By Kayleigh Rahn
Coach Dustin Dees’ physical education class at North Ward Elementary School looks incredibly familiar.
The gymnasium is filled with loud, active students working together while playing a game. However, a closer look throughout the room will show there is an added component in the third and fourth grade PE classes this academic year.
The students are wearing fitness monitors.This type of technology has grown in popularity for the general public over the last decade; however, the trackers being used at North Ward aren’t the typical Fitbits or Garmin found in most households today. The fitness trackers used in Dees’ gym were created for group educational fitness, and, overall, Dees says the students have had a positive experience using the monitors in the classroom.
The monitors work as you might suspect. The students are assigned a number that is attached to the band. Each class period, the students strap on their watch-like monitors and look to a projector screen where they see tiles. Each tile is labeled with one of their names and connected to their specific monitor.
The challenge is simple – keep your tile in the green zone. If the student’s tile is green, the student is in their target heart rate zone, which means they are burning calories at a healthy rate and physically active. Yellow means they are working but not quite in thezone, and red means the student needs to get to work.
Each class starts with a quick two- to three-minute cardio warm up to get their hearts pumping before the students jump into an activity.
Throughout the class period, the students’ effort is tracked and logged in relation to their ability to meet their target heart rate.
Dees is able to track the heart rates in live time from his tablet or tap into his log later for grading and to check in on a specific student regarding effort, progress, and wellness related to heart rate.
At face value, the bands help Dees teach the students state education standards including tracking their heart rates to determine individual fitness levels.
However, Dees knows in the long term, the students are learning a science-based approach to understanding their physical health and wellness throughout their lifetime.
“For them, this kind of technology has always been a part of their lives, so honestly the hardest part for them was learning how to put the band on,” he said. “It was the motor skills, not learning the new technology. But honestly, most of them are really excited about this.
A lot of them have a variety of monitors at home. This allows an introduction of that technology into the gym.”
The class monitors and software system were purchased through a partnership with the Tuscola Rotary Club, who secured a matching grant on Dees’ behalf. The matching portion was provided by a combination offunds from the school district and the newly established North Ward wellness committee.
Dees uses the 30 bands in his third and fourth grade classes, the age state standards call for the technology to be used to teach this area of fitness. However, the younger Tigers will not see the bands at this point.
“There is really no need for early elementary students to use them yet,” Dees said. “We are learning about heart rate at that age, but at an entry-level rather than drawing the connection between heart rate and health.”
Overall, Dees says the monitors have shown a positive change within his older classes.
“We are finding that students who I thought were giving low participation before are actually working incredibly hard, while others who may be in great shape aren’t doing enough to get into their target heart rate,” Dees said. “It’s allowed me to better track the physical fitness of my students and allows me to see who is actually putting in their top effort. And it’s not unheard of for me to pull a student out who may be working too hard. We want to keep them in the safe zone where they are putting in effort but not overworking.”
The students are graded based on their effort in sustaining their target heart rate during class. On days the students may find themselves in line or stagnant for a period of time (think, freeze tag), they are still responsible for meeting their target heart rate.
That is when Dees has seen students continue to move while they are ot participating. They are doing jumping jack, sit ups, mountain climbers, anything to keep their heat rate up, Dees explained.
“That’s great, because you can see they are picking up the connection between their heart rate, exercise, and their overall fitness,” Dees said. Though, he says, students do not wear the trackers every day.
For example, they won’t have them when they are learning new skills to begin a unit.
This is the first year Tuscola students have utilized the monitors; however, they have been a part of classrooms throughout the region for years. In fact, Dees first came across the idea of classroom monitors while he was attending classes at Parkland College. And, in recent years, Dees’ wife Valerie has used them within her Mahomet physical education class, as well.
“I think this will help some students who aren’t the most coordinated see they can be athletic by using their target heart rate to improve their health,” Dees said. “I hope it gives some confidence to the students who may not always seem like they are giving great effort but who actually are really working hard.”
Looking ahead, Dees hopes the students take away skills that allow them to see the connection between physical fitness and heart health to better improve their lifetime health and wellness.