Improved Cardiovascular Fitness Brings Additional Social/Emotional Learning and Academic Benefits as Students Take Part in PE Cycling Unit

By improving their cardiovascular fitness through a new physical education cycling unit, students are also boosting their Social/Emotional Learning wellness.

“The focus is mostly on cardio fitness first,” said Portage Central Middle School (Portage, Mich.) PE teacher John Dunlop. “We want to learn what you get out of certain types of workouts. There’s physical fitness and then there’s emotional and social fitness that also needs to be considered.”

Dunlop and Portland High School (Portland, Mich.) PE teacher Andy Pulling each won Riding For Focus Grants from the Specialized Foundation for the 2017-18 school year. The grants provided each teacher with a fleet of bicycles and helmets along with a curriculum designed to teach fitness through cycling.  In the program’s early stages, the teachers see improvements in other areas as well.

“ Specialized want to prove that cycling will increase student focus and therefore have improvement in academic and personal fitness,” Pulling said. “You can absolutely see the psychological and social impact from day to day.”

Creating Socially Fit Students Through Physical Education

The social element, Dunlop said, remains an essential aspect of fitness that often gets overlooked as teachers and students focus on the more physical elements.

Social/Emotional Learning

Portage Central Middle School students prepare to ride their bicycles on a trail near campus as part of new cardiovascular fitness unit that’s also helped improve students’ Social/Emotional Learning skills.

“I spent some time asking students about the unit and a lot of that pops out,” Dunlop said. “‘I get to ride with my friends’ ”

As the bike program’s curriculum progresses, students spend more time riding in groups. The regular outings allow students to ride at their own pace and work in groups to encourage more interaction, Pulling said the chance to take part in a lesson that takes them out of the` usual routine proved motivating for students who hadn’t previously engaged in class.

“I saw some students who were struggling with attendance during the year, but while we were doing this program, their attendance was up,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s an anomaly or what, but once the weather changed and we moved on from this program, their attendance dropped back to where it was before we started. They were missing 2-3 days per week as opposed to only one day while we were doing the program. And they were much more engaged.”

“A lot of times in PE we get really focused on the physical part,” Dunlop said. “We lose the affective and the emotional things. The emotional fitness that kids get out of it is as important as the physical fitness.”

Educating Students on Heart Rate as a Fitness Measure

Social/Emotional Learning

Portage Central MS students practice their riding skills in a parking lot.

While the teachers acknowledge the social benefit their students earn through riding together, they remain focused on improving student fitness by teaching the value of exercising at an elevated heart rate. The curriculum offers a heart rate unit, but both Pulling and Dunlop augment that with their own expanded focus on heart rate.

  • High school students ride in target heart rate zones for 30 minutes each class
  • Middle school students ride in target heart rate zones for 20 minutes each class
  • Students measure heart rate manually and with heart rate monitors

“The high school kids should be in their target heart rate zone upwards of 30 or 35 minutes with an actual riding time that can be 40 minutes,” Pulling said.

Portland’s students ride to specified points along their trail and stop to measure their heart rate under Pulling’s direction. When they return to campus, they log their heart rate and Pulling uses the information to show them that fitness can be fun.

“Even though we’re having fun and doing things on and off the bike, we’re still focused mainly on fitness,” he said. “It is there when we’re doing other things. I want the goal to be them enjoying what they’re doing while they are being active. It’s healthy and fun.”

At Portage Central, Dunlop uses IHT Zone wrist heart rate monitors to help students learn how to ride in their target heart rate zones. In his program’s early stages, the data shows students exactly how hard they need to pedal to reach their goals each class.

“One of the things I found as a teacher was that initially, it’s hard for kids to get their heart rate up on a bike unless you’re really focusing on a high cadence,” Dunlop said. “Right now we want to be 20 to 25 minutes in the yellow and red zones, but I think there’s a pretty small percentage right now who’ve achieved that. That gives us something to build towards and have the kids independently figure out what they need to do to meet that goal.”

Creating Student Ownership of Heart Rate Training, Social/Emotional Learning

Dunlop’s students wear their IHT Zones in every physical education class, so they are used to the immediate feedback they receive. As his spring cycling unit progresses, Dunlop knows the students will be able to adjust their effort to achieve more time in their target heart rate zones.

Social/Emotional Learning

Portage Central Middle School students take a break from a recent ride to enjoy the view over an area creek. Riding together helps boost the students’ Social/Emotional Learning wellness.

“They can make decisions on where they ride and how they ride, what gears they are going to be in,” he said. “They can look at their monitor while they are riding and adjust. That’s part of the education process right there, for them to see the feedback from the monitors to see where they are and know what they need to do. It’s self-management, and I think that’s the intention of the curriculum.”

The teachers do their part to help students achieve their goals. Dunlop routinely changes the terrain on which students ride – moving from pavement to grass resulted in a 40 beat-per-minute increase in the first two minutes after students moved to the grass. Pulling creates different courses that give students a chance to work on their cadence by creating a looped course where they can truly focus on their individual effort.

“If you really want students to be in their individual zones and getting the work done that they need to see the true fitness benefit, they all have to be at their own levels,” he said.

The loop allows Pulling to supervise the class while the students retain the freedom to push themselves as needed.

“They can still go at their own pace,” he said. “That’s really remarkable.”

And they’re doing that while realizing that a fun childhood staple can be used to improve their overall fitness.

“We are taking a childhood tool or game and reinvigorating it,” Pulling said. “They are smiling while they are doing it. We’re adding to it. We’re treating them like vehicles on the roadway, making it more challenging than it was when they were younger. I want them to see that fitness can be fun. It doesn’t have to be this grueling, beat-yourself-up kind of activity to get in shape.”

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    Social/Emotional Learning Resonates In Students’ Cardio Workout
    Article Name
    Social/Emotional Learning Resonates In Students’ Cardio Workout
    By improving their cardiovascular fitness through a new physical education cycling unit, students are also boosting their Social/Emotional Learning wellness.
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    Interactive Health Technologies, LLC
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