Heart Rate Monitors Provide Incentive and Objective Assessment to Develop Self-Accountability Among Students
Long before Orlandus Thomas joined Intrinsic Charter High School (Chicago) as athletics director and physical education teacher, he’d wanted to purchase IHT ZONE heart rate monitors for his students.
After a six-year quest that included stops at two schools, Thomas’s students are making sure that his persistence pays off.
“It’s just everything that I could have imagined and asked for to create the perfect fusion between technology and wellness and the accountability piece for kids to own their wellness journey,” Thomas said in October, a month after he made Intrinsic the first high school in Chicago to use IHT ZONE heart rate monitors. “I’ve seen that flip in just three weeks.”
A teacher’s journey to heart rate
For nearly 20 years, Thomas has continually looked for ways to make his physical education program more than simply a period in the school day where students got some exercise, provided they felt like putting in the work. He’d already implemented a curriculum focused on fitness over sport-specific skill. He’d even introduced chest-based heart rate monitors. But his program still missed something.
While working out himself, he experienced an epiphany while wearing a chest heart rate monitor he used for his classes.
“In the middle of my workout, I had this thought that ‘there has to be something like this for kids,’” Thomas recalled. “If I can (wear) this and get all of this data, there has to be something that lets us (teachers) do this with kids.”
Following his workout, he went straight to his computer and started researching heart rate monitors for schools.
“There were a couple of other companies and then I found IHT,” Thomas said. “I looked at it a bit more and then I just called (IHT President) Jen Ohlson. I introduced myself and told her I had looked up these (heart rate) monitors and I didn’t know how I would do it but that I was going to get these monitors. This has been a six-year crusade.”
Thomas wanted to build his program around getting students into their target heart rate zones. After extensive research, he believed the IHT ZONE heart rate monitor would best help his students grasp the concept. Wearing the IHT ZONE heart rate monitor, students see:
- Their heart rate in real time;
- The heart rate zone they are exercising in designated by color (blue=resting; yellow=moderate; red=vigorous); and
- A post-workout summary detailing heart rate, minutes spent exercising in each heart rate zone and minutes spent exercising in the designated target heart rate zone for that session.
“Target heart zone is the only measure and these are the only monitors that were tailor-made for kids to see to push the needle,” Thomas said.
New Opportunity at a New School
At his previous school, Thomas kept pushing his administration to purchase a set but never received approval. When he moved over to Intrinsic Charter, Thomas all but negotiated a purchase into his contract.
“My big thing in coming over was that I needed to be able to create the PE class I wanted and it needed to include these monitors,” he said. “When they initially saw the price, they saw it was a lot. I get it. I offered to test it and show them the data.”
Leadership agreed to a pilot program, and Thomas went right to work despite logistical challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thomas obtained 10 IHT ZONE heart rate monitors – along with personal chargers -- and created a program with PE students through remote learning. Students received their assignments through Google Classroom and started and stopped the heart rate monitors using the IHT Spirit Mobile App.
When they finished their assignment and stopped the heart rate monitor, all of the essential heart rate data went directly into Thomas’ IHT Spirit account. Students also received a detailed email that included:
- A graph showing their heart rate throughout the workout
- An analysis of how many minutes they spent in each heart rate zone
- An analysis of whether they met the assignment’s goal for minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity
- The opportunity to reflect on the session through a journaling prompt
The heart rate data the monitors delivered from the remote students proved more than enough to convince Thomas’ leadership team that their PE program would benefit from technology.
“We tested it with those monitors and I showed them the data and that’s when they went all-in with me,” Thomas said. “The way they worked was everything I had imagined and more. These kids, even remotely, did the workouts I sent them and stayed in the (target heart rate) zones.”
Patience is Indeed a Virtue
Even after getting buy-in from school leadership and purchasing 100 IHT ZONE monitors in 2020, Thomas had to wait to implement them with his students. Students spent the bulk of the 2020-21 school year in remote learning and though they returned to campus for the 2021-22 school year, they needed to work themselves back to basic fitness levels.
“Last year, the first (school) year out of the pandemic, we were going to try and implement them but it was hard because kids were just getting used to moving again after being in their rooms for 18 months,” Thomas said. “It was frustrating but I was told to stay patient. We’d waited this long, so let’s just wait a little longer for everything to fall into place.”
When school began for the 2022-23 school year, Thomas had everything in place.
“I kept telling leadership that they were going to see this come together, and in the last three weeks – it’s been exactly what we wanted,” Thomas said. “I can’t thank our leadership enough for believing in what we want to do and providing this for our students.”
Beginning in September, Thomas noted an immediate change in his students during class. Wearing the IHT ZONE monitors and motivated to meet individual goals, they hit the ground running and don’t stop until class ends. They understand heart rate and how moderate-to-vigorous exercise – at least 30-60 minutes of it every day – can help them improve their fitness, health and more.
“It’s taking ownership of your wellness and I’ve seen that mindset transformation in class,” Thomas said. “It’s just everything that I could have imagined and asked for to create the perfect fusion between technology and wellness and the accountability piece for kids to own their wellness journey. I’ve seen that flip in just three weeks.”
In just a short time, students are embracing the objective feedback and then using the data in conversations about their health with Thomas. One student has made the connection between exercise and mental health.
“I had one young man tell me he’s into exercise more because it made him feel better and he notices that when he leaves (PE class) he’s in a better mood,” Thomas said. “I saw the switch flip with him. He went from going through the motions to being one of the students who leads the warmups and leads the exercises when we do them. He said he’s more into it now because he knows it will make him feel better in the end.”
Thomas has spent the better part of two teaching decades trying to get students to invest in their own wellness. With the IHT ZONE, he believes he’s found the way.
“As a PE teacher – almost since 2005-06 – this is the $64,000 answer for ‘how can you get kids to see their work?’” he said. “How do I get kids invested? How do I show them their work? This is it, and there’s nothing anyone can debate about it.”