In my chapter, I will explore the role of educational technologies in public middle school physical education classes. I want to show that obesity affects students physically and academically, and the cuts to physical education classes have only made the situation worse. I will then describe the different types of technology that are currently available to teachers with the hopes of answering the question of how can technology help teachers make the most of their limited resources while keeping students active and engaged?
“A Serious Public Health Challenge”
The World Health Organization (n.d.) considers childhood obesity one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity among U.S. youth was 18.5% in 2015-2016 (“Childhood Obesity”, 2018). This translates to roughly 13.7 million children and youth. The prevalence among 6 -to 11- year olds was 18.4% and 20.6% for youth aged 12- to- 19 years (“Childhood Obesity”, 2018). The National Survey of Children’s Health, which provides data at the state level, ranks Ohio 6th in their 2016-17 survey with a youth (ages 10-17) obesity rate of 18.6% (“Study of Children”, 2017). So, just how active do children and youth need to be in order to build and maintain a healthy lifestyle? The CDC recommends that children and youth between the ages of 6 to 17 get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day (“Physical Activity”, 2018 ). Despite this, only 21.6% of 6-19 year olds are meeting the recommendations. (“Physical Activity”, 2018).
The Interactive Map from State of Obesity provides each state’s youth obesity rate. http://https://www.stateofobesity.org/children1017/
Current State of Physical Education Classes
States vary in their policies on physical education classes for K-12 students. This is partly due to budget cuts. Although there are varying reasons for budget cuts, two major reasons were the recession and the No Child Left Behind Act. The majority of public school funding comes from local property taxes and state funds and the recession of the mid 2000s hit both of these sources. As Americans lost their jobs and homes, less revenue was being taken in from property taxes. Families moving to other states for job opportunities also lead to less enrollment and in turn, less funding to schools. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed into law in 2002, held schools accountable for test results in math and reading. Schools were required to test students in grades 3-8 each year and once in high school (“New Rules”, 2014). They also had to report student performance and were required to create achievement targets. Student results were analyzed each year to see if targets were being met. If a school missed the targets for two or more years, a number corrective action or school reconstruction measures could occur (“New Rules”, 2014 ). As a result, schools cut or reduced the time spent in physical education to dedicate time and money on improving math and reading scores.
In 2015, the No Child Left Behind Act was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which considers physical education part of students’ well rounded education. It also eliminated the yearly progress mandate. Specific requirements surrounding physical education classes though, were left to the states. As a result, schools have implemented waivers, exemptions, or substitutions. Waivers provide the opportunity for school districts to apply for permission to no longer provide students with state mandated physical education time or credit (“Physical Education”, 2018). Substitution is the practice of allowing student activities in sports or activities such as marching band to count for physical education credit. Exemptions allow students to be excused from physical education classes, even if it is a requirement for graduation. This is in direct contrast of the position of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) who argue that “each K-12 student should complete all required physical education courses and that state, school district, and school policies should not allow substitutions, waivers or exemptions for physical education courses, class time, or credit requirements” (“Physical Education”, 2018).
Physical Activity and Academic Performance
Although there are numerous health benefits associated with physical activity, some may be unaware of the affects on academic performance. Studies have shown that physically active and aerobically fit children outperform their inactive and unfit peers in the short and long term (Kohl, 2013). The strongest relationship has been found between aerobic performance and math, reading, and English (Kohl,2013). Interestingly enough, math and reading were subjects spotlighted by the No Child Left Behind Act. Another study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that students that were aerobically fit had greater odds of passing their state math and reading test. Researchers gathered data on 12,678 elementary and middle school students in a Nebraska school district and compared the outcomes of their Nebraska State Accountability tests for reading and math to their aerobic fitness (which was determined by the PACER system). They found that aerobically fit students had greater odds of passing both their math and reading tests than their aerobically unfit classmates (Rauner, Walters, Avery, & Wanser, 2013).
http://https://youtu.be/ULciZ8jSgHA This video describes the affects of a physical education program on student test scores in a Chicago high school.
Approximately 96% of U.S. public schools have enough internet connectivity to make digital learning possible (Campisi, 2018). What’s more, a 2015 Pearson student mobile device survey found that 66% of middle school students and 82% of high school students use smartphones regularly (Piehler, 2015 ). So, it may not come as a surprise that physical education teachers are making the most of their limited time and resources by incorporating technology into their classrooms. In fact, physical education standards also mention technology. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards states that “accomplished physical education teachers are proficient in current technology both to enhance their acquisition of subject matter knowledge and to utilize it within their instruction” (“Physical Education”, 2014) They also state that physical education teachers should “incorporate the most appropriate technological resources available to enrich their teaching practice and reinforce student learning” (“Physical Education”, 2014). The Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) state that in middle school, the appropriate practice would be to “incorporate technology to enhance the lesson’s effectiveness” (“Instructional Practice”, 2009).
One tool in their arsenal are apps. Although there are a number of fitness apps, the four that I will focus on are Sworkit Kids, PE Shake, Hudl Technique, and Seven. Sworkit Kids is a free app that is geared towards children ages 7-14. It features over 200 exercises that are demonstrated by kids to make it easier to follow along. Teachers can choose the duration and customize the workout to include exercises in strength, agility, and flexibility (“Sworkit Kids”, 2019). PE shake, which costs $1.99, is an app filled with warm up games. Each time the phone or tablet is shaken, a new game appears. Hudl technique is a free app that includes in app purchases. It allows teachers to record students as they perform fitness skills so that they can provide video analysis to teach and reinforce skills and movement concepts (“PE Shake”, 2019). Users can also upload their videos to the Hudl social community and view and receive feedback on their videos. The in app purchases provide workouts.
