If you could make only one change this year.

Brain based engagement

If you could make only one change this year (seriously, I do mean just one), which change would you make? Of course, the answer depends on what you already do well.

When I first started teaching, no one was talking about the effect sizes of what we did in the classroom. But, in retrospect, my trial and error teaching processes led me to implement some of the highest effect size strategies in all education.

This month you will learn a simple, easy-to-implement strategy that will pay massive dividends ALL year long. In fact, today’s research shows that it is an absolute blockbuster for student learning.

(continued below AFTER this brief announcement)

NoticeAre You Serious About Change at Your School?

Be honest; are you ready to start moving your school forward QUICKLY? Do you want to know what has already PROVEN to work when it comes to school change that elevates student learning and test scores?

If so, you may want to attend my new, completely revised and updated “Game Changers” program. This workshop is going to impact you for years. Why?

First, it’s being led by myself, Dr. Eric Jensen, who has worked at 150 Title 1 schools and who can give you real-world solutions backed by evidence-based research.

Second, the course is packed with powerful insights and solutions. You’ll learn:

  • The 7 Biggest Reasons WHY change usually fails
  • The hidden emotional and value “drivers” that almost guarantee change
  • The single biggest areas of change that make the greatest difference
  • The 7 Biggest Obstacles to change and how to overcome them
  • Great models of successful school change
  • The best-researched change ideas you can use immediately

The two amazing, evidence-based events in 2018 are being held February 19-21, 2018 and June 18-20, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas, USA. These programs may be your last time to catch me doing this course. You will get the most amazing and powerful event I can possibly offer.

Check this out! To browse details of the event (or to register) go to

The Research

When I first started teaching, I learned fast. I used consistent and variable forms of  1) ongoing formative assessment, 2) extreme high expectations, 3) built cognitive capacity  and 4) engagement using interactive, reciprocal teaching.

I never knew the research on these, but I did know my students had crazy high gains in the courses I taught in middle school reading. Each of those four strategies, as you know, have over the top effect sizes.

But there was one brain-based tool that I used so often, I never even thought about just how good it was. In fact, this tool is one I never thought of as a “strategy.” I just did it, over and over and over. This tool ranks in the Top 20 of ALL contributors towards student achievement (sources listed at the end). So, what is this amazing tool?

What was the intervention that was so valuable?

It is managing the physical, psychological and emotional states of my learners. Yup, the research just caught up with what I was doing.

I call it “State Management”.

A wide and deep search of the science electronic databases (PubMed, ERIC, SPORTDiscus, PsycINFO) shows 39 studies that were consulted for this bulletin. Each of these studies assessed the effect of classroom-based physical activity on both academic and behavioral outcomes to regulate and manage student states. (The examples are found below in “Applications” 1) Active breaks, located under the next section.)

In fact, one of the authors said, “…breaking up lesson time with physical activity offers a promising strategy to improve on-task behavior…” (Watson, et al. 2017).

The results were consistent and significant. In the majority of studies, academic-related and behavior outcomes improved following the student participation in classroom-based physical activity programs. The findings are consistent with prior reviews.

These findings invite you to consider implementing MORE physical activity in your classroom, knowing that the impact will have a large, positive outcome over time, plus any disruption in your lesson planning will all be worthwhile.

What is the research? What does the research tell us about the effect on student learning when consistently using the optimal types of physical activity in the classroom?

The effect is not 0.5, not 1.0, but a butt-kicking 1.51 effect size! (Erwin, Fedewa, Beighle, Aaron & Ahn, 2012.) That would put it in the top 20 of ALL effect sizes for classroom interventions. Are you kidding me? What do you already do in your classroom that has a higher effect size? If you’ve got something, please SEND it to me now!

In another study (I could go on for pages, but I won’t), researchers sought to determine how implementing a daily physical activity program that incorporated classroom lessons would affect student achievement.

First through sixth graders at an academically low-scoring elementary school in Charleston, S.C., took part in the program 40 minutes a day, five days a week. In addition to their traditional physical education class, this program embedded subject-specific movements into the regular classroom, as you will read about below (under “Applications” 2) Curriculum-focused learning).

Researchers compared state standardized reading test scores for each of two groups, using data from the year prior to the program compared with scores at the end of the program year. The results were impressive. Specifically, the percentage of students reaching their goal on the state tests increased from half (55%) to two-thirds (68%) after the program was initiated.

