After helping to lead Minnesota into online physical education courses almost 10 years ago, Minneapolis high schools are adding a wrinkle that automatically records a student’s physical activity.

Ten online PE students donned Movband step-tracking wristbands this fall in a pilot test aimed at automatic recording of their activity. When the second semester begins this month, at least 200 are expected to wear the $35 bands to make sure they meet the course’s requirement for physical movement.

Students who demoed the bands like that they download data as a substitute for having to do the online course's required computer logging of physical exercise.

“It’s a heckuva lot easier than entering [data] in every single day and hoping that they qualify,” said Washburn junior Noah Solfest.

To qualify their day’s activity, students must do at least 15,000 recorded moves (up from 12,000 in the pilot period) in a day, the equivalent of more than half an hour of activity; 30 such days are required per quarter.

The advantage for a student like Solfest is that activities ranging from pickup football to shoveling snow to participating in rehearsals for the school musical can add to his moves.              

For example, shoveling snow at home after a heavy snowfall can lead to as many as 6,000 moves, Solfest said.

The bands can also modify behavior. Some days, for example, Solfest has walked the two miles home from Washburn to his Northrop neighborhood home to top off his activity quota.

Online physical education includes a combination of computer-based study of healthy habits and exercise. It allowed Solfest to preserve time in his school calendar to take French and another elective.

With Minneapolis students typically having just two periods a day open for elective classes, which often are consumed by a foreign language and a music ensemble, fitting in the district’s physical education and health requirements can be a challenge. That’s one reason that a number of districts across Minnesota have piggybacked on the Minneapolis district’s entry into online physical education in 2005.  Goodrich said state education officials have told him  that tens of thousands of students across the state to date have taken online gym using the Minneapolis approach.

Nicola Lowry, a Southwest sophomore, took her health class in a classroom but opted for online physical education to preserve time for electives like wind ensemble, where she plays clarinet, and also painting during her freshman year.

She likes the Movband, which she prefers to wear on her ankle, because it lessens the need to log activities on a computer.

Lowry finds that her typical activities record between 6,000 and 10,000 moves a day, depending on how much she’s walking.  So she sometimes adds activities to hit her 12,000-move threshold. “If I see that I’m close, I’ll do something like walk a little extra,” she said. She was able to use the device to record hiking and cross-country skiing on the North Shore recently.

Frank Goodrich, a district physical education teacher who works with online students, said the wristbands are another way to integrate technology many students already use.  He said the district hopes to add a Facebook site