Heart Rate Monitors Provide Teachers With Important Data as Students Return to School After Extended Time in Remote Learning

Heart rate monitors can play an important role in helping students safely increase their activity levels and manage any additional stress from uncertainty as many return to campus for the 2021-22 school year.

The data monitors provide are essential tools for both students and teachers as the new year begins. Most U.S. school districts, prior to the latest increase in active COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant, planned to welcome students back after periods of off-campus learning that lasted longer than a year in some cases.

“We don’t know how much activity time they’ve had at home,” SHAPE America President-Elect Dr. Kymm Ballard told Interactive Health Technologies on Monday, Aug. 9. “Kids have gained weight and they’ve become more sedentary – not all of them but some. Those kids, when they come back, we’re going to have to be very aware that the fitness level may be different and we have to be attuned to how we approach that. I think heart rate needs to be monitored. We need to be aware of their breathing and exertion levels.”

Evaluating Each Student Based on Heart Rate Data

SHAPE America President-Elect Dr. Kymm Ballard

Teachers will want to push students when they get back to campus. Ballard urges them to be patient. 

“I’m concerned with students getting back to campus and teachers automatically wanting to get them in shape,” she said. “They aren’t going to be able to do that (as quickly as they want).”

Giving students – and teachers – an accurate assessment of where they are will enable everyone to focus on improving student health and fitness safely.

“It’s extremely important, as we prepare to go back to school, to pay attention to our kids’ heart rate,” Ballard said. “The person who comes in first is not always the person who’s working the hardest. A lot of times, (the kid who is working the hardest) is the student who finishes last, and you can’t push them any harder.

“Knowing those ranges and being able to check those ranges as students are moving is important,” she continued. “This is the only way we can see inside as to what’s going on (with each student).”

Heart rate monitors show both student and teacher the student’s heart rate throughout a session when it’s worn at school, particularly in a physical education class. Schools can also use the monitors in STEM classrooms featuring physical activity or throughout the day as part of a program focused on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and mental health. 

Having and using the heart rate monitor isn’t enough. The heart rate monitor must provide accurate data, Ballard said, especially for teachers to see when to push students and when to have students slow down.

Overcoming Lost Learning Time Using Familiar Teaching Tools

“Learning Loss Mitigation” has been a key element of the federal funding that has been allocated to state education agencies and local school districts through the CARES Act in 2020. While it’s easier to quantify what students lost in STEM subjects, physical education is a different story.

“I don’t know that there’s data on that,” Ballard said, “but I know this: after being active for a while, it only takes three or four days (of inactivity) before you lose the fitness that you had. We know that PE teachers have been able to keep (students) somewhat active, but there were still gaps where we weren’t able to serve some kids. Not just in PE but also in nutrition. We’re talking about a lot of health pieces.”

Kymm Ballard (right) took part in SHAPE America's National Speak Out Day at the U.S. Capitol Building with Jody Duff and Kyle Bragg, a pair of SHAPE America teacher of the year winners. Photo from Ballard's Twitter Page @kymmballard

In Ballard’s perfect world schools would provide students with health and PE every day, but she'd settle for students getting three days of health and PE each week. To increase the amount of activity students get during a day, she encourages teachers to use what they learned when classes shifted from on-campus to online in March, 2020.

“For the first time ever, parents have helped with physical education,” Ballard said. “We’ve always had PE in the gym or outside at school. Now we’ve had physical education at home, so it’s been somewhere else.”

She recommends a two-fold approach to help students rediscover their fitness – and any specific skill that they weren’t able to master. In whatever time schools allot for PE on campus, teachers can get students active and focus on skills. Then, they can use the library of online tools they built last year to encourage students to stay active at home.

“Now we can send them home with ‘homeplay’ – I don’t want to call it homework – and have parents be active with their kids,” Ballard said. “We have a great opportunity to do that now, and if we put that in (our curriculum) now, we can work that way for a while.”

Getting Used to the New Normal

Along with students’ physical health, Ballard is focused on helping students feel comfortable when they return to campus. She said that will require administrators and teachers to take a new, forward-thinking approach that includes mental health.

“I’ve been talking to my folks and my students about looking at (students') mental health coming back,” Ballard said. “School is its own society and reentry into that society is going to be a little bit intimidating. Things will be different for them at first.”

Different can be unsettling, especially so for younger students who may have been away from school for more than a year. The range of emotions that students can experience from excitement to anxiety, often manifested by an unexpected change in heart rate, provide schools with an opportunity to make mental and emotional health a priority.  

“I want us to think about where we’re headed instead of where we’ve been,” she said. “This is a great time to think about children’s health and socialization and SEL. The paradigm is there. It’s time for us to look at it. This is our opportunity to work on something that I think kids need the most right now.”

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    SHAPE President-Elect Sees Heart Rate as a Key Metric for Teachers as Students Return to Campus
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    SHAPE President-Elect Sees Heart Rate as a Key Metric for Teachers as Students Return to Campus
    Heart Rate Monitors Provide Teachers With Important Data as Students Return to School After Extended Time in Remote Learning.
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