Building the Evidence Base for Physically Active Academic Games


MCPER provides data analysis for this multiyear investigation of the Texas I-CAN intervention by the UT Austin Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. Texas I-CAN consists of in-class, physically active, academic lessons that use child movement in conjunction with academic material (mathematics and language arts). Some lessons are modeled on traditional physical education games (e.g., freeze tag, steal the bacon); other lessons are novel approaches to incorporate movement into the academic material.

Preliminary research has shown these interventions to be attractive on multiple levels. The lessons integrate with the academic curriculum. Children rate the lessons as fun. The lessons are intuitive and easy to teach, allowing implementation by regular classroom teachers with minimal training. Finally, the lessons are limited in duration, allowing for multiple implementations throughout the day and upward of 30 minutes of activity per day beyond physical education classes and recess.

Preliminary studies found Texas I-CAN lessons to increase physical activity (ES = .52), time focused on academic tasks (ES = .60), and proximal academic performance (ES = .62). This study will extend these data through a randomized controlled trial and a comparison of proximal (weekly) with distal (6 months) outcomes. In addition, through the use of an active, unrelated-content control, the study will address the question of whether academic outcomes result from physical activity alone or from teaching the academic content through physical activity.


Research is ongoing.

Project Design


The primary aim of this study is to evaluate the effects of physically active mathematics and language arts lessons on the physical activity, time on task, and academic performance of fourth-graders.

The secondary aims of the study are to do the following:

  1. Compare no intervention with unrelated-content controls to related-content lessons
  2. Test the mediating role of physical activity and time on task on academic outcomes
  3. Test the moderating role of key demographic variables (fitness, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, sex, and body mass index)


To achieve these aims, the study will recruit students from 30 diverse schools in two waves. Schools will be assigned to one of three conditions: (1) active mathematics lessons, (2) active language arts lessons, or (3) no-intervention control. The study will assess physical activity through accelerometry. Researchers will assess these outcomes in conjunction with a sample of weekly lessons (proximal outcomes) and following 6 months of intervention (distal outcomes).


Fourth-graders attending schools with a disproportionate number of low-socionomic-status and ethnic minority students (those at higher risk for being sedentary and overweight)