14 years of research to practice for a whole-school-physical activity initiative
The current educational norm in Australia and globally is for students to sit for approximately 75% of the school day. This is despite the fact that prolonged sedentary (sitting) time is linked to negative health outcomes, lower levels of concentration and decreased academic achievement. This is compounded by low levels of physical activity. Only 14% of Australian children (5–12 years) meet government-recommended levels of 60 minutes of physical activity per day, which has been further exacerbated by the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, a period where children were less likely to meet physical activity recommendations.
It is well known that adequate physical activity plays an important role in the prevention of ill-health. Less is known about the role physical activity plays in learning. Physical activity has been positively associated with increased academic-related outcomes including cognitive skills, attitude, academic behavior, engagement in learning and academic achievement. Therefore, the school day offers an ideal opportunity to enhance children’s physical activity and simultaneously improve their learning.
TransformUs is an online whole-of-primary school health and education initiative. Research evidence has shown the program to be effective at increasing children’s physical activity while simultaneously improving their learning and wellbeing.
TransformUs provides professional learning and resources for the education community via a website and app. TransformUs uses innovative behavioural, instructional, and environmental strategies in multiple settings across the day (Table 1). Actions happen in the classroom, across the whole school, and at home. The aim is to support schoolchildren to be more active and more engaged in their learning, improve their educational outcomes and benefit their health and wellbeing.
Table 1. The TransformUs Strategies
|Active Academic Lessons: utilize incidental activity as part of the lesson (e.g. standing desks, roving stations, collaborating at easels or white boards) and embodied and / or experiential learning where the body or the movement itself becomes a vehicle for learning.|
|Active Breaks: interrupt prolonged periods of sitting and can be used to: complement lesson content using physical and visual reinforcement, introduce or summarise lesson content, re-energise and re-engage students in learning, structure the lesson, proactively manage the class, and, create a positive classroom environment.|
|Health and wellbeing class lessons: foster student agency, build skills and increase knowledge about the importance of being active to enhance health and wellbeing.|
|Active Environments: includes signage, equipment, facilities, resources, policies, teacher encouragement and support to promote physical activity inside the classroom and at recess and lunchtime.|
|Engaging families: information and home-based activities for parents and children to engage with at home, to engage students in homebased learning and reinforce the importance of children being active.|
The TransformUs model supports general classroom teachers to transform their teaching practice and their environment to create a positive, engaging classroom (Figure 1).
Over the last 14 years TransformUs has moved from a randomised controlled trial to an implementation-effectiveness trial being offered at-scale to all primary schools in the state of Victoria, Australia.
In the last two years TransformUs has been expanding to other states. Using co-design process with key stakeholders, teachers and principals it has been adapted for secondary schools, for students with additional needs and pre-service teachers studying at university (Figure 2). There is no equivalent evidence-based online training and resource platform, nationally or globally, to support schools, principals and teachers to improve both health and education outcomes of their students.
TransformUs is aligned with world, national and state priorities and targets for physical activity. Delivered in real-world settings and framed by implementation science, TransformUs has the potential to advance the health and education outcomes of all school students.
Authors: Prof Jo Salmon, Sam Lai, Dr Natalie Lander, and Jacqui Della Gatta
Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University