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Virtual Active Technology
Spurs Actual Exercise

Waterbury, Connecticut, middle-schoolers cant wait for PE so they can run through the world's cities, race mountain bikes, and ride skateboards and snowboards. The district's new virtual exercise equipment is getting gamers off the couch and into the fitness room. Included: Descriptions of new fitness technology.

Virtual active technology may sound like another sedentary video game, but this type of technology-infused exercise equipment is proving effective in getting the gamer generation moving more than just their thumbs.

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In some Waterbury, Connecticut, middle schools, for example, physical education has never been more popular. Thanks to a $880,000 federal grant, the district was able to buy virtual active technology equipment such as treadmills that guide students on runs through cities around the world and stationary bikes that they can ride up a mountain. Students also can challenge their minds as well as their bodies with Brain Bikes that include a computer game that only works if the player keeps pedaling.

From working with middle school kids, I knew how much they like gaming and I thought it would be great for them to play games while working out, said Joe Gorman, Waterbury's supervisor of health, physical education, and athletics. Gorman pursued and secured grant money for the equipment.


The district's approach to phys ed aligns with the goals of First Lady Michelle Obama's Lets Move campaign, which encourages children and families to be more active. Waterbury officials, though, had been looking into non-traditional approaches to PE for more than five years, according to Gorman, to make fitness more appealing. The greatest exercise is the one that you will do, he said.

Gorman began applying for a grant for the virtual equipment five years ago, before most people knew it existed. Seeking new exercise equipment was part of a district initiative to expand physical activity outside of athletics, he told Education World.

I figured participation in these areas would be higher, and I hoped it would translate into other areas [of exercise], said Gorman. Now not as many are coming up with excuses to not do anything.

Some traditional activities and games still are part of the phys ed curriculum, Gorman added.

View a video about the program

The exercise rooms include some of the popular Wii games and more sophisticated equipment that allows students to track their individual progress. Thanks to the wonders of technology, not only can they run on treadmills through different cities, they can race mountain bikes as well as ride virtual skateboards and snowboards. Some of the treadmills, for example, allow students to track how far they were able to climb during each class, tell them how many calories they burned, how many miles they traveled, and how long it would take them to reach a goal -- like climbing Mt. Everest.

The Brain Bikes allow students to create a personality profile and track their movement up different levels of difficulty. Weight training equipment also is available for students to use while waiting for the machines and students are starting to use that as well. Students who are more sedentary are able to work out at their own pace and see improvements in their performance, Gorman noted. The teachers become more like personal fitness coaches, he said. Staff members are being trained to use and maintain the equipment as well as utilize it as a curriculum enhancement.

The local YMCA and Police Athletic League also were named in the grant, and received some of the new equipment as well. Some staff members from those facilities are helping to train school staff members in using and supervising the equipment. The school also is sponsoring up to 600 memberships for students to use the equipment as an afterschool activity.

While the rule in PE classes has been that students who don't want to participate in an activity have to walk on the sidelines, not many have been doing that this year, said West Side Middle School PE teacher Paul Acevedo.

Were trying to get them to see that fitness is not just a PE class, but a lifetime activity.

They love it, Acevedo said of the new equipment. When we go in the room, everyone is engaged; there is something for everyone. We've been there in three weeks over the last eight weeks and I haven't had one kid stand in a corner and say, I'm not participating.


Building administrators were quick to get behind the idea. The only concern Michael LoRusso, principal of North End Middle School, expressed was finding a room large enough for the equipment. The school was able to clear out a former metal shop, which now proudly bears the sign Rams Athletic Center: Play like a champion today.

Im a former phys ed person; we get excited about that kind of stuff, LoRusso told Education World. In this building, three of the four administrators are former phys ed people, so this wasn't a real hard sell. Were very pro-fitness.

Virtual workouts also can be very strenuous, added LoRusso. He spent 15 minutes using a virtual boxing game and said, I was dripping.

The greatest exercise is the one that you will do.

LoRusso is hopeful the equipment will help students understand that there is more to physical activity than a few weekly gym periods. There are so many things available to them that they don't think of exercise as something to do, he said. We're trying to get them to see that fitness is not just a PE class, but a lifetime activity.

For now, exercise is very popular at North End. I walk in and every piece of equipment is working and kids are waiting to get on machines, according to LoRusso. We are very lucky to get this.



PE & Health Center
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Originally published 11/29/2010