Finding the Zone

The second debate of May 24th saw Aubrey, Jayme-Lee, and Jennifer faceoff against Andres, Roxanne, and Heather on the topic, Technology is making our kids unhealthy. Of the debate topics listed in the class syllabus, I must admit that this one was of special interest to me, as I am passionate about both technology and physical activity. I honestly went into the debate not knowing which argument I would side with, and I find myself still formulating my feelings. Both groups presented excellent arguments and provided us with a number of resources which sparked some interest and reflection I would like to share.

Aubrey, Jayme-Lee, and Jennifer opened their argument with a Prezi highlighting a long-list of physical and mental issues associated with high levels of technology use.

It was stated that kids spend roughly 7 hours of screen time per day, and that high usage of technology can be linked to numerous physical and mental issues. Some of the physical ailments include eye strain, lower back and neck tension, skin blemishes and higher incidents of obesity. Mental issues include sleep deprivation, anxiety, hyperactivity and depression. In fact, it has been found that technology dependency can be compared chemical addictions and has implications on an individual’s social well-being. The group concluded their argument with their prescription to the problem: NatureRx
.


Video Entry from the Banff Mountain Film Festival

Two of the resources provided by the group, Sneaky ways technology is messing with your body and mind, and Five crazy ways social media is changing your brain right now, further supported the potential physical and mental pitfalls linked to heavy technology use. This prompted plenty of discussion in the class blogs.   Elizabeth Therrien observed, “The notions of not using technology properly or being on social media too often or being confronted with too much cyberbullying online are problems because kids are not being taught how to use technology and social media properly or in the correct amounts, not because those outlets exist in our world.” This echoes the stance taken by Andrew Foreman who offers, “This debate topic made me see a connection between something I tell students about science. Science is not inherently good or bad. It is knowledge. The use of that knowledge can be put towards good or ill, but that is not the fault of the science.” I agree with both of these sentiments. Technology has the potential to offer many health benefits if it is utilized correctly. As Tyler Fehrenbach claims, technology use can be good in moderation but as teachers and parents we must model appropriate use. That is the tricky part. As a teacher, I am fully aware that my influence can only reach so, far. The reality is that a major portion of a child’s day is spent outside the walls of the classroom. As a parent, I try to model a healthy lifestyle, but there are times in my parenting when technology becomes an easy go-to. It is my hope over the long-term that moderate technology use by my kids and students is realized.

After reading about some of the drawbacks of technology Justine Stephanson shared, “I have never really thought about how many germs could possibly be on my cell phone and other devices that I use.” This statement reminded me of an episode of Shark Tank in which a couple of entrepreneurs pitched a product they called “PhoneSoap“. Utilizing the power of UV rays, the inventors claim this device cleans your electronic devices while they charge. An interesting concept for schools is the company’s TabletSoap Locker, designed for the storage of up to 8 electronic devices. Though I haven’t personally tried any device cleaning products, I can see the benefits in using them as a method of limiting the transfer of harmful bacteria.

Andres, Roxanne, and Heather kicked-off their argument with a video listing the top four ways technology aids our health and wellness. First off, the group suggests that websites, apps, and devices such as Fitbit encourage movement and promote physical health. Secondly, emotional health exists due to connectivity and support, teen activism, and the peace of mind afforded by surveillance tools such as baby monitors. Social health, a third wellness benefit, allows people to stay connected through tools such as Skype, Facetime, and Facebook. Finally, intellectual health occurs through the ability to access knowledge as needed; by using blogs for communicating and ideas; and through open education and collaboration which allows for developing Personal Learning Networks.

Kelsie Lenihan recognized some of the positive benefits which may be realized by wearable tech. However, she cautions, “Wearable technology, while it does provide some instant feedback, is about long-term goals. Self-motivation is a learned skill that can be honed through the use of these tools, though there is a fine line between a tool and a toy.” As a user of a personal fitness tracker (Basis Peak), I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Though the immediate feedback provided by these devices is useful, simply reaching the 10,000 steps a day goal will not guarantee improved fitness. This can only be achieved through goal-setting and long term commitment to a a range of factors which contribute to physical and emotional fitness. But could this be applied effectively to P.E. classes, and if so how?

