IDEA Public Schools Network’s Personalized Learning Program Improves Student Fitness Through Heart Rate Training
Working with the PE teachers throughout the IDEA Public Schools network, PE Curriculum Director Eren Kirksey enacted a plan to use PE circuit training lessons to lower the average Body Mass Index score of IDEA’s 44,000 students.
“Every PE class that you go to now has a [circuit-training] system in place,” Kirksey said. “We’re starting to see that employed categorically. In our highest performing classes, you’re going to see that the teacher has manipulated the environment to enable students to move more freely, which lets them get in their target heart rate zones quicker and stay there longer.”
As of May 2018, IDEA’s students had spent 60 percent of their PE time exercising in their target heart rate zones. Students across the network have logged more than 14 million minutes of exercise at an elevated heart rate.
The time spent exercising at an elevated heart rate shows in the IDEA’s BMI calculations. IDEA strives each year to improve student health with its “Healthy Kids Here” initiative. Health and PE officials made lowering BMI through a combination of exercise and health education a key component of the initiative.
“We want to instill better eating practices and mental and physical habits to help people simply be healthier,” Kirksey said.
Impacting Overall Health Through PE Circuit Training
Because Kirksey’s PE staff works closely with students on their physical fitness, they lead the effort to help students reduce their BMI. Teachers provide students with challenging, heart-rate-raising PE classes, encouraging them to get more out of their exercise sessions, and it’s working.
“The district is on track for a 3 percent BMI improvement,” he said.
As part of their FitnessGram® testing, IDEA’s PE teachers calculate each student’s BMI with each assessment. The data shows that a majority of IDEA’s 65 different academy and college prep campuses, which includes schools in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio and Austin regions, have seen a measurable drop in average student BMI from the beginning of the year to the most recent assessment. Between December 2017 and March 2018, the average BMI of IDEA’s students has dropped 3.0 percent. By region, the data shows:
- Upper Rio Grande Valley: 2.5% BMI decrease
- Lower Rio Grande Valley: 1.5% BMI decrease
- San Antonio: 5.0% BMI decrease
- Austin: 3.2% BMI decrease
Between the initial assessment in October 2017 and the March 2018 assessment, the top performing campuses have been:
- Najim College Prep: 10% decrease
- Mays College Prep: 9% decrease
- Rio Grande City Academy; Carver Academy: 8% BMI decrease
- San Juan Academy: 5% decrease
Increasing Active Time with PE Circuit Training
Students across IDEA’s network spend more time exercising – and more time exercising well – than they have since Kirksey joined the staff several years ago. He attributes the school’s current accomplishment to the introduction of more PE circuit training lessons designed to get students exercising at an elevated heart rate.
Teachers have individual goals based on the total time their students spend exercising in the target heart rate zones. Upon arrival for each session, students put the IHT Zone wrist heart rate monitors on and get to work. The circuit-training focus helps students exercise at an elevated heart rate quicker and spend more time in their target heart rate zones – yellow and red indicating moderate to vigorous physical activity.
“With the heart rate monitors, the students – especially the younger ones – are trying to squeeze every last second of exercise out of their bodies,” Kirksey said. “They want to stay in the yellow or red zones. They are moving for a good reason.”
At the beginning of the school year, Kirksey made PE circuit training a focus of the overall curriculum. From a warm-up to the main class lesson, adopting a circuit style has enabled students – and teachers – to improve their performance. Teachers set up their classes with more forethought and detail, and students reward them with increased effort.
Setting up different stations for a designated warm-up segment of class helps students individualize their workouts while also bolstering their social and emotional habits. Students choose from a series of exercises to do their own warm-up:
- jump rope
- agility ladders
- footwork drills
- laps around a track or field
“When the students come in, they put on their Zone and can decide how they are going to warm up,” Kirksey said. “If they want to jump rope, they go to that station and complete a set amount of reps and move to something else so other students get the chance to use those tools. And they warm up together, so you see them building that social/emotional relationship as well.”
When the lesson begins, the circuits allow teachers to share equipment and build recovery periods and water breaks into a workout. It also allows for cross-curricular learning.
“It’s not just to work you out, where at each station you’re doing an exercise, but also at every other station you can incorporate a water break or a vocabulary learning station where you can explain some of the keys of the game,” he said.
Individualizing PE to Keep Students Engaged, Successful
The circuit-based workouts personalize PE for the students, allowing them to work at their own pace. Students can maintain their focus while eliminating the feeling, in some cases, that less fit students can’t keep up with their more fit classmates.
“Being able to individualize learning also helps,” Kirksey said. “Students don’t have to all do the thing at the same time at the same pace.”
By focusing on their own workouts, students become more engaged during class and more likely to take ownership of their fitness away from school as well.
“They learn to take ownership of their own ability while they are in that small group setting,” he said. “Plus, we’re building on their social and emotional characteristics of team and family, which is one of our core values.”
The PE circuit training principles Kirksey and his teachers are producing tangible results – visible to teachers through reports they generate regularly out of their Spirit System software – in the short term. The long-term goal – creating lifelong learners – remains very much in reach for the students.
“We want to teach through these principles so we can get more kids moving quicker, faster; you can do skill development; instructional development and knowledge building and then eventually it will lead you into the gameplay,” he said. “Then it becomes something fun that we taught them to do for lifelong learning.”
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