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Use of Technology to Observe and Assess Physical Play by Leah Holland Fiorentino Technoio0y has no place in aseeseing play activities. ost physical educators are confident that children in their physical education classes are successfully engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during the scheduled class meeting time. Physical education teachers plan for high motor engagement time (MET) and encourage continuous activity within their classes. Physical education is often thought to be the only physical activity time children experience during the school day. Little thought is given to the amount of physical activity time that could be accrued during scheduled recesses or perhaps, even during after-school, unstructured play. How is recess at your school organized? Is active play encouraged? After school, are there opportunities for unstructured play within the local community? If there are indeed opportunities for children to be physically active in and out of school, can physical educators influence children's activity levels during those unstructured play times? Physical education teachers need to be aware of play opportunities that exist for their students and encourage them to participate at more intense levels to help them improve their overall health, resulting in the chance for a better quality of life as adults.


Et tu, Technology? A mutual interest in play behaviors and physical activity seems to suggest that physical educators and play educators might work well together. Collaboration between these two groups of committed professionals has the potential to increase the benefits of structured, unstructured, and instructional play experiences. Further, there is technology that can be used to bridge a gap between these related but too often separate disciplines. Such technology encourages both disciplines to look at the activity levels and behaviors of a shared population of children and begin to think constructively about plans for facilities, supervision, curricula, and innovative approaches designed to steer all children toward positive, healthy lifestyles and behaviors. Recent advances in technology provide more objective

and affordable means of assessing behaviors and activity levels, thus presenting a more complete picture of children's daily adventures.

Beyond Computer Games In discussing the myth that technology has no benefit to the world of play, there seems to be little doubt that technology has made the task of assessing children's activity levels and identifying types of behaviors a simpler and more reliable process. There are three major approaches currently used to measure the amount of physical activity during unstructured play opportunities: direct observation by professionals, wearing heart rate monitors, and wearing motion monitors (such as pedometers). These three approaches to physical activity data collection have proven far more reliable than self-report methodologies (surveys, journals, and log entries) with school-aged children. However, each approach has relative benefits and technological concerns and are best used in concert.

So, Why Not/usf do it!? Children need one to two hours of physical activity per day. This should be envisioned as active play time, as that is the primary way children learn. For health purposes, this activity time must cause the heart to beat faster, but children should not get so winded they cannot talk while doing the activity. Unfortunately, next to sleeping, watching television is the most common leisure activity for children. They accumulate over 18,000 hours in front of a screen versus only 12,000 in front of a blackboard. The latest research from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that children who consistently spend 10 hours or more per week engaged in television or computer usage are more likely to be overweight, aggressive, and slower to learn in school. Further, in response to perceived dangers in the local community, parents these days are more inclined to instruct their children to remain inside the home, providing

Teaching Elementary Physical Education

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tacit encouragement for activities that tend to be more sedentary. Nowadays, parents view opportunities for physical activity as organized events supervised by professionals or other adults and, often times, accompanied by expensive fees (Pennsylvania WIC Program, 2003). The quandary for physical educators is to know how much activity students engage in outside of PE. And, how can they be taught to more efficiently and effectively use their play time to improve overall health and their chances of becoming healthy adults? These two tasks have been made markedly easier in recent years. Once the types of activities students typically engage in are identified, inexpensive and readily available technology can then be used to measure the amount of physical activity.

Direct Observation Using Direct Observation to measure children's activity levels and behavior patterns is a costly endeavor with respect to the amount of time required of the observer/investigator. However, it best conveys information about environmental factors (Pate, 1993). The use of Direct Observation is required for the identification of types of behaviors that children demonstrate during their play times. Recent technology (hardware and software) has streamlined the process of collecting and analyzing data. Specific software packages (e.g., Grade Quick 8.0 from Sunburst Corporation, PE Manager from Polar USA, Record Book from

Bonnie's Fitware) allow observers to simultaneously code predetermined behaviors on a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) then download the data to a desktop computer for analysis. This has become a popular way for physical educators to conduct instructional assessments. For many teachers, this procedure has eliminated the need for a clipboard and pencil in the gymnasium. To successfully use a PDA and data collection software, experts suggest using a previously tested instrument (such as SOFIT, CPAF, CARS; McKenzie, 1991). The software programs mentioned above allow the user to pre-set categories of play behaviors or physical activities according to areas of interest. Category

titles can be entered into the software program on the desktop computer then transferred to the PDA for the actual data collection. Once data entered into the PDA has been downloaded back into the desktop computer, reports can be generated for individuals or groups. From these reports of estimated physical activity, the teacher can identify the types of play behaviors exhibited by the children. That leads to a process of redesigning instructional content to better address the needs of students in the program.

