Health,  PE mission statement,  Research,  Teacher Reflection,  Technology in PE

Tracking student Movement – not just a PE teacher’s job

This week three different stimuli have sat with me and they blend into one big issue – a much more sedentary life (which is killing us!) and that everyone needs to play a role in fixing it.   Movement education and Wellness are not just the responsibility of the PE teacher or coach in the after school programme, like literacy, we are all responsible for educating our students and sharing best life-long practice!

I like to think that I am an active lifestyle person and a good role model.  I have my Fitbit on and this week received a new Flex (my One got eaten by the washing machine and dryer…) and have been looking at my stats.  If you own a Fitbit, go to the next paragraph but if you don’t, a fitbit is a personalised tracker.  It is an amazing way to get information about your lifestyle.  A fitbit has many forms, they look like this:


These are a wearable piece of technology and they track many different things.  You can look at how many steps you do and when you do them; how much sleep you get (and categories of sleep) as well as calories and many more – you can check out the Fitbit website for more information here.

My new Flex is a watch type Fitbit and I need to now check the mobile app or desktop app to see my data (the One displays it on the screen).  I am aiming for about 17,000 steps/day and usually I can hit this target but some days are more challenging than others.

But an article came across my path this week, Mr Grant Wiggins took time out of his busy educator life to shadow two students – one Grade 10 and another Grade 12 student for two days.  He blogs about this process here and if you are a teacher and interested in a student perspective of school you really must read this blog post.   There were three main takeaways from this experience:

1. “Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.” 

2. “High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.”

3. “You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.”

Now when I read these three main takeaways, I started to think about the work that we try to do in PE – movement.  If I can get my students to be active and moving 75% of my lesson (that is the goal) then I feel like my job ,as the facilitator of the class, has been successful.  But what about the other 6 hours of the day?  What is going on there?

The next image that crossed my mind was in Ken Forde’s office in the MS at WAB.   He has a big article by Selene Yeager titled ‘Is Sitting the new Smoking?’  Now a headline like that is very scary – and as a PE teacher and an avid runner I wanted to find out more.

I read the full Runners World article here.   And I have to say I am a little frightened.  As a runner and an avid sports enthusiast, it worries me that as a person who also uses a computer (and likes to blog and write) that the statistics on sitting are so very real and not in our health favour, here is the part of the most interesting (and frightening) part of her article:

Unfortunately, outside of regularly scheduled exercise sessions, active people sit just as much as their couch-potato peers. In a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers reported that people spent an average of 64 hours a week sitting, 28 hours standing, and 11 hours milling about (non-exercise walking), whether or not they exercised for the recommended 150 minutes a week. That’s more than nine hours a day of sitting, no matter how active they otherwise were. “We were very surprised that even the highest level of exercise didn’t matter at all for reducing the time spent sitting,” says study author Marc Hamilton, PhD, professor and director of a university inactivity physiology department. In fact, regular exercisers may make less of an effort to move outside their designated workout time.

If you run or exercise regularly and then you sit down (phew done the workout now to do the “work”) then you are in just as much trouble as those who do no exercise.  I find this to be a very scary piece of research.

Now if I go back to Wiggins and the Fitbit stats that I watch every day, I can see that for me there are days where I will complete my running training (and I can see this like the image below)

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 8.32.31 PM

and then I do not move about much at all.  Some weekends I run 15,000+ steps in a session and then do not leave my house or really do any more exercise, I think this is okay, but clearly it isn’t.  I have noticed my trend is to be very busy and active in blocks in my day but then there are times where I am on my computer doing administrative tasks or at night when I am grading or planning and the fitbit tells me plainly that I have done nothing but sit still.  If Wiggins is saying that our students are sitting down in classes all day and as a teacher I can see this in my own data, then we are doing some serious damage to our students in more ways than boredom.

The main takeaways I have here are that:

  1. Movement is key to our health and this is not just up to the PE teachers – we all need to be moving more regularly in our day and this must be factored into our class time/break times and become a life habit.
  2. We need to look at the instructional ways we teach and incorporate movement into them
  3. We need to look at the equipment we use and see if we can have a change/impact on students sitting behaviours
  4. Fitbits or other trackers might be a good way to see what we are actually doing in our lives and to address this issue
  5. One bout of 30-60 mins of exercise is NOT enough for the health benefits required because we now sit more.  We need to be mindful of this in our lives and think about how we can ensure we are moving more!

I would be interested to know what you are doing to combat all the sitting in classrooms in your schools… great to share ideas.




  • mhamada

    Thanks Tim – I am at an MYP PE conference at the moment and today a group of us talked about whether as a Fitness unit we could ask students to create a series of 5-7 min workouts that could be completed in different spaces – classroom, bedroom, park, library, on the bus or train or station etc so that we could start looking at how we use our time and our breaks in a day – not just a one off session. Further I would like to use pedometres or fitbits or smart phones to track movement over a 7-day zone to look at habit of students over these times – school days and weekends and see if we could capture what is going on and use that data to see when we could do these 5-7 min workouts and make the most of them. I have bought pedometres for my G8s to use this year so we can talk about incidental fitness (you walk 5,000 a day in your usual everyday and I do 15,000 – what does this say?) and see again if there are trends. I think if I could get kids to see their own data and we could create these space/location workouts then I could share that with other teachers in my school (posters of 10 workouts in the hallway or classroom?) to promote this to the wider community? Interesting project to do I think. Let me know if you get to test your data.

  • Tim Gander

    Hi Mel – great post, I have just started using a UP24 fitness tracker and have also noticed similar patterns as you – it is unavoidable as a teacher to not spend extended time sitting at a desk, even a PE teacher. I like the points you make about looking into the amount of time learners spend sitting – how can we remedy this. It would be a great experiment if funding was available to track movement patterns of students in different learning environments – eg traditional vs MLE? I’d really like to be able to give a fitness tracker to some of our students to help them analyse their movement and sleeping patterns – lots of them sit at school all day, then go home and play computer games until the early hours and repeat – as we all know this doesn’t look good for the future – maybe technology like this is a way to make more young people aware of what they are doing to their bodies? Thanks again for taking the time to post!

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