Objective Grading in Fitness Based PE with Heart Rate Monitors

I am very honored to have joined a great PE department at Shanghai American School (SAS) Pudong Campus this year.  At SAS there has been a fitness based PE program for over 10 years. This means the focus is on teaching fitness skills to students, then having them reflect on their fitness scores, while developing knowledge to construct their own fitness programs in the future.

At SAS our program works on physical participation. We want to see our students moving, and working hard and our lessons must be designed to have continuous movement while ditching from the old school “line up and kick the ball” approach. How do we know how involved the students are during our 75 minute block period? We us polar Heart Rate Monitors (HRM) that we require students to put on as they are changing before class.


Our first standard in the Middle School PE report card is “Active Engagement”. We assign each student to a HRM with a targeted heart rate zone that they must reach and maintain for at least 30 minutes per class to be Meeting the standard. Last week students completed a pre-test mile run and I have used those times to set heart rate levels on the monitors.

If a student runs  >11:00 low zone is set to160 BPM
If a student runs  10:00-11:00 low zone is set to 155 BPM
If a student runs  8:00-9:59 low zone is set to 150 BPM
If a student runs 7:00-8:00 low zone is set to145 BPM
If a student runs  6:30-7:00 low zone is set to 135 BPM
If a student runs  6:30 – 6:00 low zone is set to130 BPM
If a student runs  below 6:00 mins. low zone is set to125 BPM

In this way we are able to differentiate Targeted Heart Rate Zones (TZ) to make sure students are getting a moderate to vigorous physical fitness workout within our classes.  What does this eliminate? This eliminates subjective grading in PE. Gone are the days where you a student gets a “C” for a 10:57 mile. Well if that student is not fit and their heart is working very hard to get that time, then the HRM will show us the data and we will know this student is on the right track to becoming more fit.

Within a 75 minute block we give 5 minute change time at the beginning and end of each lesson. We ask Middle School students to stay above the lower end of their TZ for 30:00-39:59 of the 65 minutes we are in each lesson. We record the data at the end of each class as a daily grade. Grades are based off of the rubric below:

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Why do physical education this way? This program was developed over time based off of research by John Ratey that states that Fitness Based PE does three things for students throughout the school day: it creates better learners, better behavior, and better health in all students.

I am looking forward to the challenge of redesigning my lessons for all sports units to incorporate this Active Engagement standard into the lessons. While I will be teaching skills the majority of the focus and assessment will be on student participation.

Q1: How does your PE program measure/grade student participating?

Q2: What other forms of Quality Physical Education can measure fitness?

Leave me a comment below or tweet me at @teachalohape

Could a new Holism approach save education?

A year an a half ago I was at a teaching conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. Several other educators thought it was ironic that schools in 2013 were still trying to figure out what 21st Century education is. “We are 13 years into this century!” one principal put it. The catalyst of this conversation comes from the fact that many in education believe we should no longer teach as if we are stuck in the 20th century manufacturing model.

I recently read an article about how, with rising global population, and future food and water security being analyzed as a potential future threat, perhaps a “holism” approach to economics would be the only way to sustain governments, nations and the human population. This article explains:

Jan Smuts, who coined the term “holism” in his 1926 book, Holism and Evolution, defined it as the “tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts”. For example, in the case of a plant, the whole organism is more than a collection of leaves, stems and roots. Focusing too closely on each of these parts, the theory argues, could get in the way of understanding the organism as a whole.

For example, this traditional economic view might view automobile manufacturing separately from the mineral mining, petroleum production and workers on which it relies. Moreover, this view might also not acknowledge the impact that automobile manufacturing has on the environment, politics and economics of an area. Holism, on the other hand, would view the entire chain of cause and effect that leads to – and away from – automobile manufacturing.

This made me think what if this holism concept was applied to education? With the amazing amount of brain wave technology, many Physical Education teachers are showing the data reflecting the benefits of physical activity as it is related to learning.

Paul Zientarski has been using this data for over 10 years and has enough to show a direct link with increased learning, especially from struggling students, if Physical Education happens before Math and Language Arts classes. Paul has gone beyond developing an excellent fitness based PE program. He has been looking at student learning in a holism way.



This nondescript picture has been one of my inspirations on my new passion of combining Physical Education, Health, and sustainable nutrition into a holism teaching approach. This is a corner of an activity yard of the prison on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. Far back in this corner, Nelson Mandela grew and maintained a vegetable garden. He used this garden for multiple purposes; it gave him something to do. Being in charge of something that is growing was a symbol of resilience and a feeling like his political influence was always growing. Not only did he stash notes to be smuggled to civil rights leaders on the outside, he gave the vegetables to fellow prisoners in the kitchen to make soups. These soups were then to be shared with both inmates and guards (a way to bring people together).

