Physical Education might be the last class you’d expect to integrate technology into the curriculum, but Lawrence High School PE teacher Amy Hoffsommer would beg to differ.
Along with their gym shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes, her students wear what look like chunky digital watches on their wrists. But these gadgets tell a lot more than just the time — they keep a running calculation of each student’s heart rate during physical activity, from warm-up to cool-down.
Hoffsommer said the monitors show her students a quantitative assessment of their effort, enabling them to keep track of their own health.
“I’m not going to be grading them the rest of their lives, so they have to find out for themselves what exercise really is,” Hoffsommer said. “This tool lets them know if they’re doing what it takes to be considered healthy.”
When class begins, Hoffsommer’s students know what to do without instruction — raise their heart rates with a 5-minute jog. Hoffsommer said incorporating the heart rate monitors in her class gave her students autonomy.
“With this tool, they don’t have to come up and ask me, ‘am I doing it OK?'" Hoffsommer said. “They know what they’re doing and they’re taking care of themselves.”
LHS freshmen Lilian Khan and Carli Stellwagon are students in Hoffsommer’s first-hour class. By the end of their warm-up, their heart rates have gone from about 80 beats per minute to 145.
“A teenager’s heart rate should be between 140 and 180 during a workout,” Khan said, “so we try to keep it above 140 when we’re doing cardio.”
Though the heart monitors took some adjustment at first, Stellwagon said she likes them.
“They don’t bother me anymore, you get used to them,” Stellwagon said. “They’re good because it helps you judge if you’re pushing yourself.”
Because it takes more physical effort for people in good shape to raise their heart rates than those who are not, Hoffsommer said PE grading can be difficult. The heart rate monitors help her grade without bias — as long as their heart rates are in a good place, she knows her students are pushing themselves.
Hoffsommer kicked off the program last year with 12 monitors bought with a $3,000 Teacher Innovation Grant from Lawrence Schools Foundation. Foundation Executive Director Susan Esau said the grants are awarded for proposals that enrich education.
“These grants are getting students and teachers those extra learning opportunities that motivate student achievement and increase interest in learning,” Esau said.
In 2012, LSF distributed $24,391 in Teacher Innovation Grants across the district, purchasing educational items such as iPads, microscopes, computer programs and project materials.
This year, Hoffsommer received another $3,000 grant, allowing her to purchase enough heart rate monitors to outfit all of her students. Her program was one of the 11 projects supported by Teacher Innovation Grants in 2013.
Esau said many of the programs might not otherwise be an option because of state funding cuts to education.
“Sometimes our teachers feel so strongly about doing those new, exciting things, they will just pay for something out of their own pocket,” Esau said. “These grants fund what the budget doesn’t let them do.”
Aside from the Teacher Innovation Grants, LSF also funds the district’s Early Childhood Education program, district-wide grants, student scholarships, teacher awards and the Lawrence Education Achievement Partners (LEAP) program.
Esau said LSF aims to aid the school district’s commitment to providing superior education.
“We believe every student deserves an excellent education,” Esau said, “not just the ‘adequate education’ required by state law.”
In total, the foundation gave $302,174 last year, and plans to distribute about the same amount during the 2013-2014 school year.
The foundation is funded entirely by local grants, businesses and private donations, which Esau said says a lot about the Lawrence community.
“This community has a lot of pride in the excellent schools here,” Esau said. “They believe it’s very important to the community at large to have a great public school system.”
To donate to the Lawrence Schools Foundation, visit http://www.lawrenceschoolsfoundation.org/giving.htm.