EduTopia: More Than a Dozen Ways to Build Movement Into Learning

By Stephen MerrillSarah Gonser

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When researchers at Texas A&M University gave standing desks to 34 high school students, they discovered that after consistent use, standing while learning delivered a significant boost to students’ executive functioning skills—the sorts of cognitive skills that allow kids to manage their time, understand and memorize information, and organize thoughts in writing. Even small amounts of movement, this emerging research revealed, can deliver a positive impact on learning: Neurocognitive testing of the standing students, the pilot study notes, showed a 7 to 14 percent improvement in their cognitive performance, a noteworthy impact for such a simple intervention.

Infusing classrooms with physical activity—or at least the option of some movement, at student discretion—isn’t just good for kids’ bodies, it’s also a powerful tool for improving learning and focus and reducing classroom management issues. And yet, from kindergarten through high school “students spend most of their academic lives at a desk,” says educator Brad Johnson for The Washington Post, an arrangement that is meant to increase their focus and academic productivity, but can actually create kids who are “bored, off-task, disruptive or otherwise disengaged.”

There are many smart, innovative ways to build movement into lessons and the research increasingly supports getting kids moving in schools to promote better physical health, provide the types of breaks that reset our cognitive processes so that we can learn anew, and even link our physical bodies to our cognitive insights to encode learning more deeply. From intentionally aligning curriculum with movement to improve retention, to planning frequent and active brain breaks to clear working memory, here are more than a dozen ways educators and researchers are pairing learning with movement.

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