Should your school be putting activity trackers on the booklist?

Should your school be putting activity trackers on the booklist?

Sales of fitness trackers and smart watches have exploded in recent years. Last year, 274 million smart watches and wearables were sold worldwide, with that predicted to jump above 300 million in 2017. Once the domain of professional athletes or serious amateurs, devices with heart rate monitors, step counters and calorie calculators have become mainstream.

As with any new technology, schools are confronted with a familiar question; could this new tech enhance the teaching and learning of our students?

Do activity trackers influence behaviour?

Scientists are beginning to investigate whether these devices have the ability to change the way people behave. The initial studies have been positive. One study out of Tuffs University noted;

“adding trackers to wellness groups comprising primarily older adults with chronic medical conditions can support education and behavior change to be more physically active. The trackers increased participant self-efficacy by providing a tangible, visible reminder of a commitment to increasing activity and immediate feedback on step count and progress towards a daily step goal.”

Awesome! Activity trackers increased the awareness of physical activity and therefore had a positive effect on the amount of physical activity each participant did. However, this study lasted just 12 weeks. Others which have lasted longer are finding different results.

Another study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh followed participants for 24 months. They decided to split their participants into two groups. Group one had access to weight loss education, counseling and support. Group two had the same education, counseling and support but were also given activity trackers to measure energy expenditure and physical activity.

After 6 months, both groups had lost roughly the same amount of weight, on average about 8kg. Now is where things get interesting. The researchers collected data at the 12, 18 and 24 months, and found;

“the addition of a wearable technology device to a standard behavioral intervention resulted in less weight loss over 24 months. Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches.”

So not only did the activity tracker group not get an advantage from wearing the devices, they lost less weight than the non activity tracker group.


Activity trackers and schools

And this brings us back to whether bringing these devices into our schools would be something that could add value to a PE or health program. There is no doubt that being able to measure progress and get immediate extrinsic feedback can be an effective tool to continue to motivate participants. But I get the sense that this will only get our students so far, and will only work for so long.

For many, ensuring they get to 10,000 steps or burning 2,500 calories can motivate people to take the extra walk or the dog out for a run or to take the stairs. But I don’t believe this extrinsic motivation is sustainable in the long term.

To be a lifelong, physically active person, you need to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be healthy. You need to understand how it feels, what it allows you to do and how it affects all aspects of your life. A watch can’t tell you that the calories you’re burning in your early morning workout will help your brain concentrate and fire for the rest of the day. It can’t tell you that you’ll live longer and feel happier. Those intrinsic benefits need to be understood and felt by a student in order for them to truly comprehend why included physical activity in their lives every day is important.

So are activity trackers worth our time (and a place on the booklist) as PE teachers? Personally I’ll be aiming to teach my students the importance of lifelong activity and the feeling of well being, without relying on daily stats and metrics these tackers and watches provide.

Feel free to browse the links below used in the writing of this article.


NY Times; Activity monitors may undermine weight loss

Wearables sale numbers

University of Pittsburgh study

The Guardian: Health tracker sales increase despite lack of evidence

Tuffs University study

Pieces of the physed puzzle: Gymnastics

This is a the first in a series of posts discussing the pieces needed for a complete, well rounded physical education program.

Pieces of the physed puzzle: Gymnastics

Whenever I have a discussion with a parent about physical literacy and progress, an inevitable question pops up, “what sport should my child play to help them develop to where they need to be?”.


In the past, I would usually talk about following the child’s passions and encourage them to ask the child what they would like to do. I still believe this approach is valid, but I will now always advocate for the role of gymnastics.

Gymnasts are some of the world’s most well rounded athletes. They are strong, flexible, coordinated and have an amazing senses of where their body is and how to move it. Gymnasts have also shown a great capacity to transfer to different sports successfully. This has been attributed to the sports ability to teach and train foundation movement skills.

Once mastered, these foundational movement skills will allow a child to pursue any physical activity they wish. High level gymnasts have shown a great ability to transfer their skills and become world class at another. Some of these are logical, such as diving or aerial skiing, but other examples include gymnasts becoming elite crossfitters, track and field athletes or american football players. Personally, I have observed many students who were gymnasts who were quickly able to become proficient at any physical activity I could throw at them throughout a year.

Not only does gymnastics provide this foundational movement base, it can be one of the most fun units of the year. Students love tumbling, hanging off bars, balancing on beams or building pyramids. It’s amazing to watch a student land a flip or hold a handstand for the first time, their face displays pure joy. This holds true even up to HS seniors, who through a gymnastics lesson remembered what it was like to play and gain enjoyment from moving there body.

Gymnastics is a must to include in a well rounded physical education program. You would be hard pressed to find another physical activity that develops students foundational movement is such a comprehensive way.

Links and resources to help you begin or improve your own gymnastics unit:

The PE specialist: Gymnastics unit

Gymnast better postural control research

ESPN Sport Science: Gymnastics

Why we should never tell our students to “stop fidgeting”!


The traditional expectations of students in a classroom were always very simple;

  • sit down,
  • don’t move,
  • listen/work quietly,
  • give your teacher your full and undivided attention.

These traditional set of expectations work well for some students. It allows them the quiet, stimulant free environment to learn to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, for many students, the ‘sit down, don’t move’ model is the opposite of what they actually need.

Studies are showing us that ‘fidgeting’ and movement can in fact help increase productivity. It does this by giving the body something kinesthetic to focus on, allowing the brain to focus for longer and improve our memory.

Many of us engage in a ‘distraction’ without even knowing it. If you have ever doodled while on a phone call or tapped your pen while thinking deeply about a problem you have engaged your inner fidgeter.

