Ensuring that students meet the recommended daily levels of minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) remains a top priority while many are missing on-campus PE classes due to COVID-19.
In 2020 the Centers for Disease Control revised the recommended amounts of daily MVPA. Children aged 6-17 need at least 60 minutes of MVPA daily. Previously, the CDC recommended 60 minutes of physical activity, 30 of which should be moderate or vigorous activity.
Opportunities for on-campus PE, where many students get their daily vigorous activity, have decreased. On-campus teachers and online teachers alike have had to rethink the ways they engage students and motivate them to stay active.
Integrating Heart Rate Monitors in Online PE Classes
Many teachers who use the IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitor for their on-campus classes found a way to motivate students to stay active while learning from home.
“Once kids saw that they could do things off-campus and just check-in with me, they are getting things done very nicely on a weekly basis,” Charles City (Iowa) High School teacher Steve Stallsmith said. “They are exercising 5 days a week for 30 minutes or more every day and they have kept at it.”
Schools sent IHT ZONE monitors home and had students connect to their lessons using the free IHT Spirit Mobile App. The app, which works on mobile phones, tablets and Chromebooks, allowed students to activate the IHT ZONE monitor, connect to their teacher’s classroom, and complete assignments designed to produce a specific amount of MVPA.
When students complete assignments, the teacher (as well as the student) receives a report showing how much time the student spent in each heart rate zone:
- blue indicates low-intensity activity
- yellow and red indicate moderate to vigorous activity, exercise at an elevated heart rate
Giving Students Freedom to Choose Their Activities
Even before COVID-19 impacted on-campus education, PE teachers saw the challenge of engaging students with activities they enjoy. Along with teaching students about the numerous benefits of exercise at an elevated heart rate, teachers had to find activities students would do on their own. For some teachers, the challenge proved significant.
“They don't move,” Scripps (Mich.) Middle School teacher Kim McCool said. “I asked some students: What do you do for fun at home exercise-wise? They say ‘I don't.’”
In 2019, before today’s reality could be predicted, McCool worked with her students to identify activities that helped them meet their class fitness goals. She focused on activities they could do away from her motivating watch in the school gym.
“I try to do lifetime activities: rollerblading, cross country skiing, tennis, swimming…all those activities to keep their heart rates up so that they can be active individuals,” McCool said.
Rollerblading, it turns out, proved more popular than she expected.
“When we start, probably half the class can’t do it because they’ve never done it before,” she said. “Then, I have students tell me they asked for rollerblades for Christmas because they really liked it.
When she finds an activity that resonates with students, she pushes them to wear their heart rate monitors during their “play.” That ties back lessons about lifetime fitness.
“So it's Lifetime Fitness and lifetime movement and then using heart rate monitors helps them gauge how hard they're going,” she said.
Stallsmith uses the same strategy in his online classes. If students have an activity they want to make work as a PE assignment, the teacher does the research and creates a lesson around it. This year, he’s developed an unexpected appreciation for skateboarding.
“I want to instruct them on how to help them become healthy for a lifetime,” Stallsmith said. “Today that means engaging them in activities that I didn’t think about before. That means giving them a curriculum that includes the things that they have been doing. I’ve never had a skateboarding curriculum before, but I do now.”
Stallsmith’s students have an open invitation to tell him about activities they’d like to do – or learn. For the longtime teacher, 2020-21 has forced him to re-think the way he teaches his classes.
“I asked the engaged kids for their help and that has really worked too,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought that way before, but it has gotten them involved, and the more kids are involved, the more kids get involved.
“We are growing into different activities – students tell me they are riding their bike with mom or lifting weights in the basement with dad,” he continued. “The kids in the PE class are enjoying the freedom of doing PE off campus.”
Including Seasonal Fun as a Vigorous Activity
Oskaloosa (Iowa) Middle School teacher Betsy Luck doesn’t have to take her students off-campus to enjoy a wintry workout. When snow covered the campus – and neighboring hill – last year, she planned a lesson where students rode innertubes down the snowy hill and walked them back to the top while wearing their IHT ZONE heart rate monitors.
“I think sledding was an awesome way to help us be healthy kids because it incorporates a fun activity into exercise,” one student wrote in a post-class reflection.
The teacher said heart rate data showed both a physical and emotional connection to the activity. As expected, heart rates rose while students carried their tubes back up the hill that what Luck calls the biggest in town. They stayed high, though, when students took their next rides down.
“That was the thing they were most surprised about,” Luck said. “Their heart rate stayed up for the ride down because they were excited about what they were doing. It was fun to see.”
Building a positive emotional connection to vigorous physical activity will help students want to stick with it, whether that’s sledding on a snowy day, skateboarding or rollerblading.
“The more you exercise,” McCool said, “the better you will feel quicker and the better you will feel overall after you're done with your movement.”