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Twist and Shout: Using physical movement in STEM education

If a session begins with a paper airplane-making activity, you know it’s going to be good. That is how presenters Jen Lokey from the Powerhouse Science Center (formerly the Durango Discovery Museum), Isabel Leeder from the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, and Woody Sobey from the Science Center of Idaho kicked off their session, “Twist and Shout: Using physical movement in STEM education.” The energetic session also included a 110-foot “crab walk” and dance interpretations of scientific concepts. All of these activities were used to demonstrate ways to include movement in educational programs.

As Lokey and Leeder discussed during the session, numerous studies have shown the positive correlation between physical activity and content retention. Movement stimulates brain activity and brain plasticity, and increases “feel good” neurotransmitters such as dopamine while decreasing stress hormones like cortisol. And, while many studies focus on elementary school-age children, this positive correlation has been demonstrated in learners of all ages. Studies have also shown that decreased movement, and the decrease in parks and active play, have contributed to the increase in attention disorders.

Sobey discussed how strategies like making paper airplanes in one location and testing them in another, and moving chairs to make room are simple ways to incorporate movement into an activity. As Lokey described, strategies for integrating movement can be explicit or implicit. Explicit methods are helpful for young learners and include an explanation of why movement is being incorporated into an activity, e.g. “let’s do some jumping jacks to wake everyone up and get the blood flowing!” Implicit methods of incorporating movement are good for older children who know that movement and exercise are important and will then connect it to positive activities. Leeder also discussed the Frost Museum of Science’s GROOVE program, a randomized controlled trial that explores the potential for virtual reality technologies as a medium to promote healthy lifestyles.