Heart rate technology continues to enable Ann Arbor Public Schools (Mich.) adapted (adaptive) physical education students to learn how to help manage their and fitness and emotions.

“The component that individuals in my field need to understand is how this is really teaching cognition to students that we might not have realized that we could have taught cognitive components to,” Ann Arbor Adapted Physical Education Consultant Deak Swearingen explains. 

Deak Swearingen

Deak Swearingen

Three years ago, Swearingen introduced the IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitor to his students. After taking part in a demonstration designed for traditional PE classes, Swearingen immediately recognized how the heart rate monitor – which displays both heart rate reading and level of exertion or emotional response – could benefit his students despite their physical and cognitive difficulties.

“Understanding the population that I work with, that we’re working with, is a very unique population,” he said. “You have to know your population. I have seen successes .”

Swearingen’s initial introduction focused on helping students and support staff predict potential issues, both behavioral and medical, before an intervention became necessary. While the heart rate monitor won’t diagnosis illnesses, Swearingen found that the heart rate zone displayed often served as an indicator that an episode may be imminent.

Along with the student’s actual heart rate, the IHT ZONE shows each exertion level by a different color:

  • Blue indicates the student’s heart is at rest as if during low-impact exercise or normal range emotions;
  • Yellow indicates a heart beating at a slightly elevated level through emotions or moderate exercise;
  • Red indicates a high heart rate, elevated through emotions or during vigorous exercise.

“If we see that heart rate monitor that’s elevating tremendously while the child is standing still, then maybe we have that child sit down pretty quick,” he said. “We are prepared to provide better medical care.”

Personalizing Learning for Adapted Students

Adapted PEThe colors work for students as well. Some can identify a potential issue by what they see on their monitor and take action to prevent it. 

“I have a student who has behavior issues, and her issues can be quite severe,” Swearingen recalled. “This student has learned when she senses her anxiety begin to spike, she would actually ask me to go out on the track instead of being in the fitness center.”

As students become more familiar with the heart rate monitor as a part of their daily routine, they use it as motivation during their PE classes, doing just a little bit more to stay in the target heart rate zone.

“They’re making a connection with the individualized exercise programs that I’m writing for them,” Swearingen said. “Say we’re doing step-ups on a plyo box and the students can then see their monitors go into yellow. And maybe Mr. S. asks them to do 8 reps, and now all of a sudden they’re doing 10 and 12 and 14 reps, things that I didn’t ask them to do. They’re going above the objective. To see the monitor making that connection of spending more time in their healthy zone, that’s really huge.”

Swearingen knows his students can’t understand terms such as “exercise physiology,” but they have grasped the basic principle of working toward a goal. They see how they did on his computer screen when they return their monitor at the end of the day.

“It’s very, very important in the population that we work with that we have visuals on a daily basis,” Swearingen said. “Well, this just builds into that routine and it and it has made a significant difference in the students staying on task for their entire program versus them not being able to see a result.”

That result: students can see when they’ve met a goal and helped their overall wellness.

“That’s the visual component,” he said. “I can give them direct feedback on how they did and they’re starting to put together ‘I had a good day’ or ‘I could have worked harder.’ They understand this, and that is transcending.”

Using Heart Rate Data to Sharpen Teaching Objectives

Four years into his ZONE use, Swearingen continually searches for ways to make the program better, whether that means serving more students or showing administrators how students are improving their overall fitness. He studied his first three years’ worth of heart rate reports from five of the schools where students wear heart rate monitors and found that, despite some significant physical challenges, students are reaching their heart rate goals.

“We have spent about 26 percent of our time in the zone and that’s with the population that really struggles on being healthy,” he said. “But 26 percent of the time…that really tells us that we’re making an impact in what we’re teaching.”

It’s also motivation for Swearingen and his colleagues to continually improve the way they present things to the students. Students have their goals, and he does too. 

“This is an objective to meet or surpass every year,” he said. “I want all of my schools to work towards being above 26 percent, to constantly push the envelope in an understanding way that keeps the student’s safety component in mind.”

Expanding the Curriculum Through Objective Data

As his adapted students continue to impress with their effort, Swearingen wants to be certain the curriculum grows with their understanding. 

“I want to continually look back and alter my teaching so it is meeting the needs of the learners,” he said.

That applies to his home campus and to the district as a whole.

“District-wide, what are we teaching and who are we teaching it to?” he said. “That’s’ really important. If students aren’t capable of doing what you had planned to teach, then that means we all have to modify what we’re teaching.”

And with the heart rate data he’s collected from his students, Swearingen doesn’t have to guess at the changes he needs to make.

“We have the data to back that up,” he said. “It’s not just opinion. Taking the subjectivity out of education is something that we in the Adapted PE field need to do at a higher rate.”

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    ‘Transcending’: Heart Rate Monitors Improve Special Education Students’ Focus on Health
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    ‘Transcending’: Heart Rate Monitors Improve Special Education Students’ Focus on Health
    Heart rate monitors enable special education students to manage their fitness level, improving their overall health.
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    Interactive Health Technologies, LLC
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