Boost Student Learning with Motor Skill Exercises

Lauren Finn, Active Learning Specialist
Lauren Finn, Active Learning Specialist

The association between physical activity, cognitive function and academic performance in children is compelling.  Research tells us that schools need to spend more time on physical education, include longer periods for recess, and provide more opportunities for students to get up and move around in the classroom.  How can we achieve these objectives in a typical school day?


Physical activity is often associated with cardiovascular or aerobic exercise. These activities often require students to change clothes (or at least shoes) and move to another location (the gym or outside). The result is what teachers and administrators call “lost time”.

As an alternative, particularly in the classroom, schools should consider motor or coordinative exercise.  A recent study[i] compared cognitive and memory performance among children randomly assigned to one of three groups: cardiovascular exercise (CE), motor training exercise (ME), and control (CON). The participants were 9 to 10 year olds that took part in 45 minute sessions, three times per week for ten weeks. Students in the CON group attended assisted homework sessions while the CE group participated in running and running-based activities and the ME group participatedcAin motor training (balance, coordination, spatial orientation). Following the intervention, the cognitive performance of both the CE and ME groups improved greater than the CON group; however, the ME group improvement was larger. In addition, the ME group alone showed significantly higher scores on memory performance than the CON group.

Does this mean we need to change direction? No. It means we have more options. There are many easy activities that can be done in a classroom to develop balance, coordination, and spatial orientation. For example: Have students stand next to their desks. Ask them to lift their left leg in front of them. Instruct them to raise their arms out to their sides for balance. If they can do that, tell them to use their right hand to touch their left foot and then return to having their arms at their sides, without lowering the left leg to the floor. Repeat 5 times then switch legs. There will be quite a range in students’ ability to do this!

Motor activities are easy to find online and, due to their less intensive nature, may be easier to incorporate into the daily life of a classroom. This, in addition to strengthening our PE programs, and offering increased opportunities for active play at recess sets our children up for success. Physical activity – in the forms of both motor and cardio exercise – can and should be a natural part of the school day.

[i] Flora Koutsandreou, Mirko Wegner, and Henning Budde, “Active Voice: Exercises that Emphasize Motor Skill Factors Are Better for Improving Cognition in Children,” ACSM Sports Medicine Bulletin (September 6, 2016).

Lauren Finn earned her Masters and PhD in Education Policy from the University of Maryland. She is a certified Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist as well as an Active Learning Specialist.

Her email address is:


Fizika Group Applauds Every Student Succeeds Act

Fizika Group applauds “Every Student Succeeds Act” – signed into law by President Obama in December 2015.  The bi-partisan legislation took more than a decade to emerge from Congress.  The new law elevates the role of school health and physical education as part of a student’s “well-rounded” education. Other subjects noted in the definition of well-rounded education include art, civics, history and geography. The term well-rounded education replaces the term “core subjects” that was used in previous Elementary and Secondary Education Act proposals.

The new law delivers a much-needed fix to the outdated policies of No Child left Behind by rejecting the overuse of standardized tests and one-size-fits all mandates, and instead, empowering states and school districts to develop their own strategies for improvement.

President Obama signs landmark education bill

“We applaud the U.S. Congress for recognizing the importance of school health and physical education as key components of a well-rounded education,” says SHAPE America Chief Executive Officer E. Paul Roetert, Ph.D. “Health and physical educators are uniquely qualified to ensure that all of America’s students develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to enjoy healthy, meaningful physical activity for a lifetime.”

Fizika Group was founded in 2009 to help make health and physical education relevant and prevalent.  Research has shown that active students make better learners.  “We applaud this new law and look forward to working with school districts across the country to make quality health and physical education available to every student,” said Ginny Ward, Managing Director of Fizika Group.   “Students who move while learning are more attentive, focused on task and perform better academically.”

Exercise is Medicine – a Worthwhile Prescription

Biker Fast 1

Concerned about getting older? Memory not working as well as it once did? When was the last time you rode your bike? Is physical activity part of your daily regimine? This is a prescription for how to age gracefully – and retain your mental capacity. No, this script isn’t available in a pharmacy.  Yet research scientists have confirmed that vigorous physical activity stimulates the brain – building new proteins that prevent the hippocampus from shrinking and improving executive function and decision making.