If we look at gardens in the same way at schools how could they provide a holism education? First of all, gardening provides a sense of physical activity. In 2011-2012 I taught a self-contained Continuation Class of 8th graders in Northern California. In California this means taking all the high risk students out of the mainstream and put them in one classroom for the first four periods of the day (think Season 4 of The Wire). On the surface, this looked like I had students with gang affiliations who were dealing drugs on campus. But after developing a relationship with the students I noticed by mid-September nearly half my class had lost a parent or sibling. A third had been homeless. These students had emotional issues. Something that lessons of caring, growing, and resilience may have helped.

This is why to me, if I was designing a school, I would put a garden in the middle. This holism approach would incorporate nutrition, home gardens, physical activity, and health into one center-point of the school. Who knows, maybe we could give the food to the kitchen and students who were supposed to be enemies could break bread together similar to what Mandela made happen in South Africa.

I have a current colleague, Ray Timm, that created the same type of fitness based program nearly 20 years ago in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Ray, being a former Division 1 Gymnast at the University of Michigan, and a super successful coach in Michigan, has always told me that he would have a PE space be the middle of any school. Ray’s philosophy is to get as many types of equipment out as you can. “If they are locked away in a closet, then no one will use them.” So at our school now in the courtyard you will see a climbing wall, slack line, pull up bars, and sometimes even stilts and row machines.

Q1: If we are thinking 21st century holism education, what would be in the middle of your school?

Q2: What successful cross curricular units have you taught that teaches multiple skills?



The Aloha Spirit Across the World- Africa

Another factor in my teaching, professional life has been the Aloha Spirit. This is a feeling of compassion and joy for each other. My father, who has taught overseas in International Schools for 22 of the last 23 years has brought the Aloha Spirit to every faculty he has been on since 2000.

Inspired by a feeling of TGIF in Hawaii called Aloha Friday, my dad set up coffee, invited others to bring treats and enjoy each others’ company. The results were staggering. Morale around the school started to turn, teachers had more smiles, they ran off to their classrooms last minute because of great conversation. My dad had brought the Aloha Spirit to his school(s).

After a recent trip to South Africa on Spring Break 2015, I noticed that the Aloha Spirit is alive and well in all parts of the world. In South Africa it is remained Ubuntu. The feeling that I can not live without you, living and supporting me as a community.

As an outsiders perspective South Africa needs to lean on Ubuntu. I felt a general racial divide between races both social economically, and politically. Upon returning from where I live in Saudi Arabia I had an acquaintance tell me about how Affrikanars are even requesting their own nation. This surprises me and makes me hope that all South Africans can practice Ubuntu and politicians can find a way to lessen violent burglaries and help with the poverty in the nation.

One thing I have learned living 15 out of my 30 years outside the United States is to not believe everything you see on the news. The “CNN Effect” as others call it, is something that prevents people from traveling and experiencing other cultures. In this section of my blog,  I will continue to find examples of people sharing, living, and breathing, the Aloha Spirit in whatever form or word. This is the opposite of the “CNN Effect” and something I look forward to sharing.

Q1: Does your school have a recurring activity similar to the Aloha Friday coffee?

Q2: What other cultures or places do you know share the same compassion as the Aloha Spirit thriving in Hawaii?

7 Habits of Highly Successful Teamwork

Over the past 6 months I have planned to adapt the 7 Habits of Highly Successful Teens into my teaching and coaching. This came about by listening to the Leader in Me on audio book in the summer of 2014. My wife, who is a school counselor, and I really were impressed by the direction, order, and standard focus of The Leader in Me schools.

I was so impressed that I immediately started reflecting on how to incorporate it in my teaching. 10 months later and I am ready! Not that it takes ten months to develop but I was finally in a space that I was willing to introduce it, during the second half of my Middle School Boys April/May basketball season.

I asked my players to view this document in Google Classroom and leave their answers as comments for others to see. I then laminated with a chart and kept it with my coaching board so that we can go over reflection questions before,check-in during, and reflect after the game based off different strategies and items discussed.


This chart includes the following:

Habit 1: Be Proactive: What can we do that they aren’t doing?

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind: What are the goals we have in this game?

Habit 3: Put First things First: What is an important skill in this game?

Habit 4: Think Win-Win: How can we respect everyone (all players, coaches, and refs)?

Habit 5: Think first to understand, and then be understood: How can we be a good listener during gametime?

Habit 6: Synergize: How can you support the guys out on the court playing?

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw: If you’re on the bench, how can you prepare for going in?

Players in the Game: Just to Balance things into two rows of four.


What I learned by using this at our end of the season tournament are two main things:

#1. It helped us develop three main focuses. We wanted to pass the ball well, group rebound, and always communicate. These became focused talking points throughout the tournament.

#2. Especially Habits 1 and Habits 4 added a quick but effective extra talking point with my team. What is one main focus we can do to help us that they aren’t focusing on. And Habit 4, all about respect. As a mater of fact, at the tournament we were recognized not only for being an unselfish team, but also for our class and sportsmanship (a certain topic that there has been some issues with our current conference).

Overall, I have positive reflections. I am happy to use it again in basketball and other sports. I’ll be posting in the future about my ideas about how to have it work with lesson plans.

Have you taken a model like 7 Habits and applied it to your teaching? Please share your experiences in the blog of tweet me @teachAlohaPE