Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Education

Major

Teaching-Learning Processes

Date of Defense

12-1-2011

Graduate Advisor

Deborah A. Moberly, Ph.D.

Committee

Bauer, Eike

Navarro, Virginia

Cohen, Margaret

Abstract

Students identified as gifted come from varying socio-economic strata and nationalities with a range of talents and temperaments comprising a diverse community. They may experience stress for a variety of reasons. Although a certain amount of stress can enhance the learning process, too much stress can impede learning, especially memory. Strategies have been offered for relieving stress, yet the benefits of physical activities as stress reducers for the gifted have frequently been overlooked. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship among aerobic activity, stress, and memory ability in students in an elementary school gifted program. An exceptional aspect of this research was that the students were an integral part of their own study. As co-researchers they had a vested interest in what they were doing, enhancing the significance of the experience and heightening learning. This action research project conducted in a mid-western school district with fourth and fifth grade students examined the impact of aerobic movement on physical indicators of stress and memory. The study lasted twelve weeks with data collected on physical indicators of stress, memory test scores, parent observations, interviews with students, a parent focus group session, observational data, student comments, and investigator/teacher journal. By infusing regular exercise into curricula, stress levels in students identified as gifted were examined. Students’ scores on declarative memory tasks conducted with and without an accompanying aerobic activity were documented. Students learned of the delicate relationship between stress and memory as they studied the physiology of the brain. Twenty-four hour retention rates of declarative memory items were higher when a 20-minute aerobic activity intervention preceded the memory activity. Perceived stress levels were lowered for 14 of the 16 co-researchers. Students indicated a positive attitude toward physical activity and its benefits for greater memory retention and reduction in stress. Student-driven action research can be a powerful educational tool. Movement activities are a positive factor in student learning and should be incorporated into the school routine. Students developed an increased awareness of the short term benefits of exercise which could catalyze aerobic activity as a regular part of the school day.

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