Examining the Knowledge and Capacity of Elementary Teachers to Implement Classroom Physical Activity Breaks

Danae M. DINKEL, Jung-Min LEE , Connie SCHAFFER


This study examined teachers’ zone of proximal development for classroom physical activity breaks by assessing teachers’ knowledge and capacity for implementing classroom physical activity breaks. Five school districts of various sizes (n=346 teachers) took part in a short online survey. Descriptive statistics were calculated and chi-square analyses were used to identify differences between districts. Almost all teachers utilized classroom physical activity to some extent. A third of teachers who stated they implemented classroom physical activity, experienced barriers to implementation. A majority of teachers were interested in learning more about classroom physical activity. There were significant differences between districts on the number of days per week classroom physical activity was integrated, the frequency of collaboration that occurred between teachers, the percentage of teachers who experienced barriers, and preferred delivery method of professional development. These findings support the importance of identifying teachers’ zone of proximal development to increase the use of classroom physical activity breaks. Understanding teachers’ knowledge and capacity for implementing classroom physical activity breaks can allow educational professionals to shift the implementation of classroom physical activity beyond sporadic use by isolated teachers and schools to a more systematic and consistent delivery across classrooms and throughout districts.


Physical activity, elementary, classroom, professional development

Paper Details

Paper Details
Topic Elementary Education
Pages 182 - 196
Issue IEJEE, Volume 9, Issue 1
Date of acceptance 20 September 2016
Read (times) 484
Downloaded (times) 253

Author(s) Details


University of Nebraska at Omaha, United States

Jung-Min LEE

University of Nebraska at Omaha, United States


University of Nebraska at Omaha, United States


Ancess, J. (1997). Urban dreamcatchers: Launching and leading new small schools. New York: National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST). Teachers College Press, Columbia University. 

Bartholomew, J.B., & Jowers, E.M. (2011). Physically active academic lessons in elementary children. Preventative Medicine, 52(Suppl 1), S51-54.

Bassett, D.R., Fitzhugh, E.C., Heath, G.W., Erwin, P.C., Frederick, G.M., Wolff, D.L., … Stout, A.B. (2013). Estimated energy expenditurs for school-based policies and active living. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 44(2), 108-113.

Biddle, S.J., & Asare, M. (2011). Physical activity and mental health in children and adolescents: A review of reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 45(11), 886-95.

Bogaert, I., De Martelaer, K., Deforche, B., Clarys, P., & Zinzen, E. (2014). Associations between different types of physical activity and teachers’ perceived mental, physical, and work-related health. BMC Public Health, 14, 534.

Carlson, J.A., Engelberg, J.K., Cain, K.L., Conway, T.L., Mignano, A.M., Bonilla, A., … Sallis, J.F. (2015). Implementing classroom physical activity breaks: Associations with student physical activity and classroom behavior. Preventative Medicine, 81, 67-72.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006). School health policies and programs study. Atlanta, GA: Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498697.pdf

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Childhood obesity facts. Atlanta, GA: Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Physical education profiles, 2012: physical education and physical activity practices and policies among secondary schools at select U.S. sites. Atlanta, GA: Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/pdf/PE_Profile_Book_2014.pdf

Chriqui, J.F., Schneider, L., Chaloupka, F.J., Gourdet, C., Bruursema, A., Ide, K., & Pugach, O. (2010). School district wellness policies: Evaluating progress and potential for improving children’s health three years after the federal mandate. School years 2006-07 through 2010-2011. Volume 3. Chicago, IL: Bridging the Gap Program, Health Policy Center, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicage, 2013, www.bridging the gapresearch.org.

Cothran, D.J., Kulinna, P.H., & Garn, A.C. (2010). Classroom teachers and physical activity integration. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(7), 1381-1388.

Donnelly, J.E., Greene, J.L., Gibson, C.A., Smith, B.K., Washburn, R.A., Sullivan, D.K., … Willaims, S.L. (2009). Physical activity across the curriculum (PAAC): A randomized controlled trial to promote physical activity and diminish overweight and obesity in elementary school children. Preventative Medicine, 49(4), 336-341.