Researchers have found these techniques particular helpful for students with ADHD. Encouraging these students to listen to music while they read or stand and shift their weight while they work can have a significant positive impact.

We are starting to see the idea of ‘fidgeting’ take off outside the education world. Matthew and Mark McLachlan developed a ‘fidget cube’  and decided to put the product on Kickstart with an initial goal of enticing $100,000 from investors. Their current to total stands at over $6 million dollars invested and they have begun to ship fidget cubes all over the world!

So we know that for many kids, sitting completely still and working quietly doesn’t fit. Perhaps its time we started to think about how we can individualise they way our students work in order to get the best out of themselves.

Where to start?

8 fidget ideas worth trying

Further reading…

Fidget cube kickstarter campaign
Fidgeting improves concentration and focus
The Atlantic: fidget widgets improve memory and boost attention

Got a 3D printer? Make your own fidget cubes

3D printer fidget gadget template

Happiness in pursuit – what’s in a name?

Happiness in pursuit – what’s in a name?

“It’s not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, but in the happiness of pursuit” Denis Waitley

When trying to decide on a name for this blog, there wasn’t a brainstorm to be seen. No mind maps or exhaustive lists of ideas were created. Once the decision to blog was made, there was only name that my brain would allow me to consider.

I have had a sticky note pinned to my desk for a couple of years now and I believe the reason it has lasted so long is that it really sums up what I believe we are trying to teach our students in Phys Ed. r9vskjog

The pursuit of happiness is big business. Hollywood films, many books and thousands of blog posts have been devoted to the topic. Positive psychology (the study of happiness and happiness attainment) has really only gained popularity in the last 15 years but is continuing to grow exponentially in the consciousness of the greater public.

While striving for happiness is no doubt a noble goal, the journey to reach that goal and what you do along the way is equally, if not more, important.

In many ways, this directly reflects my personal PE philosophy and that of the PE Dept I currently work in. We believe our purpose is to give our kids the experiences, knowledge and skills to love being active throughout the rest of their lives. Our most satisfying times have been watching a student have their ‘a-ha’ moment, when we realise they get ‘it’.

I recently saw one of our students jogging in our local neighbourhood on the weekend. When I asked her on Monday why she had taken up jogging, she said “if I don’t get out and take an exercise break from studying, I get really grumpy and find it hard to concentrate. Plus I actually really enjoy it”. Hearing that one comment from a student was celebrated within our PE Dept as a great success.

We are not so egotistical to suggest we were the reason for this students epiphany, but even if we played a small role, it was worth it. To be able to inspire kids to love moving is a honour and responsibility, and watching students fall in love with a particular way of being active is just about as good as it gets for a Phys Ed teacher.




IB diploma students need to be physically active, and they need it now!

IB diploma students need to be physically active, and they need it now!

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a world-renowned organisation, offering an international education to just under 1 million students in 151 countries. The IB diploma makes up the final two years of the IB curriculum, and is characterized by its diversity of skills, rigour and the application of content to our rapidly changing globe.

The IB diploma requires students to take 6 courses from a wide variety of  subject areas, complete 120 hours of creativity, action and service (CAS), write an extended essay (EE) research paper and create an oral/written presentation on the theory of knowledge (TOK). The IB diploma is highly valued and applauded because of the complex and demanding nature of its program. However, often times, the increased level of work and commitment required from high school (HS) IB students results in a decrease in their health and wellness.

The time demands on many students during the last two years of HS, in particular those in the IB program, are enormous. Preparing for final assessments and exams require students to have developed highly efficient time management skills. Many students have not built this capacity and consequently ‘steal’ time from other parts of their lives; for example time spent sleeping or being socially or physically active.

The last two years of schooling also coincides with the time in which many schools do not provide students with Physical Education. The UNESCO world-wide survey of Physical Education reported there was “a fall off noted in PE in the senior years of HS” and many schools feel they are unable to fit PE into an already hectic school schedule.

The pressure on school schedules plus the decreasing amount of time students have to be active, rest and sleep are merging to create a perfect storm that negatively affects the health of our HS senior students. A Stanford study notes that “sleep deprivation is at almost epidemic levels” amongst HS students, citing that over 85% of students are not getting the recommended 8.5 hours sleep per night. Combine this with the drop off in physical activity time, particularly after the age of 14, and increased stress levels and we can start to see the bigger picture of how HS seniors health and wellness become affected by the circumstances in which they find themselves.


What can we do to help our HS seniors relieve stress, get better sleep, rest their brains and improve their overall wellness?

If we were to offer or mandate physical activity or movement time for HS seniors, say for 40 minutes three times per week, it would have numerous benefits to their health, wellness and their brains. These benefits, backed by the latest neuroscience, include;

  • Better sleep. People who exercise sleep better for longer and have a lower perception of sleepiness throughout the day. We also know quality and time spent sleeping has an effect on a person’s cognitive function.
  • Lower stress. Active people have, on average, lower levels of stress after they move than before. Chronic stress, such as that experienced during the two-year IB diploma program by some students, impacts cognitive function as well as potentially inducing long-term health problems.
  • Better performance at school. Neuroscientists have been able to prove a positive link between physical activity and cognitive function.
  • Improved moods. Being physically active has been shown to improve your overall mood and outlook. Happier students are more productive students.
  • A healthier class of 2017. What is the point of achieving your goals at HS and getting into the college of your choice if you are not healthy enough to enjoy the experience?

The benefits of being active and moving are not new concepts. We now have the science to help us understand how movement improves our physical, mental and social wellness, and importantly for our HS seniors, the efficiency of our cognitive functions. The question remains, why are we not using this knowledge to benefit the students in our care?

For more information;

UNESCO quality physical education project

Mayo Clinic: stress and exercise

National Sleep Foundation: sleep and exercise