Wearable Tech Taking Physical Education Out of Gym

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Fitness-tracking technology is taking some physical education students out of the gym.

A Boston.com story illustrates how activity monitors such as Fitbit and Garmin allow busy high school students to get credit for workouts they do on her own time.

The story starts with Grace Brown, a 14-year-old freshman at West Potomac High School in Virginia who fills her school day with everything except physical education. She gets that portion of the curriculum done on her own, wearing a school-issued Fitbit to track her workouts. To receive credit, Brown must complete at least three 30-minute workouts per week, turning in her Fitbit-produced data for credit.

“We definitely exercise more in online PE,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of standing around in regular PE. Online, I do much harder workouts.”

Online students at Potomac also have a weekly 60- or 90-minute classroom session with the teacher, who is able to set specific workout goals.

“We’re asking kids to wear this while they do an activity of their choice, and they can change the activity as they desire, as long as it’s something that they understand is probably going to get their heart rate up,” said Elizabeth Edwards, department head for online physical education at Fairfax County Public Schools, including West Potomac.

Online gym classes are likely to become more common, as extracurricular activities can count as workouts and the American College of Sports Medicine has named wearable technology the top fitness trend for the second consecutive year.

An online physical education class sparked an entire virtual school in the Springfield, Mo., public school district. Nichole Lemmon, the creator of the program, says that it expands students’ options, as students’ peak log-in time to the school’s portal system is 10:03 p.m.

“They may not be working out at 10 p.m., but that’s when they’re turning in their workout,” said Lemmon, who noted that 22,600 students were enrolled in the virtual school last summer. “The notion that education now runs 7:30-4, 8-3, is really antiquated, and our students are begging to be able to have more flexibility in the time of day they learn.”

“We’re trying to give them an opportunity to see what post-secondary might look like,” added Karla Guseman, the associate superintendent for educational services at Joliet Township in High School, which offers a physical education class that splits time in and out of the gym. “When you don’t meet every day but you’re still expected to do work for a course or preparation between class periods.”

Chris Hersl, the former vice president for programs and professional development at SHAPE America, believes that in-class, social settings are still crucial to physical education.

“There is a difference between physical activity and physical education,” Hersl said. “Physical activity is great for the body. We want everybody to move. But physical education is a class where students are taught how to move their body and the social context in which to do that.”

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