Young students use IHT ZONE monitors to see heart rate slow down following moderate-to-vigorous activity

Tyler Hetland’s innovative use of party lighting enables his elementary physical education students to reach their daily heart rate activity goals and recover before returning to their academic classrooms.

Hetland pushes his Eagles Elementary School (Fargo, N.D.) students to spend the bulk of his 40-minute class exercising at a moderate to vigorous level – as shown by yellow or red on their IHT ZONE heart rate monitors. When he changes the lights in his gym to blue, students also know it’s time to make their heart rate monitors match the lights.

Buoyed by research that connects fitness to improved academic achievement, Hetland uses a variety of activities including tag games to get students moving and exercises to strengthen the core.

“If we’re working on a tag game and a core game, our joke is that I’m making you smarter,” Hetland said. But he’s not joking.

PE Focused on Academic Success

“Studies show that students with strong cores and strong hearts do better academically so I work to make that correlation for the students,” he said.

When the class period ends, Hetland has students make a concerted effort to calm themselves down – as evidenced by a heart rate in the blue (resting) zone on their IHT ZONE monitors – before they can go back to their classroom. He turns on his blue DJ lights and talks with students about recovery heart rate in a way they can understand: what it means to be able to get back into the blue zone quickly and why it’s important to calm back down before leaving his gym. 

“In class we talk about when we want them yellow and red but at the end of class and the (DJ) lights turn blue, I want them to become blue,” Hetland said. “And we talk about being able to get the (heart rate monitor) back down to blue quickly. If you’re able to go from red back down to blue in a relatively short amount of time, that means you’ve got a healthy heart.”

Hetland stresses that when his gym lights turn blue, students don’t just sit still until their heart rate comes down. They must focus on controlling their breathing and slowing their heart rate.

“’Are you really focused on calming your body and mind or are you just hanging out until it’s time to go?’” Hetland often asks students. “Mixing in that mindfulness helps.”

Once students get their monitors back into the blue zone, they can return them and move onto their next class. Succeeding in getting their heart rates back under control sends students away with another sense of accomplishment, and that confidence helps them focus and succeed.

“If they can get the monitor to turn back to blue, they feel prepared and ready to be in their next class,” Hetland said. “That’s really my biggest goal out there to get everyone back to blue. I want them to be set up for success to do well in academics whether that’s in the classroom or test taking.”

The Light Bulb Going Off

Hetland first began ending his classes with mindful breathing two years ago, and feedback from his campus’ classroom teachers encouraged him to continue.

“Two years ago, we started doing calm breathing before going back to class instead of sending kids wired back to class and then trying to get them calm,” he said. “The teachers appreciated that the first year. I’ve been trying to figure out how I could take that to the next level.”

Hetland knew some local party DJs in Fargo and asked them about their setups. That led to the lights. He started with the blue light at the end of class but has since expanded. He’s worked with his campus leadership and purchased a variety of lights that give students different cues.

“I wanted a way to help visualize being able to calm down at the end of class,” Hetland said. “Because the kids were responding really well to it, I attempted to expand on it and have different communications with different colors.”

Working with his campus administration, Hetland spent a healthy portion of his budget to equip his gym:

  • Yellow lights that signal it’s time to listen: “The expectation is that they are sitting on their bottom respectfully with their voices off.”
  • Red means stop: “Red is our universal freeze.”
  • Blue means calm down at the end of class: “This is the first year I’ve combined the lights with the (heart rate monitor) at the end of class.

Heltand estimates it would take around $1,000 to get a similar system up and running. Funds can come from a teacher’s direct budget or other sources including PTA grants. He also said there are less expensive ways to integrate lighting into a program.

“My head coach is good at playing devil’s advocate,” Hetland said. “He asked why a teacher couldn’t just start with an LED strip. You can order those on Amazon for $30. Well, why not start there? String one around the gym at eye level and pre-set it to the colors you need. Start small, see if students respond to it and then reach out for ideas or go to your administration to see how to make it bigger and better.”

Incorporating the IHT ZONE Heart Rate Monitor

Due to COVID-19, Hetland’s students are wearing the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors for the first time in two years. Hetland wanted to use the monitors again for several reasons.

First, they give him direct feedback on his students as they move into a lesson. If a student hasn’t moved their heart rate zone from blue (resting) to yellow (moderate activity) after a few minutes, Hetland makes sure to connect with the student.

“If at the start of class we’ve been warming up for five minutes and a student’s (monitor) is still blue, I see that as a chance to use some (Social-Emotional Learning) skills and go over and talk to him, ask if everything is okay today,” Hetland said. “Most of the time I get the ‘I’m fine, I just need to get going.’ I feel talking to them about ‘I don’t want you to miss your goal’ builds up that relationship and shows them that I care. I don’t want them to have trouble doing something that should be a relatively easy task.”

Second, he wants his students wearing the monitors because many of his district’s middle school teachers use them. His students need to be familiar with the technology – and what it tells them – when they get to sixth grade.

“I don’t think this group of 5th graders has ever used them before,” he said. “But I know that some of the middle school teachers use them and so I want them to be comfortable with using the monitors and knowing what it means.”

Finally, he also wants students familiar with how they feel when the heart rate monitor tells them they are exercising at a moderate or vigorous level. Understanding that feeling and being able to duplicate it without the monitor is an essential life skill.

“We don’t just wear these for fun,” he said. “When you get older and maybe you are crunched on time, maybe you remember that when you were 12 years old Mr. Hetland said you should get 60 minutes of physical activity a day but that 60 minutes should be moderate to vigorous activity. I want them to know what that feels like. We have those conversations. I want them to learn how their body feels in the yellow zone or red zone.”

He also wants to expand the IHT ZONE use at his campus. Currently he starts students with the monitors in third grade. He plans on adding second grade soon and getting those students started on a multi-year journey with the monitors that leads to fitness.

“If I can put monitors on second graders and by fifth grade 50% of them have learned what it feels like to do moderate or vigorous activity without their monitors, I’m paving the way for a healthy future for them,” Hetland said. “Not only are the (heart rate monitors) and lights helpful from a classroom management standpoint, I think they are helping set our students up for a successful, healthy life further down the road.”

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    Teacher’s Creative PE Lighting Prompts Elementary Students to Calm Bodies and Minds
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    Teacher’s Creative PE Lighting Prompts Elementary Students to Calm Bodies and Minds
    Young students use IHT ZONE heart rate monitors and gym lighting to bring their heart rates back down following moderate to vigorous physical activity before returning to their STEM classrooms.
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