It’s no secret that childhood obesity is a big problem in the U.S.; according to the CDC, over 17 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese. With the nation’s obesity rates still alarmingly high, physical education in schools is as important as ever. In fact, physical education doesn’t just combat obesity, it can help children become better learners, too. In a study reported on by the New York Times, researchers found that children who were in good aerobic condition were better able to recall difficult learning than children who were less physically fit.
Gym class clearly plays an integral role in student fitness and education — but in an age when students are more interested in iPhone games than getting moving outside, how do educators keep P.E. engaging? For many professionals in the physical education field, the answer is to get technical.
From smartboards to iPads for every student, technology has revolutionized the classroom. Now, gym teachers are integrating new technologies into P.E. class to get students healthier than ever. Gadgets that help students track their health goals, gaming systems that involve full body movement, virtual tools that break down complicated sports instructions — this kind of technology has the power to transform students’ time in the gym. Consider the following five technologies that are becoming commonplace in some gym classes, and the pros and cons for each:
What is it: An app that records athletes and provides instant feedback on performance.
Pros: The instant recording playback feature makes it much easier for students to improve their performance in a certain sport, like swinging a baseball bat — when students are able to watch a video of themselves, they can clearly see what they did incorrectly. Plus, the app works on any device, like an iPad or mobile phone, so it doesn’t require a school to invest in pricey new equipment.
Cons: The app only records and analyzes one athlete at a time, so using the app for an entire gym class only works if the gym teacher can have one-on-one time with each student. Some students might also feel embarrassed when critiqued by the app in front of the class.
What is it: A tool that lets instructors record their computer screens and add voice overs and other effects for lessons that students can absorb virtually.
Pros: Some gym teachers are using this tool to create lesson plans that explain the rules for new games that the class will soon cover, like volleyball or basketball. Teachers ask students to watch the lesson at home, so the teacher doesn’t have to go over the rules in class. That gives more time for actually exercising during class, instead of passively listening.
Cons: Traditionally, students aren’t assigned a lot of homework from a P.E. class — asking students to watch P.E. lessons at home adds to their already unwieldy homework load. Also, chances are a few students aren’t going to watch the lesson — they may “forget,” or they may not have internet access at home — forcing the teacher to either repeat the instructions in class or leave some students in the dark.
What it is: A popular gaming system with lots of sports games that involve full body movement, tracked by motion sensors.
Pros: Using Xbox Kinect taps into a lot of otherwise uninterested students’ enthusiasm about gaming to encourage exercise. Plus, many of the Xbox Kinect games have been shown to improve coordination, particularly in children with learning difficulties, and the system may also make it easier for students with disabilities, such as wheelchair-bound students, to participate fully in gym class.
Cons: Unless a school has enough money and space to invest in multiple Xbox Kinect systems, only a small number of students can engage in the games at one time.
What it is: Wearable tracking devices that detect and display the wearer’s heart rate electronically; many devices can also calculate the optimal heart rate for a certain physical activity based on the wearer’s age and weight.
Pros: For students that tend to slack off during gym class, a wearable heart rate monitor will encourage them to “give their all” during class to hit the optimum heart rate target zones. If students wear the devices outside of gym class, they can encourage students to remain active for the entire day.
Cons: Compared to traditional gym equipment that must be purchased for each student, like jump ropes, providing every student with a heart rate monitor during gym class can be costly.
What it is: Fitness trackers encompass a variety of wearable devices, from a simple pedometer that tracks how many steps you take each day to fancy Fitbits that can track any number of physical activities.
Pros: Like a heart rate monitor, a fitness tracker can encourage students to stay active outside of gym. Some schools are even using fitness trackers as tools to log exercise in innovative, virtual gym classes that are taken at home, outside of regular school hours.
Cons: Also like heart rate monitors, cost may prove to be prohibitive. If students are allowed to take trackers home, many may go missing, or students may forget to wear them and be unable to log their fitness hours accurately.
Adding new equipment to gym class — especially the tech kind, which tends to be pricier — may squeeze some schools’ wallets. Luckily, many of these technologies can be reused in any classroom. For example, Camtasia is on its way to becoming the go-to tool for many teachers who advocate “flipped classrooms,” where students watch lessons outside of class and work on “homework” during class. Even Xbox Kinect is finding its way into lessons outside of P.E. class; the Microsoft in Education team reports that teachers across the country are using Xbox Kinect games to teach about geometry, physiognomy, probability, and more. Rotating some of these technologies between traditional classrooms and the gym can help schools’ budgets go further and provide students with more innovative learning opportunities in a wide range of subjects.