Professional Development,  Research,  Teacher Reflection,  Uncategorized

Action Research Project – Student Movement

Berlin the Walk - 017

Berlin – The Walk 017 by Daniele Civello CC BY NC

Over the last year I have had the opportunity to listen to Dr Graham Dodd and his almost mantra about the importance of human motion on brain and body development.  His research and life time interest in this topic are quite motivational.  There is also more data and articles coming out about the importance of movement and the issue of ‘sitness’ as the current epidemic of sickness and I have been alarmed at the idea that me (who I consider to be somewhat athletic) could have limited health benefits from the training I do as I then tend to sit for periods of time at a screen – rather than moving around for most of the day (which is important).

At YIS, each faculty member is part of a Professional Development project of their choice.  We meet in small like-minded groups to discuss our project and relevant progress but the topic is up to us.  I will write about this process in a different post. This year I have been interested in doing a small Action Research project using the focus of Motion within the school day.  I am still trying to really narrow down my focus, but ultimately I think what I want to know is how much our students are moving from the time they arrive at school to the time they leave at the end of the day.

Other data that could be interesting to consider may be:

  • Do different populations of the student body have vastly different data (does a 6 year old have the same number motion or steps as a 12 or 17 year old?)
  • Do different genders have different data?  If so, what could this suggest? (my bias here is the we have one playground and it seems dominated by male students in the MS and HS but equally used by both genders in the ES – is this true?)
  • Do teachers move as much as students?
  • When do our students move the most?  Are there periods of the day where they are sitting for longer than 60 (need to think about this number) minutes?  Why?

I am interested in knowing about this for several reasons.  I want to consider some areas for discussion at our school such as:

  • if our students in certain populations are sitting for long periods of time – do we need to  make active changes – eg. teacher practices or change in furniture to accommodate things like standing desks to encourage movement while working?
  • could we utilise areas like our Hallways to encourage incidental movement – hopscotch tiles, lines to follow, creative shapes for movement ideas? etc (there is an interesting article here about these ideas and Chris Fen-Mac‘s change at his school too)
  • Do we need to offer ideas on Brain Science and Brain promotional practices (or Brain Breaks/boosts) for our staff as part of PD?
  • Could we advocate for more PE time for certain populations of the school?  Or work with classroom teachers to offer them time in a PE space with their class (many classroom teachers are reluctant to take their class outside to run around outside of PE)
  • Could we look at providing some pull-out PE time to those kids who really need it? (Andy Dutton has shared a lot of his work on this at APPEC, it would be great to consider this more carefully at YIS)
  • Are we providing enough opportunity at our school for students to get the number of steps they need each day?  We have a smallish campus, are we getting that magic number of steps?  If so, great!  If not, what could we do to see more motion from our kids?
  • Ultimately better brains are academically more successful – this is information that is not new to us anymore.  Dr Dodd has lots of studies that he quotes energetically and we as PE teachers need to advocate this in our schools not just about movement and health but about brain development and academic growth = student learning.  I also feel that this is so important for us as teachers too – we need to move too – this is important as we get into the rhythm of our jobs, to ensure we can and do move enough in our work places.

I am interested in chatting to anyone who has done any work in this area or who can offer any resources or people they know I could chat to.  I am keen to also see if people have used specific devices (such as Garmins or Fitbits) which offer data such as number of total steps/ distance as well as a break down of data over the course of a day (checking motion over each hour so you can use that data more specifically as well).  I look forward and of course welcome any ideas for data collection or focus or discussion points as well.



  • mhamada

    Great to hear that your mum has found such health benefits and more awareness with use of her fitbit. I love mine but I also wonder if more people who are already driven in their health goals buy them, and how this impacts us. I find I have a love-hat relationship with mine. I like tracking but hate that I am not successful with the daily goals that I set- I am not consistent and this is a great issue for me too! Thank you for sharing Ken as always.

  • mhamada

    Thanks Andrew – I know that our Head of Science is also looking at movement and its impact on study habits of some of our G12 students, I wonder if she is in contact with your Science dept too. This could be interesting to discuss. I am looking at using SoFit (after more discussion with Dean Dudley) to monitor movement, but I do like the idea of incorporating the way students are feeling to consider how your lesson planning could develop. How do you consider all the students feelings’ when planning – that must be challenging. Dean also got me to think about how teacher engagement and pedagogy can greatly impact student movement and this is now running around in my head along with the other areas for discussion. Aaron Beighle has also been chatting to me about Fitbits and pedometres and how to capture data – it would be good to hear about how you captured your data and how you used a modest budget to do so! Thanks so much for your comment. Any links to your research or how you set up your data collection would be useful for me at this point.

  • Ken

    Hi Mel,

    Interesting post, I do like that YIS is proactively supporting and encouraging staff to take on action research to the benefit for entire school community.

    I disagree with the idea that fitbit is a trend, I think it is another step towards society as a whole becoming much more aware of their physical movement and how it can benefit them. The fitbit products seem to be the next technological progression from the basic pedometers and apps that started this movement (pun intended).

    What I do like is that fitbit (and similar products) get people thinking about their fitness and are helping more people begin to recognize what minimum requirements are in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and that it is not a scheduled (i.e. going to the gym three times each week) thing, rather it is about consistent healthy choices that add up to bigger gains. My Mom is a great example, since getting her fitbit about 2 years ago she has lost 10kg and walks everyday. This is not something she was doing prior to this device, the “goal” as arbitrary as it appears in some research is a great starting point for the vast majority of the population and provides the motivation to move, and after all isn’t that the point?