The last app, Seven, is also free, but includes in app purchases. It allows users to choose different full body or body specific workouts that last seven minutes (12 workouts that last 30 seconds each with one minute of transition time). To add some fun, users can choose their instructor, cheerleaders and drill sergeants, to name a few, and receive rewards for achieving various milestones or completing the seven month challenge (“Seven”, 2019). A one month membership costs $9.99 and a year long membership is $79.99.
Wearable technology has also grown in popularity. Among other benefits, it allows students and teachers to work together to develop customized goals, including determining target heart rates, creates friendly competition among classmates, and helps students build a foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Teachers also believe that it gives students ownership of their fitness and helps them see the importance of lifelong physical activity.
Two companies that provide wearable technologies to schools across the U.S. are Polar and Interactive Health Technologies. Their packages include heart monitors, software to track and analyze student progress, lesson plans, and other resources for teachers. One school that is using the Interactive Health Technologies system is Parker Middle School in Edinborough, Pennsylvania. The heart monitors were purchased to “help students exercise more effectively in gym class” (Bruce, 2017 ) Class starts after students put on their heart monitors and login to their accounts. Bob Santos, one of their PE teachers, says the goal of each PE class is to get each student’s heart rate in the “red zone”, which is 80% of the students max heart rate , for at least twenty minutes (Bruce, 2017). Teachers have an app that allows them to track student progress and can send parents a report that includes their heart rate and other health activity. Michelle Bennett, a physical education teacher at a neighboring school district, says that she has seen improvement in students’ cardiovascular and respiratory endurance and muscular strength (Bruce, 2017).
Two schools that are using the Polar activity trackers are Longfellow Middle School in Milwaukee and Macatawa Bay Middle School in Michigan. In both schools, the students heart rates are projected onto the walls during class and students choose their desired activity with the goal of achieving a percentage of their maximum heart rate. At Longfellow Middle School, students must achieve at least 25 minutes in their target heart rate zone to get a passing grade for the day. Nancy Braidigan, one of the PE coordinators for the district, believes the shift in format of the classes and putting the ownership on the students allows teachers to becomes more of a facilitator and encourager, rather than focusing on teaching skills that some may not want to learn (Morello, 2018).
Online Physical Education Classes
Many schools offer online classes, but have you ever thought about taking an online physical education class? Well it’s happening in high schools throughout the country. Elgin School District in Illinois realized that traditional PE was not for every student and it was challenging for students to juggle PE with their academic demands (Krishnamurthy, 2019). Tracey Jakaitis, the student wellness curriculum coordinator, acknowledges that “there’s a lot of social, emotional, and medical reasons why kids don’t like physical education class, but it doesn’t mean they don’t like physical activity” (Krishnamurthy, 2019) This fall the school district will be launching two online physical education programs for their juniors. For the physical side of the course, students will have to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week in their target heart rate. They will be given heart rate monitors that will log their activity. They can choose the activity as long as it gets them to their target heart rate. The goal is for the school to ” better meet students’ academic, medical, social or emotional needs if they desire another option for completing physical education requirements” (Krishnamurthy, 2019). Jakaitis admits there is a possibility for cheating but says students will come in for a pre test during the beginning of the year and a post test at the end of the year and will also come to school for a check to see if they can maintain their target heart rate for thirty minutes (Krishnamurthy, 2019). If they find a lot of dishonestly and not enough changes from the pre to post test, they will eliminate the online classes.
Minneapolis, Minnesota school districts have offered online PE since 2005. Students are allowed to pick a physical activity they enjoy and do it at for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. They must log their activities in a journal and a parent or coach must confirm that they were active. Students also undergo a fitness test at the end of the semester to see if they have cheated. One student, Jacob Miller, a senior at the time, said that if he had to take traditional PE, he would have to drop some of his courses since he was having a hard time balancing sports, a social life, and his studies (“High School”, 2005). Frank Goodrich, one of the online PE teachers, says that “if there’s a percentage that we were missing and we’re reaching them now — that’s pretty cool” (“High School”, 2015).
South Carolina also offers an online PE course for their high schoolers through their Virtual SC state run program. During the 2015-16 school year, over 2,000 students took the course making it one of the most popular courses in the program (Bowers, 2017 ). Some reasons students chose the online class including time constraints because they took jobs to support themselves and their families and not wanting to participate or change their clothes in front of their peers. Benjamin Black, a junior, that took the class to free up his schedule, enjoyed the flexibility, but admitted that the lack of interaction with other students was a drawback. He said it seemed like “I was the only one taking the class,” and felt that ” you kind of lose that team spirit of PE” (Bowers, 2017). Like the programs in other states, students choose their activity and fill out activity logs. They also have to get an adult to administer the Fitness Gram, which asses physical and aerobic fitness, at the beginning and end of the school year. Travis Scott, a PE teacher with VirtualSC says that in traditional classes, “some kids just hated the things we would do, but in the virtual setting, students are given choices.” He also says that a parent of a student called and thanked him because after taking the course, their daughter started asking to go jogging with her father everyday (Bowers, 2017).
Watch: “West Ottawa Middle Schoolers use heart sensor technology”
Read: Students in Schoo Middle School in Lincoln, Nebraska make strides in fitness and academics.
Watch: East High School in Bakersfield, California use wearable technology in their PE classes
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