ZONES go on wrists. Since August, students have increased the time they’ve spent in the target heart rate zones by 15 percent.
“I just had a class with its last hockey session today,” he said. “I had kids who were standing there extra long as they were (picking up their ZONES at the beginning of class). I walked over to figure out what they were doing and they were all talking about how many minutes they needed to get to their goal for today; what they needed to do to push themselves.”
‘She’s leading the pack’
Amundson pointed out one student’s increased effort in particular, a fifth-grade girl who’s changed her entire outlook on exercise at school.
“She’s athletic and when we do any kind of testing or assessments she does everything really well,” Amundson said. “She just is someone who also likes to hide and make it look like she’s being active without pushing too hard because she doesn’t want to seem like an overachiever.”
When he introduced the ZONES, Amundson gave the student the motivation to fully apply herself in class, and the results have been uplifting.
“She has a real reason to push herself,” Amundson said. “Yesterday she was talking to me and said, ‘if you had talked to me three months ago, there’s no way I would have hit my goals because I was just trying to stay below everyone else.’ Now, she’s leading the pack. She’s pushing hard, she’s sweating. She’s excited about what we’re doing.”
And she’s noticing what the increased effort has meant for her overall health.
“She’s going all out because she’s motivated and she can see how active she is and how her body is reacting to all of this exercise,” he said. “It becomes them learning that it’s great to push yourself to new limits.”
Heart-rate based renaissance
Amundson credits his mother, a nurse, for instilling healthy traits in him at an early age, and he’s focused on the biology of health and fitness throughout his educational career, starting with his college days.
“How the body works, and all that stuff, just has always been really important to me,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated with it. I got into physical education after coaching high school sports while I was in college, and I just started pushing myself and looking up things and finding new ways to teach.”
As a graduate student working on his Master’s Degree, he found his own motivation to take an even deeper look at the importance of physical education. He studied the relationship between exercise and student academic performance and began focusing on heart rate after reading “Spark,” by John Ratey.
“That has been a huge part of my, I don’t know, renaissance is kind of a weird word, but I just completely changed how I taught everything,” he said. “I’ve always had a science background. I gravitate toward things that are science-based, so heart rate monitors (made sense). I’ve always wanted to find the best ones but I’ve also wanted to find ones that are efficient with elementary students.”
Increased student motivation
He thinks he’s found that with the ZONES, and he’s hopeful that he and the rest of his West Des Moines colleagues can maximize their use – and impact – as they continue their initial implementation. Crestview ranks among top WDM campuses in ZONE usage since the school year began. Other top schools are:
- Indian Hills Junior High
- Stillwell Middle School
- Valley Southwoods Freshman High School
- Valley High School
- Clive Elementary
“Finding an option like this was fantastic,” he said. “Our entire district picked it up at the same time, so we’ve all been working together and learning together. We can ask each other questions to see exactly what everyone is doing and how we can be more efficient….how we can use this information and this data to push our students even farther. It’s been a really cool nine months since we first got them.”
And if the students maintain the motivation to work to achieve their goals, the successes will last well beyond the next nine months.
“I want them to understand that this is important and something they should continue once they are out of school,” Amundson said.