Heart Rate Technology Helps Matthew Bassett Get Students Active By Undoing Outdated Stereotypes
Teachers must do more to advocate for the importance of their PE class and health programs as many schools return to campus after spending all or most of the 2020-21 school year online.
Reports, including a recent one published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, detail how lower physical activity levels led to increases in obesity in school-age children. Despite that report and others that mirror its findings, teachers must still battle for resources – and priority – to help students increase activity levels and improve their overall health.
“I think any time you can be an advocate for your program, you have to be, especially with physical education,” Matthew Bassett, a SHAPE America National Elementary School Physical Education Teacher of the Year award winner, said. “Historically, we don’t always get looked at or thought about in the right way.”
To get programs thought about in the ‘right way,’ Bassett, the PE teacher at San Jose (Calif.) Charter Academy, says several things must happen, including:
- Overcoming outdated stereotypes
- Focusing on the positives that Physical Education delivers
- Demonstrating tangible learning through concrete data
Overcoming Longstanding Stereotypes
Teachers know the stereotype all too well, and Bassett understands why it’s proven so difficult to undo it.
“The parents that I have, a lot of them grew up in a bad program,” Bassett said. “(Teachers) rolled out the ball. Students were graded on how fast they ran the mile. They got participation points that were mostly focused on behavior.”
Teachers have reinvented Physical Education since those parents were students. Many teachers work equally on age-appropriate sport skills and healthy fitness habits. The “roll out the ball” teacher may still exist, but in far fewer numbers than a generation ago. Still, though, old perceptions are difficult to overcome.
“My professors at my university always told me I’d have to advocate for my program,” Bassett said. “What they forgot to tell me was that 21 years later, I’d still have to advocate and probably more than I did even in those first few years.”
Bassett saw the stereotype in existence in March of 2020, when local and state education agencies struggled with their learning plans at the onset of the pandemic. Many local education agencies prioritized core STEM classes and all but put Physical Education on the back burner. Most schools tried to create online Physical Education programs for students. Others simply stopped offering it and in some cases either let Physical Education teachers go or reassigned them to different subjects.
“We are still kind of reeling from (the way Physical Education was deprioritized at the beginning of the pandemic),” Bassett said. “It might have been because there were some stereotypical assumptions. It might have been because there’s the thought that you can’t teach Physical Education online. Yeah you can. It’s different and it was messy, don’t get me wrong, but you can teach it.”
As schools return to on-campus education, Physical Education departments are still playing catch-up.
“We’re still in that stage, coming out of the pandemic, that I think we could be in a better place to help quality Physical Education and health education to come more to the forefront because I believe these are the two subjects that need to be pushed more than anything else,” he said.
Focusing on Positives of Whole Student Development
Bassett’s Physical Education class focuses on much more than physical health and wellness. He’s always prioritized social and emotional wellness, believing that when students are in the right emotional space, they’re ready to succeed both in Physical Education and the core STEM classes.
“Everything we do starts with making sure the students are in the right social-emotional space,” he said. “I think our social-emotional worth is where we’re going to get education recovering, and exercise can definitely help with that. What we do in the Physical Education and health education realms will help with their coping strategies and how to work back into getting ourselves where we need to be mentally so we can go back into the other classes and get back to the learning that we had before the pandemic.”
Bassett starts the year with team-building exercises and focuses on how students communicate and work with each other.
“We have to meet them where they are and then move them forward,” he said. “I know I need to have them mentally in the right space where they’re feeling comfortable and safe so we can get them where they need to be.”
Demonstrating Tangible Learning
All of which brings Bassett to the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors his students wear in his classes.
“I’m really excited about the heart rate monitors because I think once (the students) have real-time data that they can see, that’s going to motivate them,” Bassett said. “That will be really, really important for us.”
Students receive real-time feedback about their heart rate during class and a detailed report via email after class. Bassett believes the data, and the instant motivation for his students, will help him overcome the old stereotype with his parents and, if necessary, administrators.
“IHT gives us a really cool program where, instead of using participation points, we can show exactly what students did and how hard they are working,” Bassett said. “We’ll be able to show assessments to parents to show that we are hitting those national standards. It will be fun to say – and show – that we do learn things in Physical Education.”
And if parents don’t quite understand the emails they receive summarizing their student’s day? Even better, Bassett said. The questions give him an opportunity to educate parents – and create advocates for future needs.
“I’m anticipating a lot of them reaching out and asking ‘what does all of this mean?’” he said. “Anytime you can show a glimpse into your classroom with your parents, it will make a big difference in what you’re trying to do.”