Unintended Educational Consequences of Personal Fitness

I’ve never been that particularly bothered about my weight, but recently I’ve been working to lose some by becoming fitter. What’s this got to do with education then, you may be wondering?

Well I can’t really organise myself to exercise before work. I live 50 miles away from my school and a morning stroll into work has been estimated at 14.5 hours, which rules that out as a morning fitness activity. I also find it hard to break away from work in the evenings long enough to go to the gym or for a cycle. Nevermind, that’s what the weekends are for? Well, again, not really.

So how do I work to get fitter? One way I’ve established this year, with the help of a colleague, is based on collecting data and making small changes to my behaviour to make healthier choices. In terms of my everyday routine one thing that has had very unintentional educational consequences has been the monitoring of the amount of steps I’m doing in a day with a simple pedometer app.

I use Runtastic’s Pedometer app to do this, I set it when I get into work and turn it off just before I get in the car to make my way home. It was a little shocking at first, looking at how few steps I was taking from day to day, where the recommendation was around 10,000 and I was averaging 3,000. Not ideal. However, knowing is half the battle, so between me and my colleague we decided to simply spend more time in our lessons on our feet and wander around our rooms more.

This has a positive net impact on my overall amount of steps made everyday, moving it very rapidly to the 11,000 range. I am certainly feeling a little more knackered at the end of the school day but a little change in deciding to stay on your feet rather than sitting down during a lesson makes a big difference.

But here’s the big shock. This has really had a positive impact on my students’ work rates, engagement and learning.

It’s not something we’ve worked consciously to achieve, despite other strategies and intervention to motivate students to work smarter, but the impact that simply wandering around the classroom more has been epic. In walking around the room students are more aware of your presence and this motivates them to focus on the task at hand and, well, work! The more time you spend out and about and wandering around means that you can get involved in what the students are doing more directly, if you see a student looking perplexed then you can deal with it before it becomes something they’re doing wrong.

If you see a student starting to distract themselves then you can intervene and get them back on track. As you walk you can read what work the students are producing and comment on them, a decent quality learning dialogue can be started. Students, now aware that you are completely engaged in what they are doing, are more willing to just ask when they are getting stuck, and actively seek out your formative assessment on even the smallest of work that they are feeling unsure of.

You might be thinking, ‘duh’, but the extent to which this has had a dramatic impact is astonishing. Simply moving from wandering around the class, intervening and then sitting back down to mark; to a situation where you’re always on your feet in the thick of it has made some of the most rapid change I’ve ever seen.

In real terms this means that the work rate of students in coursework based subjects has improved rather dramatically. In a recent lesson where students were engaged in writing part of a (coincidentally) 10,000 word analysis of documents, the lowest amount of good quality work achieved in a single session was 1,500 words, with the highest being 4,000! This is seriously epic, especially on a piece of work that groups of the same ability last year took a staggering four weeks to get to even a passing level. The quality is also much improved, with students hitting the high band marks from their first submission rather than having to rework in order to hit that high level.

Lower school students are having fewer opportunities to get distracted or off task and appreciate this new caring approach to their work in the lessons. In short, the unintended consequence of getting up off our backsides and walking around the room more have been that teaching and learning have drastically improved.

So what does all this mean? Well why not try monitoring how much you’re walking around your classroom, if you’re not hitting the recommendations then walk around more, talk to the students, take more time to examine work and have a learning dialogue with the students because, you know what? Just pacing around your room is boring. When you walk around your room you engage with the students more and by extension they engage with the learning. It’ll benefit every single student in your classroom, and maybe accidentally cause you to improve your fitness as a result.

Maybe the title of this article should have been something like ‘accidentally getting fit whilst improving teaching and learning’ rather than the other way around.