PBL Likes to Move It, Move It!

We use our feet to move. The wheel was invented to improve how we move. Technology has made it possible for all people to move. Movement is a natural part of life. You can see all around you people, animals, and Earth’s elements moving from one place to another. Even the planet we live on is constantly moving—19 miles per second to be exact.

If movement is so natural, why are students often limited to do so? Why is classroom instruction often restrained to chairs and tables? Sitting still for longer than 15 minutes is difficult for me, let alone a 9-year-old. Luckily, there are activities and instructional methods that incite students to move. There is plenty of research to support students’ need to get out of their seats. Normally, I would say sit back and enjoy reading the article. Instead, let’s try: jump up, stretch your legs, or walk to a new location and happy reading.

To Move, or Not to Move? Move, of Course!
“Incorporating exercise and movement throughout the school day makes students less fidgety and more focused on learning. Improving on-task behavior and reducing classroom management challenges are among the most obvious benefits of adding physical activities to your teaching toolkit” (Edutopia).

During my Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program in Finland, I saw first-hand the benefits of student movement. It was evident from my observations that students were attentive and focused on the learning activities. One would think students tend to be more distracted when they are moving around. On the contrary. I witnessed students concentrating on their learning tasks and discussing ideas with peers. When kinesthetic learning is modeled, practiced, and used daily, it becomes a customary part of the classroom.

Stretch the Idea of Seating
People do yoga and Pilates for many reasons, especially to increase flexibility and strengthen the mind. The same principle can apply to classroom seating arrangements. Why make the learning space rigid and confined when there is a world of possibilities?

In many of the Finnish classroom I visited, there weren’t just traditional desks. There were flexible seating options as well. I found classrooms filled with balance balls, wobble stools, bean bags, oversized pillows, standing desks, and bucket chairs. Flexible seating can range from simply allowing students to choose their seats to elaborately planned rooms with a wide range of seating options that allow students to work in different positions. Unlike typical row-by-column desks, flexible seating gives students a sense of ownership in their learning environment. Being able to modify the learning space and choose where to work encourages community-building through an increased emphasis on collaboration.
Speaking of Flexible
Project-based learning (PBL) is a great method to encourage students to move. PBL is a flexible instructional model. Pedagogical strategies are designed to meet students’ individual needs and address their learning preferences. Students will undergo the inquiry process in order to find solutions to real-life issues, explore interesting phenomena from around the world, and pursue a passion that will improve their talents and skills. During PBL, students will move around the school to utilize a diverse set of resources from laptop computers to 3D printers. Students will create temporary meeting spaces to discuss project goals with group members. Students will seek counsel from other teachers and peers in different classrooms. There is really no limit to the amount of movement students can experience during PBL.

Adding More Movement
In addition to the natural movement of students in the classroom, there are many strategies to keep educators mindful of getting students out of their seats. Support student learning by incorporating movement and physical activity into the school day. Many of these ideas were inspired by the article, Ways to Include More Movement in the Classroom.

  • Whole Class Exercising
    • Get your class involved in a structured stretch or exercise routine before beginning the school day or before each lesson. Some exercise movements to consider are jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, and a wide-variety of static stretching positions. 
  • Schedule Breaks
    • Short breaks after each lesson or in the middle of longer activities will do students’ bodies and minds good. You can find fun break break activities on YouTube and Go Noodle
  • Activate the Senses
    • Prompt students to utilize their senses to learn new content. For instance, introduce topics by having students feel items in a “mystery box.” Students can describe new scents and identify new sounds. Music and dance are great sources of inspiration for movement and appreciating our senses.  
  • Apply Gamification Elements
    • Playing games is an excellent way for students to move and socialize while learning new information. Students do not necessarily have to play a game to experience gamification. For example, students can move between stations to progress through a lesson. Students can redeem reward points they have earned for extra recess time or to teach the class a new skill. 
  • Support Kinesthetic Learning
    • There are numerous ways to learn besides absorbing information from a chair or taking notes on top of a desk. Invite students to move around the classroom to collect information. Technology has really enhanced the process of learning “on the go.” Students can find information from a QR code on the wall, from a mobile device, and from rotating between stations that contain print and digital resources. 
  • Expand the Learning Space
    • The classroom is just a fraction of the space available in and around the school. Try moving the lesson to a new location. If you are learning about nature, take a walk around the school grounds or to a nearby park. If students are learning about sequential order, take them to an area where they can create sequences by coding robots. Be creative on how and where students learn. It will definitely give them something to remember. 

Movement is not a new phenomenon. Humans have been migrating for millions of years. Movement is not a new to education either. There has long been discussion about the best strategies to keep students engaged while promoting physical fitness. You do not have be a scientist to understand that brain power is fueled by energizing movement. Students want to move. They want to learn. Give them both and see the benefits for yourself.

Further Reading
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