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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)
The gym shorts are on, long hair has been pulled back into ponytails and sneakers are laced.
As they dribble out of the locker rooms into the gym at Hidden Valley High School, the sophomores in coach Kevin Burcham's second block gym class just need one more piece of equipment: their Polar heart rate monitor wristbands.
"Guys, start jogging," Burcham tells the students as they fasten the bands tightly. "Your goal today is 40 minutes in green or above."
It's gym class, quantified. Green means moderate activity, between 70 percent and 80 percent of students' maximum heart rates. Meet the target, earn full participation marks for the day.
Burcham said the wristbands, used by his classes for about two years now, have been transformational. Students work harder and are more engaged because they can see the results of their activity — or lack of activity — in real time projected on the gym walls.
"Their heart rate is not going to lie to us," Burcham said. "It holds everybody accountable."
Burcham and Andy Clapper, the school's instructional technology resource teacher, came up with the idea as a way to jump-start gym class.
"Students have a lot of devices themselves, but they didn't see it as something they use at school," Clapper said.
Buying a class set of wristbands was cost-prohibitive, until they met with representatives from Carilion Clinic and pitched the proposal. Carilion donated $10,000 to Hidden Valley High and matched the donation at William Fleming High School in Roanoke city.
That was huge, said Barry Trent, Roanoke County's coordinator of health and physical fitness.
"It would have been difficult for us to do this with our instructional budget," Trent said.
Burcham's class activities haven't changed dramatically — there's still plenty of handball and other gym class classics — but the tracking has had a big impact on students' attitudes, he said. Students will jog in place while he's giving instructions now, instead of standing still, because they want the timer on their wristbands to keep ticking upward.
Several students have credited the wristbands with inspiring them to make physical activity a habit outside of class, Burcham said. At the end of the semester, a few purchased fitness trackers of their own, or asked him where they could buy the workout videos used in class.
Witnessing those habits form has been rewarding, Burcham said. "It's motivated them to make a change in their lives."
Each time the wristbands have been introduced, however, students have had some skepticism. Sarah Wanek, who's taking Burcham's class this semester, has a friend who took the class last year.
"She wasn't too excited about it at first, but she got a lot more fit," Wanek said.
At the beginning of the year, Burcham asked students to input their weight and height and then adjusted maximum heart rates after a pacer fitness test. The results are highly personalized and the workout intensity zones, scaled as a percentage, recognize effort based on ability.
Burcham told students not to focus on weight loss, although past students have shed pounds. Instead, he told them to focus on improvement from the start of the semester to the end.
"Weight is not the end-all, be-all. Your goal is different for each person," he said. "Worry about you and where you start and end."
Later, Burcham led a class into the auxiliary gym containing a screen displaying a workout video that cycled through medium to high aerobic activities. On another screen was projected a display showing students names and the number of minutes they'd spent in moderate, hard and maximum heart rate zones. A color indicated their current zone.
Burcham told students to push themselves. Instead of stopping if they felt tired, he urged them to slow down, but keep moving.
"Your body physically can do a whole lot more than your brain thinks it can," he said.
After, students dripped with sweat and trudged to water fountains to regroup.
"I kind of feel like I want to go home and shower," Wanek said.
The workout was harder than she expected, and she was a little self-conscious of the time she spent in red compared with her classmates.
"I didn't really like how it was projected," she said.
That takes some getting used to, Burcham acknowledged. Students like Wanek, who are athletes before the class starts, often have to work a little harder because they're in better physical shape to begin with, he said.
Another classmate, Gabriel Dorss, was skeptical of the wristbands initially.
"It's weird," he said when the wristbands were first handed out. "I'm old fashioned."
After the workout though, he was hooked.
"I was checking every two minutes," he said. "It helped me."
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