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Lake Middle School Sixth grader, Nathan Imsy checks his watch to see what his current heart rate is. Staff photo by Amber Kispert.

Students strap on heart rate monitors for gym class

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Physical education teachers in District 833 have adapted a new teaching model that uses technology to help students better gauge their physical activity.

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As part of the $800,000 Physical Education Programs grant from the U.S. Department of Education that District received in July 2008, the district has purchased 600 heart rate monitors for use in the middle schools as a way to monitor the students physical activity and physical health.

"There's a lack of movement in our kids today because there are so many technologies out there, but now we're giving them technology that they get to move to," said Julie Grundstrom, physical education teacher for Lake Middle School. "We're taking technology to a positive aspect of how technology works for you."

So just how do the heart rate monitors work in the classroom setting? Each student puts on the monitor, and a stop watch, at the beginning of each class. As the students begin to participate in the various games and activities of the class, the students have to watch their heart rates and keep it in the healthy heart rate "zone" of 150-185.

"We're putting the child in control of their fitness," Grundstrom said. "Everybody is really in charge of their own heart."

Grundstrom the heart rate monitors is a great way to cater to students individual physical health and ability, since not all students are at the same level of fitness.

"Some of the kids who aren't as healthy, their heart gets right into that zone because their heart races , but those kids who are very fit, it takes them longer to get there because their heart is so strong," she said. "It's a very objective way to grade kids on what they can do, not what they can't do."

Everyone is different

Even though there are those students who aren't quite as physically fit as others, the heart rate zones are low enough that it should be reachable without too much physical strain, Grundstrom said.

Additionally, Grundstrom said the heart rate monitors is a great lesson in how each student's heart and body functions differently from each other, while the students are able to see just how their heart rate improves the more physically active they are.

"We're teaching a new way of looking at how we move -- it's a whole lesson of what does our heart look like, and everyone's heart is different," she said. "I want them to see the benefits of what we're doing and what it's doing for them -- we want kids to come out of physical education knowing that they worked hard, they gained some strength."

In order to keep the students moving and their heart rates in the healthy zone for the entirety of the class, the physical education teachers have switched up the curriculum by implementing smaller teams during games, and having the kids initiate their own physical activity -- jumping jacks or running in place -- when there is a lapse in the game activity

"We keep kids moving all the time," Grundstrom said. "We want every kid to be a little bit sweaty when they leave."

Downloading heart rates

Many of the students aren't thrilled about the new physical education curriculum, and the way they approach exercise, but Grundstrom said it's evident students are excited to see what their heart is doing.

"Some kids don't like it because they just want to go out there and play the game, but I think most of them enjoy looking at what their heart is doing and having the challenge of keeping it within a certain range," she said. "It is a benefit for students to know and understand their own heart, their own fitness level and what they need to do to keep healthy on a daily basis."

Besides the students seeing their own progress, teachers are able to download the heart rates and see how physically active and healthy a student is, and see the improvements from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

Grundstrom said she hopes the heart rate monitors can be used for future classes be incorporated into the regular physical education curriculum.

"Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know this is what we should be doing," she said. "I know it is the best and most positive way to see changes in fitness and health in our students."

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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