8 reasons why children benefit from Physically Active Learning
Indoor break is no fun for teachers. This is partly because it’s harder to set up the classroom for the next lesson or get some marking done, but mainly because teachers instinctively understand that children need the time to move around and prepare their brains for learning.
A growing body of research by cognitive neurologists backs this up, showing that there is increased brain activity and improved on-task behaviours when tackling cognitive tasks following a period of being physically active.
Even with these known benefits, it can be difficult to provide children with regular opportunities to be physically active within the school day, and even harder to ensure they achieve the recommended 30 minutes of in-school moderate-to-vigorous activity every day. One solution is physically active learning (PAL) – an innovative teaching and learning approach which integrates movement into the learning experience.
Maths on the Move (MOTM) is an example of PAL, and covers the KS1 and KS2 National Curriculum for Maths in a physically active manner. In 2019/2020, Leeds Beckett University (LBU) carried out an independent evaluation of the programme, with the following themes emerging through their research.
1) PAL boosts physical activity and reduces sedentary time
Unfortunately, reports suggest that physical activity levels in children are at an all-time low. In order to combat sedentary behaviour, PAL sessions integrate curriculum-based content with physical activities.
The LBU evaluation showed that a single 45-minute MOTM session allowed children to accumulate 6.4 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity and 19.8 minutes of light physical activity, whilst reducing sedentary activity by 9.5 minutes. This meant that 28% more children met the recommended amount of activity on a day which includes a PAL session.
2) Facilitates learning and understanding
The LBU evaluation of MOTM was unique in that it examined whether children made progress in a defined area of the KS2 Maths National Curriculum.
By undertaking the MOTM Year 5 Fractions and Decimals programme for 6 weeks, children who attended improved their test scores from 11.3 out of 25 to 18 out of 25. In contrast, the children who continued with their normal classroom-based lessons improved from 10.1 out of 25 to 11 out of 25 – a marked difference.
3) Increases concentration and time on task in other lessons
Many teachers already use brain breaks or energisers to reinvigorate the children in their class and even a short amount of physical activity has been seen to have a positive impact on concentration and attention.
Teachers felt that MOTM sessions provided a similar reprieve to an active break: “They come back in really calm, and it’s nice to see actually they’ve had that energy, but they’ve concentrated.” This indicates that embedding physically active learning sessions in the curriculum can benefit other timetabled lessons in the day.
4) Increases confidence and reduces anxiety
For children who fear maths or have low self-esteem in their ability to think mathematically, changing the learning environment can have a profound effect. By placing the emphasis on learning through games in PAL sessions, children feel more at ease getting involved, allowing them to grow in confidence.
Back in the classroom, children were able to make links between the understanding gained in the PAL lesson and classroom-based learning. Children expressed that they now had more confidence in answering questions, feeling that they knew the answers.
5) Improves resilience
Building resilience in children is of vital importance and there are many advocates for the role of physical activity in supporting children in becoming resilient.
Teachers observed noticeable changes back in the classroom for pupils who had attended MOTM sessions: “In terms of their attitudes towards learning, they seem more resilient and a lot more confident, and they don’t have any tears if they can’t answer any of the questions. They just persevere with it.”
6) A more inclusive approach
Combining maths and physical activity allows children to become more immersed in both the physical activities and the maths challenges. Teachers felt that children who usually engaged with physical activity but not maths, were more involved and vice versa: “Those that don’t like Maths, they’re hooked by the moving, and those that like Maths anyway, they’re just happy to do Maths as well as something else.”
Some pupils who usually believed they were “not that good at sport” felt that they were included more than usual. With that in mind, PAL can prevent isolation by “allowing everyone to get involved and take part in the sessions”.
7) Allows for collaboration and team work
PE lessons often provide opportunities for children to work together but maths lessons tend to involve less teamwork. By grouping children in PAL sessions, you can offer the chance for children to discuss and share their maths understanding, allowing them to give and receive feedback and understand different perspectives.
