As I walked into our Soccer Academy class, the students were getting ready for their workout and part of that process is to adjust their heart-rate monitors. The teacher, Jesse Symons, had an iPad to monitor the heart rates of all students in the class. As he reviewed the live data, it was interesting to see what he was looking for. As the intensity of the workout increased, he was looking for students who were raising their heart rate to a place where they were pushing themselves. He could review the data of the entire class and see how much time each student spent in each “zone”. Based on a colour scheme, red was the optimal zone for high intensity workouts. Also interesting to see was how quickly students’ heart rates would recover to a resting heart rate during breaks. This, as he pointed out, was usually a sign of strong athleticism, of an athlete who could quickly raise and lower their heart rate. Students who struggle to lower their heart rate (as activities slow down) are often not in as strong a condition.
Of course, the next step is for students to understand the data. Students are able to login to see their specific data and, as Jesse joked, the data doesn’t lie. It is early days yet, but there has already been some interesting findings. For example, with Grade 8, high-level soccer players, there was a gender difference with many of the top female athletes not seeing their heart rates push to optimal levels for extended periods of time. The fitness monitoring in the soccer academies is part of an Innovation Grant Program through the West Vancouver School District, with similar efforts also being made with Hockey Academy students.
Jesse talks about how heart rate monitors are being sourced with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the National Team. Combined with a GPS, the monitors give a full picture of their activity levels. It is clearly a growing area in the science of sports and physical activity.
Personally, I’ve become convinced of the power of digital health tracking over the past few months since I started wearing my Fitbit. Actually, four of us have similar devices in our house — my wife and two older kids (ages 12 and 10) are also wearing these devices. My Fitbit Force tracks my steps, distance, calories burned, minutes of vigorous activity and even my quality of sleep. There are dozens of these type of devices on the market with many more being promised this year. A report last week on wearable tech devices suggests these devices may see a 350 per cent growth in sales in 2014. I also think they have a huge potential to benefit students. For decades we have been encouraging students to keep logs and diaries of their physical activity.
Currently, in BC, through the Daily Physical Activity mandate, students track vigorous and sustained activity. Anyone who has tried to keep an activity log is aware of its challenges. Logging the physical activity in a log book, or a computer is difficult to do (if not time-consuming) on a regular basis. On the other hand, if all this data could be automatically collected, synced to our computers, iPhones, etc., we would be able to spend more time analyzing the data, rather than entering it.
In our house, we have become much more aware of our physical activity, how much of it is really vigorous and the role that sleep (or lack of it) is playing in our lives. These are great conversations to have in our PE classes. Just as we want students to take greater ownership of their learning in Science and English and we see that technology as part of this overall plan, the same should be true for health education and physical activity. We want students to own their own data, set goals, not in efforts to compete with others, but to better themselves.
There are concerns about wearable technology — that these type of devices, as well as others like Google Glasses and Samsung Smart Watches, are once again pushing technology into all aspects of our life. I am always interested in technology when it can help do something we have always wanted to do but have not been able to without it. I see the tracking of our health and physical activity in this category. We want students to own their own learning and education and this includes owning their own physical activity and health. So, we need to find ways to integrate this emerging technology into our schools.