As seen in U.S. News & World Report, originally published in the Erie Times-News.

March 6, 2017

By DAVID BRUCE, Erie Times-News

EDINBORO, Pa. (AP) — Physical education teachers at Parker Middle School are noticing a little extra hustle from their students.

When a volleyball rolls across the gym floor during drills, several students chase after it. Sometimes they start doing jumping jacks between relay races.

“It’s all about turning their wrist monitors red,” said Heather Karns, a physical education teacher for the General McLane School District.

Capture-erie times storyThe monitors are part of a technology program the school started using about six weeks ago to help students exercise more efficiently in gym class. The monitors, which look like wrist watches, keep track of each student’s heart rate and calories burned.

The use of technology is part of a growing trend in schools across the country as physical education classes evolve from rope climbing and dodge ball to teaching students sports and other physical activities in which they can participate for the rest of their lives.

“The main lesson is to be physically active for a lifetime,” said Michelle Carter, senior program manager for Shape America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators.

“One of our recommendations is to engage in activities that raise students’ heart rates to moderate and vigorous levels at least 50 percent of the time.”

That’s where the monitors come in.

When a Parker Middle School student’s heart rate reaches 60 percent of his or her maximum rate, the monitor turns yellow. Once it reaches 80 percent, it turns red.

“The goal is to get every student’s heart rate in the red zone for at least 20 minutes of every gym class,” said Bob Santos, a Parker Middle School physical education teacher.

For middle school students, gym class begins by grabbing a monitor, sliding it over a laptop scanner and logging in to the program that records their personal data.

The monitors offer students and faculty more than a range of colors. Each student has a personalized account with her maximum heart rate and other vital information. Emails detailing the students’ activity can be sent to their families.

“We can tweak each student’s profile,” Santos said. “We found that some of our really fit students had trouble getting their heart rates up because they were in great shape. So we lowered the rates for their moderate zones.”

The General McLane School District paid about $18,000 for the Interactive Health Technology program. The Erie School District is also using technology in its gym classes, thanks to a $1.2 million federal grant for physical activity and nutrition.

The grant allowed the Erie district to install the Welnet software system at each of its 18 schools. Students in grades four through 12 have their fitness testing tracked, with report cards sent to their families.

“Every gym has heart-rate monitors, sticks with electrodes that students can hold to determine their heart rate,” said Pam Wiley, the Erie district’s health and physical education facilitator. “We also have monitors that project on the wall and show each student their heart rate and the phys-ed teacher can determine if each one is working hard enough.”

Since the grant was awarded three years ago, Wiley and Michelle Bennett, a physical education teacher at Central Career & Technical School, have seen students improve their fitness levels.

“We’re seeing improvement in cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, in muscular strength,” Wiley said.

“It’s allowing the students to be their own personal trainers,” Bennett said.

Parker Middle School students admitted that having the wrist monitors has spurred them to work harder.

“It pushes us, it’s like a challenge,” said Ellen Cunningham, a 13-year-old seventh-grader. “I’ve gotten to the red zone, which is 180 (beats per minute). My maximum heart rate is 207.”

Information from the monitors might soon be used in other classes, Karns said.

“I’ve been talking with the match teachers about using the phys-ed info to create math problems,” Karns said.