Integrating physical activity with academic outcomes for learning

Colbert-Paddock, Sherri Lynn (2019) Integrating physical activity with academic outcomes for learning. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Although it is widely accepted that physical activity (PA) can benefit our overall health, researchers are challenging the limitation of PA promotion primarily as energy expenditure. Growing evidence supports the positive effects of PA on children’s cognitive growth and function which can enhance their learning. Concerns for the health of children alone has led to the realization of the need for more PA in schools. However, many educators recognize that PA has a positive impact on concentration, learning and academic success. A major barrier of increasing PA in schools is the current paradigm of thought that ‘academics’ takes priority over PA. The trend to reduce opportunities for PA during the school day in lieu of ‘academic’ instruction time is a growing concern. The problem is that “academic” instructional time predominately means students sitting in an often-congested classroom learning through mostly sedentary methods. Recent research focusing on the benefits of PA to children’s cognitive growth and function attempts to overcome the barriers to increasing PA in schools through the integration of PA with curriculum outcomes traditionally taught in the classroom. The current research study involved 86 grade four students from a public elementary school. The researcher developed a unit of lessons in mathematics in consultation with the grade four teachers and the curriculum guides set out by the school district. For each lesson, two formats were developed, one was based on traditional classroom methods and the other was integrated with physical activity. The physically active lessons constituted the intervention while the classroom lessons served as the control and a switched replication design was used. The learning outcomes taught for each lesson, both the traditional and PA lessons, were evaluated immediately after the lesson through a short post-test/quiz administered by the classroom teacher to measure what was learned. The student scores for the post-test/quiz were similar in both conditions while PA was increased significantly during the intervention. This is consistent with the results of other studies in that there were no significant positive effects on the learning outcomes measured but neither were there negative effects when PA was increased. Such results demonstrate that lessons can be taught effectively while increasing the amount of PA in schools. A unique component of this study was a qualitative focus group study following the intervention which examined students’ perceptions of their learning experience during the intervention. The key benefits perceived by participants were increased enjoyment and enthusiasm for mathematics which promoted their engagement in the learning activities due to enhanced opportunities for physical activity and social interaction. These positive perceptions demonstrate potential for not only using a physically active or movement-based approach to teach mathematical concepts but the potential to increase student engagement and enjoyment in their learning experience. The results of this study add to the limited research in this area. The traditional teaching approach of our current school system, which uses predominantly sedentary methods in a classroom setting, is challenged by the growing evidence that PA can be integrated effectively into the school day. This type of teaching strategy has the potential to increase PA for children during the school day, promote student engagement in learning and, as a result, increase academic achievement.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 14543
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 114-131).
Keywords: integrating physical activity, academic performance, mathematics, physical activity, elementary school, physically active academic lessons, learning outcomes
Department(s): Human Kinetics and Recreation, School of > Kinesiology
Date: June 2019
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Learning--Physiological aspects; Physical education and training; School children--Education--Physiological aspects.

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