Administrators at Oskaloosa (Iowa) Middle School implemented a program that uses physical exercise to prepare sixth-grade students for their most rigorous academic classes each day.

Oskaloosa’s sixth-grade students begin each day with a 20-minute activity session before settling into their math and literacy courses, each of which are 90 minutes long. Officials added the activity period after PE teacher Betsy Luck researched the positive impact that a Daily Mile program in England has had on students.

physical exercise

Oskaloosa M.S. students take part in their morning physical exercise session before heading off to their math and literacy classes.

Using Physical Exercise to Improve Academic Performance

“I’d been reading a lot of the research on the 15-minute mile,” Luck said. “We’re trying to get them to get them to complete a mile before they go down for two 90-minute blocks of very intense academics with a math block and a literacy block.”

Science-based studies show that physical activity stimulates the nervous system, activating neurons and brain development. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behavior, all of which are important components of improved academic performance.”

Benefits include but are not limited to:

  • Enhanced concentration and attention
  • Increased brain neurotransmitters
  • Improve classroom behavior

Oskaloosa administrators also wanted to reverse a recent trend that’s seen standardized math and literacy testing scores of incoming sixth graders drop. To address the scores, the school created the 90-minute blocks at the beginning of the day.  

Pairing her Daily Mile research with earlier findings of Paul Zientarski and Phil Lawler, Luck approached her administrators about starting a similar “Zero Hour” program at Oskaloosa.

“We wanted to give them a huge jolt of oxygenated blood flowing through their systems before they go down , and also as sixth graders, to get those jitterbugs out so they can go down there and focus,” she said.

Tracking Progress with PE Assessment Platform

Luck uses the IHT Spirit System for her PE classes. Students wear IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitors and Luck measures student performance – do they regularly meet goals for minutes spent exercising in their target heart rate zones? – in the system’s customizable assessment software. Though students don’t wear the heart rate monitors for their morning activity, Luck can still track their academic progress with her system by working with the math and literacy teachers.

“We want to see if they are able to focus better on their studies since we’ve been getting some exercise in beforehand,” Luck said. “This is something that is easy to track once we get it going.”

Luck can pair the academic data she receives with the fitness data she records during her PE classes to show the relationship between physical fitness and academic readiness. The Spirit System allows her to produce reports showing how students and classes have progressed throughout the year.

“We’ve seen the scores start to come back a little bit so this has been a really positive thing,” Luck said. “I’m also eager to see how this impacts our fitness scores in PE.”

Closing an Activity Gap

Luck had a second motivation to add the zero-hour activity period for the incoming sixth graders. With the added focus on the academic blocks, sixth-grade students only attend PE class once every four days. That didn’t sit well with Luck or her PE colleagues.

“For us, we really don’t like being limited to every fourth day of activity for these kids, but now we’re doing it every day and seeing a big improvement,” she said. “We really wanted to get back some more movement time and we were able to knock out this 30-minute block.”

Separate from her PE class, Luck said students don’t have to meet specific goals, though she encourages them to see if they can complete a mile in 15 minutes, the premise of the Daily Mile program she studied over the summer. Early results have been positive, she said.

“I think it’s been going great,” Luck said. “They don’t have to run. We just want them out there and moving. They seem to enjoy it.”

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    Using Morning Physical Exercise Boosts Math, Literacy Test Scores
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    Using Morning Physical Exercise Boosts Math, Literacy Test Scores
    Administrators at Oskaloosa Middle School implemented a physical exercise program to prepare sixth-graders for their most rigorous academic classes each day.
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    Interactive Health Technologies, LLC
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