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IES Grant

Title: An Exploration of Brain Breaks to Enhance Attention Regulation and Instruction Uptake in Early Elementary
Center: NCER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Godwin, Karrie Awardee: University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (09/01/2020 - 08/31/2024) Award Amount: $1,399,986
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A200522

Previous Award Number: R305A200358
Previous Institution: Kent State University

Co-Principal Investigator: Moreno, Amanda

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to explore whether taking multiple short "brain breaks" during the school day can benefit learning.

Project Activities: Researchers will carry out a set of three interrelated studies that explore how breaks are currently used in kindergarten through grade 2 classrooms, examine experimentally the potential benefits of six types of breaks on attention regulation and learning, and explore the ecological validity of implementing breaks in classrooms.

Products: At the conclusion of this exploratory project, researchers will have produced a set of information about the role that different types of short breaks play in learning in elementary school classrooms. The researchers will share their findings through conference presentations and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Data will be collected in schools and summer camps in diverse, urban areas in Ohio and Illinois.

Sample: Participants will include approximately 750 kindergarten through grade 2 students (30 classrooms) in Study 1, 288 kindergarten through grade 2 students in Study 2, and 500 students (20 classrooms) in Study 3).

Factors: The primary predictor in all three studies is break deployment. In Study 1, the existing landscape of break usage will be assessed. Study 2 is an experimental manipulation of six break types (physical activity, cognitive engagement, mindfulness, nature video, mandala coloring, and mind-wandering). Study 3 is a classroom-based, teacher-led test of breaks and the examination of the potential additive benefits of a break feature (namely, anticipatory knowledge).

Research Design and Methods: In Study 1, researchers will observe existing break usage in relation to students' on- and off-task behavior. In Study 2, researchers will carry out an experimental “pull-out” study examining the effects of six break types on children's attention and learning compared to a no-break control (within-subjects), as well as an exploration of the relative effectiveness of the break types (between subjects). In Study 3, teachers will deploy 2 active and 2 task-free breaks and a no-break control condition over the course of 5 days. The breaks will vary as to whether or not teachers provide anticipatory knowledge of the break to their students, or whether the break is provided without preparatory remarks. In Study 3, teachers will also be asked to provide their perceptions around the implementation of the breaks (e.g., benefits and barriers, likeliness of using a particular break in the future). In all cases, attention will be compared pre- and post-break, as well as across break and no-break conditions.

Control Condition: Due to the nature of its design, Study 1 does not include a control condition. Studies 2 and 3 both employ a within-subjects no-break control condition.

Key Measures: Researchers will collect on-line measures of attention (on/off-task behavior and eye tracking) and learning (i.e., consolidation and uptake of science content). They will also administer teacher logs and surveys to gather rich contextual information and covariates for models assessing break-attention/learning relations. In Study 2, researchers will measure children's heart rate as a validity check on each break's predicted activation level (increase, decrease, no change).

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use multi-level modeling to assess the impact of breaks on attention in Studies 1 and 3. They will use descriptive and qualitative techniques to answer questions about the ecological validity of breaks. In Study 2, they will use mixed model ANOVAs to compare pre- and post-break attention and learning and make comparisons across break types.