Let’s Get Moving

Spring Study Advice for Students

The brilliant weather this week reminds us that it’s time to share our favorite study advice: we hope you’ll pass it along to your students. Too many students experience studying as a lonesome and sedentary activity, like poring over their notes or highlighting the textbook. But they’d be better off taking a (masked, socially-distanced) walk with a classmate or friend and talking about what they’re learning.

CAT’s weekly messages often explore the social and emotional aspects of learning, since humans are social mammals, who learn best in community, and need frequent opportunities to talk through our thinking. This week we want to add another layer, and engage with the considerable body of research on movement and cognition. Many of us may share the experience of taking a walk to clear our heads, mull a decision, or develop an idea; since exercise increases our heart rate, and moves more oxygen to our brains, it’s no wonder that we think better while we’re moving.

More vigorous exercise has different but related benefits. While we wouldn’t recommend intense activity at the same time as studying, physical exertion before learning seems to enhance both memory and cognition. Exercise increases levels of neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin that not only help to regulate mood but boost concentration. Exercise has been shown to increase the volume of the hippocampus and cortex, areas of the brain associated with executive function and higher-order thinking.

Not everyone can (or wants to) go for a run before starting a paper, or take a walk to plan a project, of course. Students with mobility impairments can still benefit from changing their context–even shifting to a new location can give a new perspective on the material they’re studying–and from meeting up with friends and classmates to talk about the concepts. Explaining the most important ideas from a class to a friend who’s majoring in something else is such a great exercise for all learners that it could be a regular homework assignment. And as long as we are flexible and consider accessibility, we can nudge students away from their desks with assignments that ask them to identify plant species on campus (or in their yards), or count the number of pedestrians vs. cars on a given street at a given hour, etc.

The mid-semester slump is hitting harder than ever, amidst ongoing isolation and stress; and with no spring break on the horizon, students and faculty alike need brain breaks. Nobody needs to feel guilty about getting outside to enjoy the most beautiful weeks of the Tallahassee year.

Here are a few student-facing resources you can share:

If you’d like additional resources, or support developing activities, or any other support for your teaching, please contact us at pro-teaching@fsu.edu. We look forward to working with you!