Dunn, L.L., Venturanza, J.A., Walsh, R.J., & Nonas, C.A. (2010). An observational evaluation of move-to-improve, a classroom-based physical activity program, New York City Schools, 2010. Preventing Chronic Disease, 9, 146.

Elliot, E., Erwin, H., Hall, T., & Heidorn, B. (2013). Comprehensive school physical activity orograms: helping all students achieve 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance84(9), 9.

Erwin, H., Fedewa, A., & Ahn, S. (2013). Student academic performance outcomes of a classroom physical activity intervention: A pilot study. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 5(2), 109-124.

Gately, P., Curtis C., Hardaker, R., McBride, N., McKay, M., Sumnall, H., & Evans, D. (2013). An evaluation in UK schools of a classroom-based physical activity programme - TAKE 10!: A qualitative analysis of the teachers perspective. Education and Health, 31(4), 72-78.

Gilford, D. (1996). Measures of Inservice Professional Development: Suggested Items for the 1998–99 Schools and Staffing Survey (NCES 96-25). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics Working Paper.

Gruber, K.J., Wiley, S.D., Broughman, S.P., Strizek, G.A., & Burian-Fitzgerald, M. (2002). Schools and Staff Survey, 1999−2000: Overview of the Data for Public, Private, Public References 80 Charter, and Bureau of Indian Affairs Elementary and Secondary Schools (NCES 2002-313). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office

Institute of Medicine. (2005). Preventing childhood obesity: health in the balance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Kibbe, D.L., Hackett, J., Hurley, M., McFarland, A., Schubert, K.G., Schultz, A., & Harris, S. (2010). Ten years of TAKE 10!: integrating physical activity with academic concepts in elementary school classrooms. Preventative Medicine, 52(Suppl 1), S43-50.

Mahar, M.T. (2011). Impact of short bouts of physical activity on attention-to-task in elementary school children. Preventative Medicine, 52(Suppl 1), S60-64.

Meier, D. (2002). Just let us be: The genesis of a small public school. Educational Leadership, 59(5), 76-79. 

McKenzie, T.L., LaMaster, K.J., Sallis, J.F., & Marshall, S.J. (1999). Classroom teachers' leisure physical activity and their conduct of physical education. Journal of Teaching Physical Education, 19(1), 126-132.

McMullen, J., Kulinna, P., & Cothran, D. (2014). Physical activity opportunities during the school day: classroom teachers’ perceptions of using activity breaks in the classroom. Journal of Teaching Physical Education, 33(4), 511-527.

Mohr, N. (2000). Small schools are not miniature large schools. Potential pitfalls and implications for leadership. In W. Ayers, M. Klonsky, and G. Lyon (Eds.), A simple justice: The challenge of small schools (pp. 139-158). New York: Teachers College Press. 

Naylor, P.J., Macdonald, H.M., Zebedee, J.A., Reed, K.E., & McKay, H.A. (2006). Lessons learned from Action Schools! BC—an ‘active school’ model to promote physical activity in elementary schools. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 9(5), 413-423.

Parks, M., Solomon, M., & Lee, A. (2007). Understanding classrom teachers' perceptions of integrating physical activity: a collective efficacy perspective. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 21(3), 316-328.

Peterson, K.E., & Fox, M.K. (2007). Addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity through school-based interventions: what has been done and where do we go from here? Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 35(1), 113-30.

Troiano, R.P., Berrigan, D., Dodd, K.W., Masse, L.C., Tilert, T., & Mcdowell, M. (2008) Physical activity in the United States measured by accelerometer. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(1), 181-188.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Washington, DC: Author.

Webster, C.A., Russ, L., Vazou, S., Goh, T.L., & Erwin, H. (2015). Integrating movement in academic classrooms: understanding, applying and advancing the knowledge base. Obesity Reviews, 16(8), 691-701.

Vander Ark, T. (2002). The case for small high schools. Educational Leadership, 59(5), 55-59. 

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Related Papers