Des Moines’ Virtual Academy PE Continues to Motivate Students During Campus Closure
As PE teachers explore new ways to connect with students they can’t see in person while schools have closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Innovative Fitness students enrolled in the Des Moines (Iowa) Public Schools Virtual Campus aren’t missing a beat – or workout.
“These days are just normal days for our students,” Des Moines Virtual Campus PE teacher Brianne Burns said. “While the rest of us are working from home, these students can simply keep things normal despite all of the other concerns in the world.”
In its first full year as a virtual program after two years of development and testing, Des Moines’ Innovative Fitness students use the IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitor and their mobile phones to sign in to class and complete assignments, earning a mandatory PE credit in a way that best fits their lifestyle.
Burns and colleague Amy Barsness, along with Physical Education and Health Curriculum Director Carlye Satterwhite, developed a program that meets state and district standards and pressed virtual campus leadership to add it as an option for students who, for a variety of reasons, could not take PE at their home campus. The Innovative Fitness program includes 300 students who use IHT’s heart rate monitors to manage the class.
“It’s another mode of learning that students are asking for,” Satterwhite said. “This is learning in the 21st century. You can do it online. We have to provide students with alternative access to education that is meaningful and vigorous.”
Providing Students with a Rigorous Online PE Option
While she evaluated the district’s on-campus PE classes, Satterwhite noticed a learning (and teaching) challenge based on the size of the class. On-campus classes range from 25-75 students. At the higher end, she said, opportunities for individual instruction are few and far between.
“Is it fair for kids to be in a class of 70?” Satterwhite said. “That isn’t conducive to everyone. This is an alternative way to provide the education that our students want.”
In the online Innovative Fitness class, students have more access to personalized instruction, both from the teacher and from the IHT ZONE monitor that each student wears. At the beginning of the course, students connect their monitor with their phone and get access to the course curriculum. From there, it’s up to them to meet the course expectations each week. For students who think the online course would be the proverbial walk in the park, the curriculum is eye-opening.
“We are legitimately teaching PE from home and it is able to be implemented with fidelity,” Satterwhite said. “It’s not simply fill in the activity log and move on.”
Heart Rate Monitors Motivate Students to Meet Teacher Expectations
“A lot of students tell us that this is more work than they would do in a traditional PE class, but most students still love it,” Burns said.
The data the heart rate monitors deliver proves that. The ZONE monitor records the student’s heart rate throughout the activity. Upon completion, a full heart rate report is delivered to the student, the teacher, and the student’s parents, and the student has an opportunity to record their feelings following the session by choosing from a variety of emojis.
The students can also see a session summary on their phones. The summary shows:
- How many minutes the student exercised;
- How many minutes the student spent exercising at a moderate or vigorous level; and
- How much time the student has spent in each heart rate zone for the current week.
“This is our verification,” Burns said. “You know the kids are doing the work. They want to be active and moving. It’s interesting to see how much time they spend outside of the blue zone.”
Not only do students work hard, they understand how that benefits their health long-term.
“They are more motivated to see what the hard work does for them,” Barsness said. “The color and the heart rate number motivate them.”
And, she said, students can choose activities that suit their abilities and interests, choices they don’t often get to make in a traditional on-campus PE setting.
“Students get to choose their activities, and that’s not something they can do in the traditional PE class,” Barsness said. “In those settings, the teacher has set everything up and maybe students get to choose between one or two things. Kids can enjoy doing what they like. Playing basketball for PE? Yes, if that’s what you want to do.”
Online PE Meets a Variety of Student Needs
“We have to think about students with full schedules and other classes that they want to take or have to take,” Satterwhite said.
The option to take a mandatory class – all Des Moines high school students need the PE credit to graduate – online when it fits their schedule and needs has proven beneficial already. And students and families are appreciative.
“Online PE gives students options,” Barsness said. “The feedback we’ve gotten is that by allowing students to do this course online, they now have time in the school day to take other classes, time to do other extra-curricular activities or time to take classes that can earn them college credit.”
The online option also works for students who don’t thrive in a traditional PE setting, Burns said.
“I taught in the traditional classroom for 14 years and heard a lot from students who didn’t want to exercise in front of their peers due to anxiety,” Burns said. “Some of them had tears in their eyes at the thought of having to come to the gym. Now, they don’t have to deal with any of these issues. This virtual class gives them a level of comfort that they aren’t being judged or won’t be bullied. They can exercise in the comfort of their own homes.”
As we adjust to the changes we must all make while we try to slow COVID-19, online PE with an engaging curriculum and technology that works for students keeps them physically active.
“It is great that this program works for students while we are all at home,” Barsness said. “We can do virtual PE credibly as long as we have the correct technology. IHT gives us the correct technology.”
“That is critical,” Satterwhite said. “When the government basically shuts our entire lives down, our students can keep working.”