Heart Rate Monitors The use of heart rate monitors (HRMs) to collect measurement data is subject to some pros and cons. HRMs can be quite costly at start-up. However, schools can purchase basic units that allow students to simply view their heart rates at various times. Then again, more expensive and sophisticated HRMs interface with a computer to download full reports of the wearer's activity level for longer periods of time. But, children wearing HRMs also need to be aware of other children who are wearing them because technical problems often emerge when wearers are in close proximity to each other. Researchers have used HRMs to help measure physical activity levels of children under controlled situations (Welsman & Armstrong, 1992). These studies have proven HRMs valid in measuring activity across broad physical activity categories, assessing patterns of activity as well as total energy expenditure (TEE). However, it is still recommended that HRMs be used for assessing the activity levels of groups rather than estimating individual physical activity levels (Sirard & Pate, 2001). Many schools have already integrated heart rate monitors into the physical education curriculum. The integration of play and physical education suggests that schools might now begin to assess the activity levels of children after school or during recess. Armed with information about students' activity levels outside instructional physical education, teachers could begin to modify physical education content to better address the needs and interests of children as they engage in physical activity in the community.

Tabie 1—Resources Bonnie's Fitware For information about Pedometers, Heart Rate Monitors, PDAs, and Assessment Software

Sunburst Corporation For information about PDAs, Assessment Software

Polar Heart Rate Monitors

http: / / www. po I a ru sa. com/ For information about Heart Rate Monitors, Computer Interface, and Software, PDAs

NEW-LiFESTYLES, inc. For information about Pedometers

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The least costly technology described in this article are motion monitors. They are now available from a variety of sources and can be worn with little interference. The most widely used motion monitor is the pedometer. It measures the number of steps (distance covered) a child takes during a prescribed period of time. The pedometer is attached at the child's waist directly over the thigh. It collects data as soon as the child begins to move. Reports of steps (distance covered) can be collected at any point in time. Pedometers have been used by researchers for the past few years to collect data about children's activity levels around the world (Louis & Chan, 2003; Loucaides, Chedzoy, & Bennett, 2003; Vincent & Pangrazi, 2002). Using pedometers to assess activity levels has been proven valid, but they are not able to capture the results of all physical activities (Sirard & Pate, 2001). While pedometers objectively detect total step counts, they do not collect data about the intensity of a physical activity or the pattern of activities performed throughout the assessment period. Pedometers are widely used in school settings at this time. They are effective in both elementary and secondary settings. They provide immediate information to students about the amount of physical activity (not the level of physical activity). Once children have received instruction from the physical education teacher during class time, they can use pedometers after school or during nonstructured play times to record the amount of physical activity accumulated during prescribed periods. As the teacher collects that data, new curricular ideas may emerge. The result is new content for the physical education curriculum that better addresses the needs and interests of the children.

Conclusion Technology is making pleasant changes in the physical education profession. It is time to capitalize on children's appetite for any activity that is technologybased. Children are eager to participate in activities that involve technology. They are enthusiastic about using pedometers and heart rate monitors. They become more focused on their behaviors and activity levels when something new is introduced to their play environment. Physical educators and play educators need to become proactive about the use of hardware/ software, such as those described in this article, and encourage the community to support efforts at improving the quality of all play experiences for children. References Loucaides, C.A., Chedzoy, S.M., & Bennett, N- |2003). Pedometerassessed physical (ambulatory] activity in Cypriot children. European Physical Education Review, 9, 43-55. Louis, L., & Chan, L. (2003). The use of pedometry to evaluate the physical activity levels among preschool children in Hong Kong. Early Child Development a?id Care lECDCI, 173, 97-107, McKenzie, T, |1991) Observational measures of children's physical activity. Journai of School Health, 61, 220-223. Pate, R.R. (1993). Physical activity assessment in children and adolescents. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 33, 321-326. Pennsylvania WIC Program. (2003), Get them moving! Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Department of Health. Sirard, J.R., & Pate, R.R. (2001]. Physical activity assessment in children and adolescents. Sports Medicine, 31, 439-454. Vincent, S.D., & Pangrazi, P. (2002). An examination of the activity pattern of elementary school children. Pediatric Exercise Science, 14, 432-441.

Welsman, J-R., & Armstrong, N. (1992). Daily physical activity and blood lactate indices of aerobic fitness in children. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 26, 228-232. @

A Mile of Smiles At the start of a school year, most teachers piace emphasis on information that shows how the child's body grows and develops. Piayfui teachers also place importance on the smile by having the children measure the length of their smile. Children practice for the big event by sharing smiles with others. Create and distribute paper 6-inch rulers with which to measure each child's smile. This is recorded by the teacher. Sum the combined length of all the children's smiles and announce it to the class. Repeat this activity at the end of the school year to reflect how the children's bodies grew over the course of the year. Quotes and information to share with the students include: • •

"A smile adds a great deal to one's face value." "A smile is a smile in any language."

"We all smile In the same language."

"It takes 17 muscles to form a smile."

Riddle: What is the longest word in the English language? Answer: "Smiles." There is a mile between each "S".

Teaching Elementary Physical Education

i March 2005

Use of Technology to Observe and AssessPhysical Play