Moving Maths - Effects and experiences of physical activity integrated into primary school mathematics lessons

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Lecture hall L2, University of Oulu

Topic of the dissertation

Moving Maths - Effects and experiences of physical activity integrated into primary school mathematics lessons

Doctoral candidate

Master of Education Sirpa Sneck

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Education, Learning and Educational Technology Research Unit (LET)

Subject of study



Professor Pirjo Aunio, University of Helsinki


Professor Sanna Järvelä, University of Oulu

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Mainly positive experiences of physical activity integrated into primary school mathematics lessons

Only about half of the Finnish primary school children meet the national recommendation for physical activity, which guides children to move briskly and in a versatile manner for at least an hour a day. Regular physical activity supports children’s growth and development in many ways and also affects brain functions which in turn may have an impact on learning.

Integrating physical activity into the school days or lessons is one option to increase children’s daily activity. This dissertation is a part of a larger Moving Maths study which is conducted by Likes research center at Jyväskylä University of Applied sciences (Jamk). The dissertation aimed at finding out how integration of physical activity affected third graders’ mathematics performance. In addition, teachers and pupils were interviewed to find out about their experiences of the physically active lessons. International research results on the topic were collected and they showed that in about half of the studies where physical activity was added to the school day, pupils’ mathematics performance improved.

Altogether 13 schools, 22 teachers and almost 400 pupils participated in the study. Lesson plans for physically active mathematics lessons were planned for the teachers for five months. Two kinds of ways to integrate activity into the lessons were compared: In the Moving maths -group physical activity was integrated into the mathematics learning while in the Break group the pupils were activated by two short active breaks during the lessons. A control group, who studied mathematics in a usual way, was also included in the study.

According to the teacher experiences, pupils’ emotional and social engagement was mainly positive in both physically active groups. Some teachers expressed their worries over pupils’ learning results and some had concerns about pupil behavior.

Pupils were mainly excited about the new way to study mathematics and some felt the atmosphere was more relaxed during the lessons. In the Break group the pupils’ experiences were both positive and negative while the Moving maths -group reported mainly positive experiences. Some pupils reported that their concentration had improved after the activities. In particular, the pupils brought up the increase in “doing and learning together” which normally plays a small role in mathematics learning.

Physical activity during mathematics lessons did not have harmful effects on learning, but instead, the results were alike in both study groups. Even though some lesson time was used for physical activity, the learning results were not weaker than in the control group. It can be concluded that integrating physical activity into mathematics lessons can improve pupils’ welfare and learning. Most pupils and teachers welcomed the integration of physical activity. Based on the results of this dissertation, enforcing the role of physical activity during lessons can be recommended to ensure children’s welfare and development.
Last updated: 13.10.2022