60 minutes a day is what the Institute of Medicine recommends for school age children. Many workplaces are now considering stand up desks, treadmill desks, and stability balls as a way to help employees stay fit – and be more productive on the job. Cities like Lancaster, PA are prepared to make significant changes in the city’s roadways to make it safer and more convenient for people to walk and bike to work. These are important steps forward. It begins with each of us. Join Fizika in advocating more daily physical activity for preschoolers, students, faculty, administrators, parents and families. We need a movement – movement that recognizes that running, jumping, skipping, walking, hiking and biking are not just for fun – but important exercises to keep our brains and our bodies in shape.

Fizika Course Helps Schools Develop Active Learning Environments

(Lancaster, PA) March 16, 2015 — Fizika Group, LLC today announced that registration for the Spring session of the Active Learning Specialist Course, a graduate level educational program aimed at enabling educators and administrators to become certified as Active Learning Specialists, is now open. The course supports school leaders in the effort to integrate at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day into K-12 learning environments.

First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off the national Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative in March 2013 to ensure 60 minutes of physical activity is the new norm in schools. This course helps forward Let’s Move! Active Schools at local sites and prepares school leaders to shape and sustain an educational experience that ties physical activity to student academic success.

Since the online course launched as a professional development opportunity through Harrisburg University School of Science and Technology in July 2013, educators from across the globe have earned the Active Learning Specialist Certificate by applying the latest educational neuroscience, cognitive psychology and best practices to create active learning plans for their schools and organizations.

“The course enables Active Learning Specialists to strategically change their learning culture on a school wide or district-wide basis,” says Martha Lester Harris, President and Co-founder of Fizika Group, the company that created the Active Learning Specialist Course in partnership with Harrisburg University. “A mounting body of evidence supports the need for this type of applied learning and sharing of best practices,” says Harris.

Educators who earn the Active Learning Specialist designation are equipped with the educational neuroscience, cognitive psychology foundation and leadership tools to enable them to strategically improve their teaching practice, and to train others how to incorporate movement into their teaching and learning practice.

“The Active Learning Specialist course provides insight into how best to use physical activity in school to help kids learn and move more, as well as bridge the gap between public health and education,” says Carrie Steindorff, Public Health Educator at the Rockland County Department of Health in New York. Steindorff helped create “March Forward, ” an annual event in local schools to raise awareness and increase the amount of physical activity students receive in school. Steindorff is currently working with area school districts to increase the use of physical activity breaks.

Through Let’s Move! Active Schools, educators also have the opportunity to participate in the Physical Activity Leader (PAL) Learning System. An action-focused training, the PAL Learning System provides an important foundation that can change the school climate through implementation of a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CPSAP). The Active Learning Specialist Course builds on the PAL Learning System, focusing on the increased potential for learning that results in strategic applications of active learning – in the classroom, on the playground, or at home.

Having participated in both the Active Learning Specialist course and the PAL Learning System training, Ms. Steindorff noted how the two programs can complement one another. “The PAL training presents the concept of comprehensive physical activity programming and guides participants in identifying ways to effectively integrate physical activity in school and influence decision-makers. The Active Learning Specialist course provides an in-depth examination of the mutually beneficial impact active learning can have on both the student and teacher. In a supportive school climate, trained teachers and advocates can work together to promote and expedite.”

The course culminates in the development of an active learning plan that is tailored to the needs for improving learning in a specific school or district. Course participants receive feedback from leading physical education and physical activity subject matter experts.

Active Learning Specialists are equipped to work collaboratively with their principals and supervisors to change the school learning environment so that students are more physically active in school, and can become physically literate adults.

Registration for the Spring Cohort of the Active Learning Specialist Course opens today. Tuition is $495 for CEU credit, $625 for 1 transferable graduate credit from Harrisburg University for Science and Technology.

For more information on the course and to enroll in the Spring session, visit:
Spring Session

To enroll in the Summer session, visit:
Summer Session