    I agree that the fitbit products themselves can be a bit gimmicky, but if you are looking for buy-in from general populations gimmicky is never a bad thing.

    Just my brief thoughts. I am working logistics for distribution, data collection and analysis out in my head so we should chat soon about that.


  • Andrew Colston

    Really enjoyed reading your thoughts! It’s great to know there are people out there thinking in similar ways.

    I have been working on a couple of action research projects at the my school, American School of Bombay, inspired mainly by the work of John Ratey and John Medina. We ran a walking workstation prototype, essentially gathering data on the use of treadmill desks and the potential uses for them in our school setting. I also conducted a small project involving collecting daily data about students sleep, mood and how they would like to work in class (solo, with a partner or in large groups). I tracked the data and tried to draw conclusions that would help me plan my classes based on the way the students were feeling.

    This semester I am working on with the Science dept and looking at removing the chairs from the science rooms for a period of time or giving students the choice to stand or sit for a lesson. That will be starting hopefully very soon once the final details are sorted.

    In terms of using fitbit or garmin, our dept looked into the idea last year. We already had use of heart rate monitors and decided that we would get additional data from students smart phones. Our kids bring their devices to class and we use apps that use GPS to collect data on movement. It’s still in the early stages but its something we are working on incorporating into our curriculum.

    Let me know if you would like any further details about some of the things we are trying. Look forward to reading about how your project progresses through the year.

  • mhamada

    Ty, thanks for your really detailed comment. I do need to do more reading and thinking about this project – the intensity of exercise is important but I wonder if that is so vital to our ES population and if we do intense exercise for 20 minutes and then sit the rest of the day, is that an issue too? I would like to do some evaluation of devices too. Cost for data analysis. Fitbit is a bit gimmicky but I can get data on the number of steps (and so intensity) over an hour of each day which is nice as it graphs nicely for comparison and I have found a study looking at average numbers of steps for ES aged children which could provide me with a benchmark for my study too. I plan to contact some Professor’s from different University’s who do this research so that I can chat to them or at least get some of their studies to allow me to pin what I should be heading towards and why. I am also listening to Vox Podcast and trying to connect with Dr. Dodd and I need to re-read Spark and this time take some notes. I would love to read your ‘easy to follow’ summary of the Naperville PE story and will hunt out the resources you suggest here too – thank you again for sharing.

  • Ty Riddick

    Wow, great idea Mel! So many discussion points, but this what initially comes to mind.

    It’s a strange disconnect that schools are supposedly centers of learning but the majority of teachers and students have a limited understanding of what conditions actually help the brain learn. I think PD for the teachers on the latest brain science research Dr. Dodd discussed at APPEC or that can be found in Ratey’s Spark is an essential first step. Before the year is done here I will try and re-write the story of Naperville PE in the US and their incredible story into student friendly language for our ESL students so that they can begin to understand the value exercise has on the brain. Imagine if staff knew that individuals are “curing” Parkinson’s just by walking regularly (from Norman Doidge – The Brain’s Way of Healing), or that movement can focus a student with ADD. The research is undeniable, and convincing enough for teachers to at least try and incorporate brain boost activities into their lessons. I recently finished reading Teach Like a Pirate in which Burgess includes a number of ways teachers can incorporate kinaesthetic movement activities into their traditionally “sitting” lessons. In Christopher McDougall’s Natural Born Heroes he discusses research in which individuals who learn and move in nature may have better learning retention skills. Teachers taking students out of the classroom just to ‘be’ surrounded by nature, getting students up and moving in class are simple changes with potentially huge benefits that may be immediately achievable just by connecting them with research. I’m hazarding a guess but YIS hosts their own Beyond Laptops conference, correct? Could be a great place to start.

    I personally haven’t bought into the FitBit trend, I guess I am more on the quality of movement versus the quantity (# of steps). The majority of fitness related research I’ve done highlights that the intensity of the movement/activity is more beneficial to health than the quantity of movement. Most of the success experienced by the ‘Spark’ schools in North America were due to the heart rates (intensity) at which they exercised at, not simply a measure of how much, but how hard. I don’t think a “magical number of steps” works, maybe for some, but insufficient for others. Is the step goal the same for all ages? Are all steps created equal?! 🙂 If that’s all we’re after – there’s apps for this. Maybe this changes for baseline data on such a large scale as you propose to do? I can only speculate as I have zero understanding of where your kids or school are at as a whole. The Gopher FitStep might be more affordable option than the Fitbit. Polar Loop is another one that’s interesting, you can receive notifications to your phone when you’ve been inactive for too long.

    I would also be interested (although it maybe unrealistic) to see not only how much they move but how they are moving, at what intensity, at what levels, through which pathways and how that changes between age and gender. It would be very interesting, as you suggest, to pinpoint if it at certain intervals of the day students are immobile longer than others – may have greater implications for timetabling courses to help break up the “sitness”.

    Regardless of how you choose to implement this, this sounds like a huge step in the right direction for PE advocacy looking forward to reading how it turns out for YIS, keep us posted as you progress.

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