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P.E. Goes High-Tech

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By Jennifer Roland

Jumping jacks, team sports, and laps around the school yard are still primarily how kids are getting physical exercise at school, but the use of technology is seeping into P.E. class too. Beyond just bringing Dance Dance Revolution to P.E., some schools are integrating gym-style circuits, heart-rate monitors, and pedometers to encourage students to develop a sense of being physically fit.

Plugging kids into their own physiology, veteran P.E. teacher Betty Ann Fish from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia is using heart rate monitors and software for circuit-training workouts. Fish also uses the results from the monitor to explain to her students how the circulatory system works.

The new devices are relatively new in Fish’s teaching repertoire. “I’ve been teaching here for 25 years,” Fish says. “And if anyone said I’d be using technology when I was an undergrad, I would have laughed.” Now she uses an iPad to track student’s work during class, takes photos and records videos of students performing exercises and uses apps to teach students new fitness concepts and exercises. She also uses online videos for demonstration. During the previous winter Olympics, she says, she showed videos of the events to help students understand the exercise, then try them out. It was especially helpful with some of the lesser known sports, such as curling.

For assessment, Fish uses TeacherPal and a spreadsheet to track student performance. But there are other tech tools like DailyFitLog, which is used by more than 10,000 students in more than 1,250 schools to track physical fitness. Here's how it works: Teachers enter activities students have completed, such as the number of minutes they've exercised or the number of steps they've walked. Students can also manually enter data from their heart rate monitors. Every month, students work with their teachers to go over their data, assess themselves and set goals for the future. All student data is pushed to the teachers so they can keep track in between meetings, according to the company's managing partner Timothy Palek.

Palek says the goal of the system is “to get kids more active and to teach kids how to take care of themselves.” That matches Fish’s goals, too. She sees her role as teaching her students to love physical activity. “I have done my job well if they're in their 30s and 40s and they're still active."