Every Thursday I have a 2hr Science lesson that is split by a 1hr PE lesson. So I have the Year 9 for 1hr, they go off to PE for 1hr and I have them back again. Needless to say, when they come back from PE it looks like they have all run a marathon and some have even been known to be physically sick!! Learning is usually wiped out unless I can coax them into action with a low stress, low impact practical or a “quiet” writing activity.
The cause of my reflection has been that I have always been led to believe that physical activity correlates well to improved attainment. Indeed all the studies I can find link periods of activity to increases in attainment. Taking aside the clear unfitness of my learners and the physical impact of their PE lessons, I am reflecting on whether or these lessons are actually making them smarter.
An experiment me thinks.
Last week I performed this rough and ready experiment. I measured the resting heart rate, blood pressure and reaction times of some 40 learners – both immediately BEFORE and AFTER this PE lesson and I present the results here.
Why reaction time? One it’s easy to measure (ruler drop) and evidence links reaction time to attainment – quicker reaction time seems to drive increased attainment.
Figure 1 shows the results for heart rate and reaction time, both BEFORE and AFTER a 1hr PE lesson. For discussion BOY and GIRL data has been coloured separation. Interestingly the figure shows that in both circumstances higher heart rate links to longer reaction time, and that within each condition, the correlation is tight.
The data AFTER PE has a larger spread and shows more variability.
ANOVA was carried out to see if the B/G split produced any significant observations. B/G is not significant in determining Heart rate both before and after exercise but is highly significant (P<0.05) in determining reaction time, both before and after PE. This sex differential between reaction times for boys and girls mirrors previous work in linking game playing to manual dexterity.
For each pupil the change in heart rate and reaction time was calculated:
Figure 2 shows how the heart rates and reaction times changed for the pupils. Those pupils whose heart rate changed the most saw the greatest decrease in reaction time, with the correlation between them being tight and R2 being 0.76. We can use change in heart rate to predict change in reaction time.
Back to the post title: PE makes you smarter?
Going out on a limb here as I did not record this and I am not sure on the ethics of capturing such information but…. those students with the greatest increase in heart rate AFTER a PE lesson are likely to be the most unfit as their heart rate has not returned to resting. These students have the greatest change in reaction speed. So, PE makes those “unfit” learners see an improvement in reaction time – hence cleverer…..
If I am to believe my own results, how can I harness that physically they might be a wreck after PE, but mentally they should be all fired up and ready to go?
- Food for thought – should we plan our curriculum round periods of physical activity (some countries seem to do so – I remember a documentary on the Chinese system of learn-callisthenics. ?
- Should we have PE every day?