It also provides healthy competition between teams which draws out the importance of working as a team: “We had to work as a team because you had to interact with other people to know what they got.”
8) Fun, exciting and enjoyable
Any intervention that is not well received by the children will struggle to maintain its position in a busy timetable and is unlikely to have a positive impact.
Children who took part in the MOTM programme really wanted to continue with the sessions after the programme had concluded, saying: “I think it would be really good if it continues because it’s really fun and always gets me awake for the day” and “If it continues, it will help us learn more Maths, it would help us generate even better grades”.
In summary, the data to support physically active learning is compelling, and the accompanying feedback from both children and teachers provides a deep and insightful exploration into how this can work in schools practically.
If you would like to know more about the research conducted on MOTM or would like to see how it could work for your school, you can find more details at
or contact us on 07733 156764 and email@example.com and our team of experts can discuss your options.
It sounds good, but does physically active learning actually work?
Learning maths whilst being physically active. It definitely sounds like fun, but does it really work? The short answer is yes, it does. A six-week study conducted by academics at Leeds Beckett University has concluded that the Maths on the Move (MOTM) programme both improves maths attainment and increases physical activity levels.
The study, conducted prior to lockdown at the end of 2019, compared outcomes for children taking part in a MOTM programme against control groups who continued with traditional classroom-style maths lessons. All MOTM sessions were delivered by experienced Aspire-trained educators.
Children wore accelerometers during the school day to measure their physical activity.
This enabled researchers to find out how MOTM affected children’s chances of meeting the in-school activity target of 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day.
Compared to the control group:
Even prior to lockdown, less than half of children were achieving the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations around physical activity and the figure has worsened throughout the pandemic. The results of this study show that physically active learning can help to fix this problem.
So, we can increase activity, but what about maths performance?
Researchers measured maths performance using tests before and at the end of the programme. Maths attainment test performance significantly improved over time for children on the MOTM programme when compared to the control groups.
The scores for children on the MOTM programme increased from a baseline average score of 11.3/25 (45.2%) to 18.1/25 (72.4%). The scores for the control groups increased from 10.1/25 (40.4%) to 11/25 (44%) over the same period of time.
These findings support our own year-long study across the academic year 2019 – 2020, where
You can read more about that study here: https://www.aspire-sports.co.uk/blog/how-do-you-boost-childrens-maths-confidence-and-attainment
Researchers found that MOTM was an overwhelmingly positive experience for schools.
Here’s what some of the children and their teachers had to say:
“I feel excited and happy, I feel this because we get to do fun activities and learn about Maths.” – Aisha, Year 5
“I like sports but … I also like Maths a bit… I like them all together and it’s really fun because you … challenge each other”– Sana, Year 5
“If Maths on the Move is part of your curriculum, it would have an impact on the general enjoyment of Maths” – Shannon, Teacher
“In terms of their attitudes towards learning, they seem more resilient and a lot more confident, and they don’t have any tears if they can’t answer any of the questions. They just persevere with it.” – Zuri, Teacher
Why do we need physically active learning?
Pandemic or no pandemic, all schools face the dual challenges of keeping children healthy through physical activity and ensuring their academic success.
Structured, active learning programmes enable teachers to cut the time children are expected to sit at a desk whilst still covering the academic curriculum.
Children respond positively to an active learning environment. It can boost confidence and improve academic performance.
Physical activity in school can be integrated into daily routines rather than positioned as an optional extra.
Why is Maths on the Move a good choice?
Following the success of MOTM, Aspire, MOTM programme creators, are now developing English on the Move. We expect that this programme will be available in schools from January 2022.
Find out more
We’re running a free webinar on Thursday 17th June at 4:30pm for anyone who is interested in hearing more about the latest study. The webinar, featuring Dr Jade Morris who carried out the research, will look at how and why to introduce physically active learning into your primary school.
Reserve your place now.