As a PE teacher, I do think there is the potential for these devices to provide motivation for students. I have my physical education classes complete fitness appraisals four times a year, and students utilize the data from these appraisals to set personal fitness goals and to design individual fitness plans.   It is not uncommon to hear some students cheer when I announce we are doing the BEEP test or pushup appraisal: weird, I know, but I feel this occurs because students understand that these are appraisals based on their personal results, and not assessments. Data is gathered to help students understand their current level of fitness in a variety of areas, and to use this data to set goals for improvement. Invariably, through hard work (and the fact that students grow and mature over the course of a few months) many students realize improvements in these appraisals, which becomes further incentive for continued improvement. But how could wearable technology further enhance student motivation?

Adidas thinks it has the answer with the Adidas Zone, a fitness tracker designed specifically for use in schools.   According to a review of the device by Mashable, the trackers do not subscribe to a one-size-fits all model. Instead, the focus is on bringing self-management and personalization to P.E. class. For example, instead of asking kids to run 6 minutes per Kilometer, the goal will be to keep their heart-rate in a zone that’s best suited for their health abilities. Though I imagine the novelty of such devices may eventually wear off, I do feel that devices used in this way could provide students with useful data and encourage improvements in their levels of physical fitness. SparkFamily.org appears to agree as well. The official Spark blog recommends 3 Reasons Wearable Tech Belongs In Physical Education Classes. They predict wearable devices will become a major player in PE classes over the next few years and will transform physical education because of the following reasons. First, students already have a “digital native mindset” wearable devices help students make the connection between their fitness and technology they are already comfortable interacting with. Second, wearable devices allow for more accurate and precise measurement for athletes of all levels, enabling students to set more targeted goals for improvement. Finally, wearable technology can provide students with a snapshot of holistic healthy living. They are not simply limited to counting steps. However, it will be the responsibility of the teacher to help students understand this data, and to put effective plans into action.

So as I try to formulate a personal conclusion to this topic, I find it difficult to overlook the numerous physical and mental health problems associated with heavy technology use. However, as a enthusiast of both technology and fitness, I prefer the less cynical viewpoint and believe that, in moderation, technology has the potential to help us achieve improved levels fitness. Maybe one day this goal will be achieved by many.

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6 thoughts on “Finding the Zone

  1. Great post Dean. I agree with you that using technology with a Phys Ed class is definitely one way to motivate the students. Given their relative obsession with their devices, why not use a device to help them track results of their activity. With any luck, the notifications from the fitness trackers will motivate the students to continue a healthy lifestyle.

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  2. Thanks for sharing all of the links for different wearable tech tools, Dean. I own a fitbit but I am very unaware of any other devices and their features. I feel that in the next few years, as wearable tech becomes more prevalent in PE classes, I’ll think back to this post and say “Dean was right!”. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Erin. I do worry that the novelty might eventually wear off, but I definitely see it as something that could be motivating for some students. A number already are wearing their own devices to class.

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  3. love the idea of combining a healthy lifestyle and technology – as with the Adidas Zone. I think if we can combine technology with healthy choices (hard to do) we can hit two birds with one stone. Both technology and a knowledge base that we must understand how to be healthy is very important. Great post Dean.

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  4. Thanks Dean. Great tips and links for wearables. It definitely seems like the way the the world is moving. The cross-curricular applications between fitness data and math, for example, offer a lot of potential. I sometimes bring in the bike and computer trainer during math and students spin and collect/graph data. I’m an avid outdoor enthusiast and I love being able to track things like calories burned while cycling or altitude gained while climbing. The data isn’t what motivates me but it’s a great feature for sure.

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