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Heart rate monitors motivate students to keep moving

Beside the balls, racquets and cones that are standard equipment in school gymnasiums, South View Middle School students are using technology to take their physical education to the next level. Heart rate monitors are teaching students about their bodies and motivating them to make choices that lead to overall wellness.

When students enter the gym, they grab a strap and their monitor. (Students use the same monitor each class so that fitness data is compiled over time.) They fasten the monitor comfortably around their chest. A large video screen shows the class roster and a color code tells each student their heart rate status. Then they start moving…and they keep moving. Now, instead of standing around, students throw in a few jumping jacks while guarding the floor hockey net, because they know if they don’t keep moving they won’t keep their heart rate up.

Amy Gilbertson-Dodge, health and physical education teacher at South View, is excited to see a new level of engagement among her students. They check the screen periodically, and manage their heart rate level and the amount of time they are in each of five zones. This real-time information about their workout keeps students focused and inspired to work hard.
“The monitors really keep kids motivated,” Gilbertson-Dodge said. “They look at their progress and at their heart rates from the last class compared to this one. They are excited to see how they compare to others.” The program also awards “badges” for designated fitness achievements, another motivation to keep working.

Most importantly, the students are learning about their own bodies -- what it feels like to be in various heart rate zones and how hard they need to work to achieve a high intensity work out. The monitors were added following last year’s review of the physical education curriculum as a way to personalize learning and promote a lifelong interest in being healthy. Depending on curriculum, Gilbertson-Dodge sometimes offers students a choice of activities, providing even more personalization. All of the district’s secondary schools use heart rate monitors in varying degrees.

At the end of class, Gilbertson-Dodge and her students reflect on set goals. Students compare their day’s workout to the day before. They can also go online later to review again and study their accumulating data. South View eighth graders had many reasons why they like the heart rate monitors, some of which are practical -- they are small and easy to wear, and the straps can be cleaned “so they aren’t full of germs and smell.” But it’s the idea of pushing themselves to higher fitness levels that seems to resonate throughout the gym.

“The monitors motivate me by showing me that I can reach a high level when I’m working,” said Nyjah. “When I see that, I know I can do anything I want.”

“The monitors make you feel that you want to be the best you can be,” Mason said.

“You need a balance of high and low (heart rates),” explained Samantha. “Now I can look on the screen and see where I am and where I should be. It definitely motivates me.”

Although heart rate monitors have been used a relatively short period of time in her classes, Gilbertson-Dodge said the change is noticeable. “If you see one day when we don’t use the monitors compared to a day when they do have heart rate monitors on, it’s a night and day difference,” she said. “It’s great to see how active they are, how engaged students are and how excited they are to see those zones up on the screen.”

This story was originally published in the spring issue of Experience EPS during the 2017-18 school year, which was mailed to the community in May 2018.