Gym class without the gym? With technology, it’s catching on – Boston Herald - Republik City News
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Gym class without the gym? With technology, it’s catching on – Boston Herald

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Grace Brown’s schedule at West Potomac High School in northern Virginia is filled with all the usual academics, and she’s packed in Latin, chorus and piano as extras.

What she can’t cram into the 8:10 a.m. – 2:55 p.m. school day is gym class.

So she’s taking that one minus the gym, and on her own time.

The 14-year-old freshman is getting school credit for virtual physical education, a concept that, as strange as it may sound, is being helped along by availability of wearable fitness trackers.

For students whose tests and textbooks have migrated to screens, technology as gym equipment may have been only a matter of time.

Grace, who lives in Alexandria, wears a school-issued Fitbit on her wrist while getting in at least three 30-minute workouts a week outside of school hours. She has an app on her computer that screenshots her activity so she can turn it in for credit.

While online physical education classes have been around for well over a decade, often as part of virtual or online schools, the technology has made possible a new level of accountability, its users say.

“We’re asking kids to wear this while they do an activity of their choice, and they can change the activity as they desire, as long as it’s something that they understand is probably going to get their heart rate up,” said Elizabeth Edwards, department head for online physical education at Fairfax County Public Schools, which includes Grace’s high school.

Though a physical education instructor isn’t shouting from the sidelines, teachers do guide assignments by setting goals such as fat burn, cardio or peak, relying on the technology to be their eyes and ears. Students also are required to sign in for a weekly 60-minute to 90-minute classroom session with the teacher.

Teenagers who play soccer, swim or dance all year may satisfy the workout requirements without doing anything extra. Grace has been adding bike rides and jogs to her days.

For her, online PE freed her up to take three elective courses, instead of two in school. For others, it’s a welcome way to take a required class that students otherwise may find socially or physically challenging.

“We definitely exercise more in online PE,” Grace said. “There’s a lot of standing around in regular PE. Online, I do much harder workouts.”

A survey of more than 3,000 fitness professionals by the American College of Sports Medicine named wearable technology the top trend in fitness for 2020.

It’s not clear how many schools are embracing the trend.

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