This is an excerpt from Promoting Elementary School Physical Activity by Russell R. Pate & Ruth P. Saunders.
This element of a physically active classroom has two components: the arrangement of furniture and classroom space, and student-centered (rather than teacher-directed) learning.
Arrangement of Furniture and Classroom Space Classroom space and how it is arranged affects learning, student performance, and well-being (Kariippanon et al., 2018). Flexible arrangements have a variety of furniture options in a relatively open space that can be configured in multiple ways. These spaces can support both individual and collaborative work and may use a range of technologies for personalized learning (Kariippanon et al., 2018). This arrangement contrasts with the traditional positioning of the teacher in the front of the room facing the students, who sit in rows of desks and remain seated for long periods. Nontraditional spaces enable children and adults to move around throughout the day, and they may provide open space for physical activity. They are often associated with student-centered learning.
In 2015, Brittin and colleagues published “Physical Activity Design Guidelines for School Architecture,” a set of comprehensive guidelines for designing school environments that are more conducive to physical activity. Based on a review of 77 studies, they provided recommendations for the design and renovation of classrooms. They found emerging evidence related to designing classrooms that promote physical activity as follows:
- Provide ample room for children and teachers to move in the classroom, supporting physical activity breaks as well as physical activity programs.
- Provide a flexible class layout for multiple and changing configurations.
In addition, several best practices with promise for promoting physical activity were identified as follows:
- Design modular areas and learning hubs, including activity and reading nooks.
- Allow space for student-defined learning areas.
- Provide easy access from classrooms to outdoor play and learning areas, especially for younger children.
Student-Centered Approaches to Learning In student-centered approaches, students are central to their own learning (Kariippanon et al., 2018). This concept contrasts the familiar approach of teacher-directed learning. Baeten and colleagues (2016) present five design principles for student-centered learning environments, and Kariippanon and colleagues (2018) provide examples of teaching and learning activities as well as the types of spaces in which they can take place. These principles and examples are presented as follows:
- Students construct knowledge by actively participating in their learning—selecting, interpreting, and applying new information. This approach contrasts with the teacher simply providing the target information.
- Teaching and learning activities include project-based learning, direct instruction, research-based learning, reflective activities, and discussion.
- These activities can take place in group learning areas, in breakout spaces, in individual pods, and with technology.
- Teachers become facilitators of learning by stimulating students through open-ended questions and providing hints when students become stuck.
- Teaching and learning activities include collaborative and group work, reflective activities, and discussion.
- The classroom has no distinct front of the classroom, and learning may take place in group learning and breakout areas.
- Students learn in cooperation with other students in heterogeneous and small groups. Kariippanon and colleagues (2018) note that options for individual work are also important.
- Teaching and learning strategies include collaborative and group work and peer-to-peer learning. Learning takes place in group learning areas, in breakout and presentation spaces, and with access to technology.
- Assignments are authentic, relating to real-life situations; for example, work may be project based, case based, or inquiry based.
- Teaching and learning strategies include project- and research-based learning. They may take place through one-on-one teacher–student conferencing and in individual pods, group learning areas, and presentation spaces.
- Opportunities for self-regulated learning are part of the learning environment. For example, students have choices about working individually or in groups, in different spaces, and with technology. They become more engaged, motivated, and independent by setting goals, making plans, and carrying them out.
- Teaching and learning strategies include self-directed learning, peer-to-peer learning, and reflective work, and they take place in individual pods and group learning areas.
The teacher values and has positive expectations for each child, which helps to create the child’s sense of belonging to a community. In a facilitative role, teachers structure classroom experiences and engage in behaviors that encourage students to make personal choices, build a sense of mastery, and develop satisfying social relationships. The consistency between flexible learning approaches and tenets of self-determination theory have been noted, particularly the emphasis on student autonomy (choice), mastery, and supportive relationships (Kariippanon et al., 2018; Lillard, 2019).