Exploration of an innovative approach to physical education (better movers and thinkers) on children’s coordination and cognition
Dalziell, Andrew Gregor
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In Scotland, Health and Well-Being (HWB) has become a core area in school curricula following the introduction of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence in 2004. Physical Education (PE) is one of the subjects within HWB, which places it within a prominent position to positively influence children’s decisions to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Scottish Government guidelines indicate that each child aged 3 – 11 years should receive 2 hours of PE each week and children aged 12 – 18 years should receive 2 periods of PE each week. The percentage of schools achieving 2 hours/2 periods each week is encouraging with 99% of primary schools and 93% of secondary schools in 2015. Some head teachers might have had concerns that increasing the time spent in PE would detrimentally affect academic attainment and achievement in other curricula areas such as numeracy and literacy. Evidence does not support these concerns; some studies showed no detrimental effect whilst other studies identified a beneficial effect as a result of increased time spent in PE. However, the understanding of how these positive effects were mediated remains unclear. The literature considers physical activity (PA) as a potential mediator with more recent studies evaluating the impact of physical activity (PA) on academic achievement and attainment. A clearer understanding about which approaches to PE and PA are most effective in positively influencing children’s learning would be of value aligned with the knowledge of student’s experiences and perceptions of PE. The aim of this thesis was to evaluate if a novel approach to PE known as ‘Better Movers and Thinkers (BMT)’ could positively influence children’s coordination and cognition and to evaluate student’s experiences of this approach. Three studies were planned to explore this aim. Study one involved a feasibility study being undertaken with students who were in their sixth year of education (n = 46) within two primary schools from one local authority to evaluate the feasibility of running BMT as an intervention within school. The study involved pre- and post-testing of two quantitative outcome measures; the Movement Assessment Battery for Children – 2nd Edition and the Lucid Assessment for Schools System as well as collecting qualitative data from the students and class teachers using focus groups and semi-structured interviews to obtain an understanding of their experiences following a 16-week intervention phase. Academic skills were assessed using the Lucid Assessment System for Schools 8 – 11 and physical testing was undertaken using balance and coordination subtests from the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (2nd Edition). Quantitative results revealed significant increased score changes between pre- and post-test conditions in the areas of phonological skills (p = .042), segmentation skills (p = .014) and working memory (p = .040) in favour of the intervention condition. Analysis of qualitative data from a sample of students from the intervention condition (n = 8) and their class teacher indicated good acceptability of BMT as an alternative approach to PE. The results and reflections from study one informed the design of study two. In response to study one, more specific measures of cognition were used as the nature of the academic skills testing was limited in this area. Similarly, the physical testing did not specifically measure coordination and new physical subtests were added to the outcome variable. Further PA habits were included as an additional outcome measure to control for the effects of student activity levels. Finally, the addition of a follow-up testing phase helped to evaluate if changes did occur between pre- and post-testing similar to study one, would these changes be maintained over time. The aim of study two was to identify what impact BMT had on children’s coordination and cognition. The study involved 6 schools from within the same local authority, 3 acting as the control condition schools (C-schools) and 3 as the intervention condition schools (I-Schools). The schools were selected at random by the Quality Improvement Officer (QIO) within the local authority. There were a number of potential schools and the QIO chose schools based on two criteria: their proximity with one another ensuring that catchment areas would be similar in regard to local history, geography and socioeconomic variables and schools where it would be feasible to run the research. Once the schools were identified, their names were placed within opaque-sealed envelopes and a person external to the study chose 3 schools and allocated them to the intervention condition leaving the other 3 as the control condition. Students (n = 150) were all in their sixth year of primary education attending mainstream public school. Study two involved four phases; pre-test, a 16-week intervention phase, post-testing, and, 6-month follow-up testing. Physical activity habits were assessed using the ‘Physical Activity Habits Questionnaire for Children (PAQ-C),’ coordination was assessed using four patterns of locomotion (crawling on the stomach, creeping on hands and knees, marching and skipping) and cognition was assessed using the ‘Cognitive Assessment System (CAS).’ Overall findings from study two suggested significant intervention effects in coordination (p = .001) and cognition (p = .001) with no significant effects for physical activity habits (p = .200). Semi-structured focus group interviews were conducted in each of the 6 schools. Grounded theory was used to identify emergent themes and categories to evaluate student perceptions of their PE experiences following completion of the intervention phase. Analysis identified that BMT provided different experiences compared with traditional approaches to PE suggesting that key aspects of BMT should be incorporated into the delivery of PE lessons to build on current good practice. These aspects include the direct focus on developing the children’s ability to move and think simultaneously and, directly targeting the development of Executive Function (EF) skills. The findings from this thesis have implications for Continued Lifelong Professional Learning (CLPL) for primary school teachers and for specialist PE teachers. The findings may also influence course programmes within Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and specialist PE training and for future PE programme design.