Do physically active lessons improve pupil engagement?

A study published in Health Education and Behavior looks at the effects of introducing physically active lessons into primary school classes. Emma Norris and colleagues used the Virtual Traveller (VT) intervention to evaluate whether physically active lessons had any effect on pupil engagement, physical activity and on-task behaviour.

Virtual Traveller is a programme of pre-prepared physically active lesson sessions delivered using classroom interactive whiteboards during regular lessons. A total of 219 children aged 8- to 9-years-old from 10 schools in Greater London took part in the cluster-randomised controlled trial. Children in the intervention schools received 10-minute VT sessions three times a week, for six weeks, during maths and English lessons. To assess the effectiveness of VT, pupils’ physical activity levels, on-task behaviour and engagement were measured at baseline (T0), at weeks two (T1) and four  (T2) of the six-week intervention, and at one week (T3) and three months (T4) post-intervention.

Pupils in the intervention group showed more on-task behaviour than those in the control at T1 and T2, but this was not maintained post-intervention. No difference in pupil engagement between the control and intervention groups was observed at any time point. VT was found to increase physical activity, but only during lesson time.

Source: Physically active lessons improve lesson activity and on-task behavior: a cluster-randomized controlled trial of the “Virtual Traveller” intervention (March 2018), Health Education & Behavior DOI: 10.1177/1090198118762106

Parenting app has positive impact on children’s development

A new randomised controlled trial of EasyPeasy, conducted by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust, suggests that the EasyPeasy app had moderate positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination and ability to make their own decisions, as well as parents’ sense of control.

EasyPeasy is a smartphone app for the parents and caregivers of children ages 2 – 6 that aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and parent–child interaction. A total of 302 families with children ages 3 – 4 were recruited from eight children’s centres in the London borough of Newham. The eight centres were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or comparison group. All families in the intervention centres were given access to the EasyPeasy app, and games were sent via the app once a week over the three-month duration of the intervention.

Families in the intervention group scored higher than those in the comparison group on two parent-reported outcomes: children’s cognitive self-regulation (effect size = +0.35) and parents’ sense of control (effect size = +0.26). Parents reported that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.

However, because of the self-report measures used in the evaluation, the researchers note that caution must be exercised when interpreting the results from the study.

These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy, which showed some positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control.

Source: EasyPeasy: Evaluation in Newham findings from the Sutton Trust Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) project (April 2018), The Sutton Trust

Mindfulness and yoga for primary pupils

A randomised controlled trial published in Psychology Research and Behavior Management assesses the benefits of introducing yoga and mindfulness into elementary (primary) classrooms.

Alessandra N Bazzano and colleagues worked with a public school in New Orleans to add mindfulness and yoga to the school’s existing empathy-based programme for pupils needing extra support. Third grade (Year 4) pupils were screened for symptoms of anxiety (using the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders scale), and were then randomly split into an intervention group (n=20) and a control group (n=32). Pupils in the intervention group participated in a yoga and mindfulness programme for eight weeks, while the control group received the standard care, which included counselling and activities from a school social worker. All pupils filled out questionnaires to measure quality of life and life satisfaction across a number of different variables before, during and after the treatment period.

Pupils in the intervention group showed a significantly greater improvement in psychosocial and emotional quality of life compared with pupils who received standard care.

The researchers acknowledge that while this study was small, and more research is needed, introducing pupils to yoga and mindfulness may help to alleviate anxious feelings experienced in third grade due to their work becoming more complex, and learning how to handle these pressures sooner, rather than later, may promote healthy skills throughout life.

Source: Effect of mindfulness and yoga on quality of life for elementary school students and teachers: results of a randomized controlled school-based study (April 2018), Psychology Research and Behavior Management, Volume 2018:11

Social skills intervention programme shows small positive effects

Results from a study published in the Journal of Education Psychology suggest that a classroom social skills programme, The Social Skills Improvement System Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP), generally has small positive effects on social skills and approaches to learning.

James Clyde DiPerna and colleagues from the Pennsylvania State University evaluated the effects of SSIS-CIP on the social, behavioural and academic outcomes of Year 2 pupils from six primary schools in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. Classrooms were randomly assigned to either treatment or business-as-usual control groups. Teachers assigned to the treatment group implemented the SSIS-CIP over a 12-week period. Outcomes were assessed via teacher ratings and direct observations of classroom behaviour as well as computer-adaptive tests of reading and maths.

Results showed that SSIS-CIP has a small positive effect on social skills across all social skills subscales (effect sizes ranged from +0.13 to +0.31), with empathy and social engagement showing the largest positive effects (+0.31 and +0.21). The direct observation measure, however, yielded the smallest effect size (+0.05). Students in the treatment group also demonstrated positive effects on academic motivation and engagement (+0.17). However, SSIS-CIP did not demonstrate any substantial effects for problem behaviours, with effect sizes across subscales ranging from +0.01 to +0.07.

Source: A cluster randomized trial of the Social Skills Improvement System-Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP) in first grade (2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(1), 1-16.

Preventing depression in secondary school pupils

Helen Christensen and colleagues conducted a cluster randomised trial to investigate the effectiveness of an intervention for the prevention of depression in secondary school pupils.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, reported on the results of a trial of the SPARX-R programme, a gamified online cognitive behaviour intervention that is delivered to pupils prior to facing a significant stressor – in this case final secondary school exams.

A total of 540 final-year pupils from 10 secondary schools in Sydney, Australia, took part and clusters at the school level were randomly allocated to SPARX-R or the control intervention (lifeSTYLE, an online interactive control programme). Interventions were delivered weekly in class under teacher supervision, in seven 20- to 30-minute modules. Symptoms of depression were measured by the Major Depression Inventory (MDI).

Pupils in the SPARX-R group showed a greater reduction in MDI scores than those in the control group, both post-intervention and at the 6-month follow-up. Effect sizes were small post-intervention (+0.29) and at the 6-month (+0.21) and 18-month follow-ups (+0.33).

Source: Preventing depression in final year secondary students: school-based randomized controlled trial (November 2017), Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol 19 (11).

Can schools help prevent childhood obesity?

A study published in The BMJ tests the effectiveness of a school and family based healthy lifestyle intervention (WAVES) in preventing childhood obesity.

Almost 1,500 pupils, aged five- and six-years-old, from 54 primary schools in the West Midlands took part in a randomised controlled trial of the WAVES programme. The twelve-month intervention encouraged healthy eating and physical activity, and included an additional 30 minutes of daily physical activity at school and a six-week programme with a local premiership football club.

Children’s measurements – including weight, height, percentage body fat, waist circumference, skinfold thickness and blood pressure – were taken when they started the trial. These measurements were taken again 15 months and 30 months later and were compared with children in a control group.

At the first follow-up at 15 months, the mean body mass index (BMI) score was not significantly lower for the intervention group compared with the control group. At 30 months, the mean difference was smaller and remained non-significant. The results suggest that schools alone may not be effective in preventing childhood obesity.

Source: Effectiveness of a childhood obesity prevention programme delivered through schools, targeting 6 and 7 year olds: cluster randomised controlled trial (WAVES study) (February 2018), BMJ 2018; 360:k211