So, what was the movement done in the research?


Yes, it was classroom movement. But what kind was used?

More specifically, the researchers divided the movement type into two categories.

The types of activity used and measured were:

1) Active breaks: short bouts of physical activity performed as a break from academic instruction, such as a) slower movement (stretching, walking, etc.) and b) brisk movement (running in place, dance, jumping jacks, etc.). The latter had the highest effect sizes.

2) Curriculum-focused learning: short bouts of physical activity that included curriculum content. Here there was integration of physical activity into lessons in key learning areas (e.g., mathematics learned with body movements and gesturing). These did have more moderate (but positive) effect sizes because, presumably, the cardio challenges were absent.

In this category of movement, for example, children traced shapes on the ground while sitting on scooters and hopped through ladders while naming colors on each rung. Also, students who used a treadmill had a monitor that played geography lessons as the student ran through the scene, and a rock-climbing wall was outfitted with numbers that changed as they climbed to help students work on math skills.

In a different study, instead of just saying “2 times 4 equals 8,” kids would jump in place eight times. They would hop for each letter of a word they spelled or use their finger to trace out a word in the air.

Cognitive performance may be enhanced or impaired depending on when it is measured, the type of cognitive task selected, and the type of exercise performed.

In your own classroom, initially, you can lead the activities. After a couple of weeks, invite the students to take on the role of “energy leader.” Just set a few brief rules like 1) everybody participates, 2) everyone has fun and 3) everyone stands first, then moves.

If you don’t know what to do, just get students moving. Put on music and ask them to circle five tables or touch four corners of the room and circle the room three times, before being seated. Just walking alone has HUGE benefits (Schaefer, Lovden, Wieckhorst & Lindenberger, U. (2010).

Do something! Start today, make a plan and follow it.

But wait! As you might have guessed, some studies have found that this strategy does NOT work for many teachers! These teachers lack the confidence, time, interest, or skill in implementing physical activity interventions throughout the school day.

Occasionally, teachers hold negative perceptions of physical activity and its value in replacing instructional time (Morgan, 2008). As a result, even if they get exposure to the value of physical activity, they are hesitant to use it.

If you know a teacher like that, please partner up with them and share what you know, as well as how you implement the activities in your classroom.

Do not expect perfection of yourself; expect constant effort. Every day, do something. Every day, put one foot forward and keep moving, That’s how you become amazing.

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning
Brain-Based Education

Best JR. Exergaming immediately enhances children’s executive function. Dev Psychol. 2012;48(5):1501–10.
Erwin, H, Fedewa, A., Beighle, Aaron & Ahn, S. (2012). A Quantitative Review of Physical Activity, Health, and Learning Outcomes Associated With Classroom-Based Physical Activity Interventions, Journal of Applied School Psychology, 28,14-36.
Lambourne, K. and P. Tomporowski, The effect of exercise-induced arousal on cognitive task performance: a meta-regression analysis. Brain Res, 2010. 1341(0): p. 12–24.
Mahar MT. (2011). Impact of short bouts of physical activity on attention-to-task in elementary school children. Prev Med. 52 Suppl S60-4.
Morgan, P. J. (2008). Teacher perceptions of physical education in the primary school: Attitudes, values and curriculum preferences. Physical Educator, 65, 46–56.
Reed JA, Einstein G, Hahn E, Hooker SP, Gross VP, Kravitz J. Examining the impact of integrating physical activity on fluid intelligence and academic performance in an elementary school setting: a preliminary investigation. J Phys Act Health. 2010;7(3):343–51.
Schaefer, S., Lovden, M., Wieckhorst, B., & Lindenberger, U. (2010). Cognitive performance is improved while walking: Differences in cognitive-sensorimotor couplings between children and young adults. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 7, 371-389.
Warm JS, Parasuraman R, Matthews G (2008) Vigilance requires hard mental work and is stressful. Hum Factors 50:433– 441.
Watson A, Timperio A, Brown H, Best K, Hesketh KD. (2017). Effect of classroom-based physical activity interventions on academic and physical activity outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 25, 114.

One Responseto “If you could make only one change this year.”

  1. Nikki (Barbados) says:

    Hi Eric,
    This information has reinforced my thoughts on the value of integrating music and movement in the curriculum. I am grateful for your up-to-date research and will definitely be employing it as I continue to make a case for the arts in teaching and learning.

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