movement and learning

I suppose that at its (very very simplified) simplest, movement matters to learning because you only have the one heart and if it is pumping oxygen rich blood around your body in a lively way, then that gets to your brain as well as to your muscles. Thus, moving is good for thinking. Of course, it's way more complex that that, but the conclusion remains.

And as you will be aware from our long running Learnometer work, this is only one small marginal gain; in practice, Learning learns from sport that the aggregation of marginal gains will bring really substantial improvements. So, BYOP, lighting, etc all count and together the whole lot make a substantial difference to behaviour, engagement, cognitive attention and much more.

Discussion of movement is immediately controversial - a few schools impose a sit-still-and-listen or sit-still-and-work regime which sadly, whatever the rights and wrongs of the protocols, will impede learning and potentially derail engagement. Bluntly, this is unhelpful if you are seeking the best cognitive performance:

sit up straight school rule

The research evidence is encouragingly unequivocal. Below is a simple graph from a long term study published by VS furniture in Germany. Class C who move within lessons have better attentiveness that Class B who move bewteen lessons, and way better that Class A who stay put, at their desks, as teachers come to them. The vertical axis is attentivenesss, the Y axis is time:

movement attentiveness graph

Of course, many teachers are very familiar with a literature supporting the positive impact of movement on children where they have various learning challenges (a good reading list for these is at p68 of this dissertatio) but movement brings positive outcomes for all students.

So, what can be done to get to promote movement, within a behaviour code.

Zoning the class is effective - perhaps four zones: (1) collaboration, (2) silent research, (3) direct instruction or student presentation and just (4) heads down individual working can be signified by layout + the FF&E, but also by a carousel of activities that involve time spend in each zone. Direct instruction or student presentation works well on tiered seating (even here, there is activity in getting seated) and the close facial contact is pedagogically effective - plus this clears a lot of floor space for the other zoned activities.

tiered seating

You need behaviour protocols for each zone, of course. We were surprised that when we intoduced Family Learning Tables (12 to a table) the children invoked and policed a "no talking" protocol and found it an ideal setting for heads-down individual working. Some popular zones (eg Harkness Tables) come with their own protocols of course.

Standing desks. Many organisations and schools now include the option of working at a standing desk - children do respond well to this (again, discuss approrpriate behaviour protocols with them)

Playground and outdoor activities. Much to say here but simple ideas to encourage play and play based learning are numerous. A few of my favourites would include using AR to measure who is the fastest runner - great on playground duty and easy with a smart phone

AR measuring running speed

Playground dance floor - a simple semicircle on the playground with a weatherproof Bluetooth speaker and whoever is on playground duty - or the students - get to broadcast their playlist - never fails to get groups dancing energetically. Angle the speaker downwards and the sound doesn't propogate very far.

 This climbing-frame library in Bankok's TK Park adds quite an ambitious climb to the reading task - when I took this photo it didn't need to be posed, and "boys reading" in Thailand is often a problem.

TK Park library shelves

In a similar vien I was pleased to be able to add a slide - safe and contained - to a library in Dorset (and indeed then a yellow one for my own garden at home!). Fun, of course, but certainly gets that oxygen rich blood flowing their arteries! And of course Google know this too - look at their offices!

slide collage

School chairs are often pretty poor. As a rough guide the torso needs to be at an angle of 110°-120° - chairs usually impose a 90° angle which compacts the organs and restricts the flow of bllod (again, sigh). Children instinctively "slouch" to those larger angles.

kids slouching

One solution is to design chairs to better encourage these seating angles. Here's the solution we have gone for in our work. Note the shorter seat squab which is less likely to dig into thigh backs and further reduce blood flow.

better chair


You might be interested to know that a combination of the Learniture and Learnometer teams are exploring - and have prototyped - smart furniture with stress gauges and more, to help learners understand the importance of their need to move, stretch, stand and so on.

smart chair


That's probably enough to be going on with - the broad principle: keep them moving regularly.

Usually the students of all ages love the challenge of thinking about how this can work for them, and for you. We already know it works for their brains!


© prof stephen heppell - this page last updated on June 7, 2019 13:32