Exercise in the Classroom: a Movement Viewed Through a Self-Reg Lens

 In Self-Regulation Institute Blog

Imagine, you are in grade four and it’s time for math. You are sitting at your desk, but you cannot focus – you are tired, fidgety, and distracted. How easy do you think it would it be for you to learn the math lesson being taught? Not so easy, right? You need to run or rest so that you can be ready to tackle division with clarity. It is so crucial to find ways for students to manage their energy levels in the classroom, so they can be alert to learn and do their best.

My research considers how students can use exercise to manage their energy levels so that they can thrive academically.

Recently, exercise bikes have become a popular addition to the classroom and research supports this movement. Exercise within the school setting has been linked to increases in grade performance, academic achievement123 and even a student’s overall physical and mental health.4 In addition, exercise can support a student’s ability to manage their energy levels for learning.

My preliminary research found that exercise bikes placed within school environments were used for one of the two following reasons. First, students noted the bikes allowed for them to upregulate or as they put it to “get energy” when they were feeling tired. Second, students used the bike to “get rid of energy” that was causing them to feel fidgety, or to down-regulate.

There was also a group of students who did not use the bike. The teachers I worked with noted that there were many factors that might impede some students from using the bike including: where it is placed, who decides when it is used, or even a student’s perceived self-image while using the bike. These observations suggest that while the bike may help some students self-regulate, it can do the opposite for other students as some felt intimidated or apprehensive by the bike within their classroom. This group of students warrant further study to consider what different techniques would help them to regulate their energy levels within the classroom.

Conclusions from this study made it clear that we needed to take a step back and take a broader look to explore other ways to implement exercise as a tool for Self-Reg within the school system. To accomplish this, I am expanding my research by partnering with a local school board to better understand how exercise and classroom modification have furthered the implementation of a Self-Reg framework into the classroom environment. This project will be carried out in order to compliment my preliminary research to understand how to best support students to reduce their stress and manage their overall energy from the perspective of teachers. Through focus groups, I have collected data, including photographs taken by teachers to add the teacher’s perspective of their classroom environment directly into the data collected. This will provide the research team with a better understanding of what teachers are currently doing and what successes they have observed.

Preliminary data analysis has shown that teachers within the study believe that exercise is a game-changer for student well-being. A significant finding was that teachers are moving beyond standard exercise programs or equipment, and more towards a natural integration of exercise into their students’ everyday routine.

This project will highlight why a holistic approach to exercise and education matters both to a student’s learning and their health. In the province of Ontario, we have seen a rise in childhood obesity associated with low levels of physical activity.5 These physical issues have implications for a child’s overall well-being including their stress levels which can negatively impact mental health. To combat these statistics, schools need to find innovative ways to use the Self-Reg framework to help students to better regulate energy levels and stress in an effort to increase student well-being.

  1. Mullender-Wijnsma et al., 2015
  2. Ardoy et al., 2014
  3. Torrijos-Niño et al., 2014
  4. Bunketorp Käll, Malmgren, Olsson, Lindén & Nilsson, 2015
  5. Roberts, Sheilds, de Groh, Aziz & Gilbert, 2012
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