Academic journal article VAHPERD Journal

Using Heart Rate Monitors for Effective Teaching and Curricular Accountability in Physical Education: A Commentary

Academic journal article VAHPERD Journal

Using Heart Rate Monitors for Effective Teaching and Curricular Accountability in Physical Education: A Commentary

Article excerpt


To effectively deliver instruction whose purpose is to motivate students to exercise aerobically in their target heart rate zone is certainly one of the most desirable outcomes and expectations for today's physical educators. Yet to be certain that each student is exercising to his or her individual potential is often an elusive goal. As part of a research study already in progress, we observed that teachers tended to modify their instructional behavior over the course of an academic year in response to analyzing the student physical activity data recorded by heart rate monitors. In this article we present anecdotal observations and commentary on this phenomenon. First, we review the challenges in measuring physical activity, and briefly explore the link between teaching effectiveness and curricular accountability in physical education (PE), followed by what changes we observed in teacher behavior over time, and finally, we conclude how the changes in practices the teachers adopted may lead to effective instruction and curricular accountability in physical education.

The Challenges in Measuring Physical Activity

Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement resulting in energy expenditure. Decomposed, physical activity has four dimensions: frequency (# sessions/per unit time), intensity (rate of energy expenditure, adjusted for body size), time (minutes, seconds) and type (a qualitative descriptor of the activity). Of the four dimensions, measuring the intensity of physical activity performed by an individual has been largely a difficult goal for educators to achieve. To measure intensity teachers have typically observed students during the activity period in the classroom. However, this method likely introduced subjectivity into the assessment, because some students may not appear to be exercising hard, but their heart rates may portray otherwise. Accelerometers and heart rate monitors are used to measure physical activity intensity, because these devices reduced the subjectivity and recorded measurements for many students simultaneously.

Some drawbacks of these devices are that they are expensive and require attention to detail in their deployment. A data downloadable heart rate monitor may cost as much as $260 each with computer software and other accessories for an entire class adding at least another $1,500. Furthermore, heart rate monitors require the student to wear the wrist strap and chest strap correctly positioned. Heart rate monitors may, also, record heart rates independent of physical activity due to physiological factors such as caffeine use, pharmacological, emotional stress, and environmental temperature effects. These factors must be considered when planning for using heart rate monitors with a group.

Linking Teaching Effectiveness with Curricular Accountability

Traditionally in PE class, student participation is required to earn a passing grade. Often when a teacher assigns a highly vigorous activity for the class to participate in, such as ultimate frisbee, some students may appear to be more actively involved than others. This issue of widely differentiated levels of physical activity among students, especially in large PE classes, has been especially vexing to PE teachers who believe that effective instruction is based on high levels of involvement among all students. On the one hand, there is reason to motivate every student into performing moderately vigorous physical activity. On the other hand, how much physical activity is appropriate for each student in accordance with his or her fitness level? How does a teacher confirm that a student is working to his potential (in this case, the target heart rate zone)? Finally, how can teachers develop more effective instructional practices that are accountable in terms of having each student participate to his or her potential? We assert that one cannot know for certain, unless one has additional information, such as that which could be provided by documenting the heart rate of the student during physical activity. …

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