Learning Readiness Physical Education

By | December 9, 2019

If you are like me, you are completely convinced exercise promotes better learning and fit students are better learners.  You might also believe that Paul Zientarski is a PE genius and want to follow in his footsteps as he pioneers the LRPE movement!  You may have watched his interviews to see what nuggets of wisdom you could take and implement into your own program. And sadly, if you are like me, this is where you become frustrated.  Where do you go from here and how do I start?

I decided to write this article to force myself to pursue the answers to those questions.  Through this process, I unfortunately cannot say that I have found the holy grail of LRPE and can explain how to accomplish this at your own school.  What I can say is I learned a lot from the process and would like to share my experience and the resources I picked up in my pursuit of creating a better PE program and ultimately a better school. 

I should first tell you a little about my situation so you know the environment I conducted my experiment in.  I work for an amazing administrative team who has been very willing to embrace findings my teaching partner and I have presented them on how important exercise is to our K-12 learners.  We have presented to our administrators informally when we can get a moment to grab their ear, and formally at school board meetings. They supported us in transitioning from a sports-based PE program to a fitness-based PE program philosophically and financially.  I realize this level of support is not consistent at every school, but I truly believe when we as physical educators are willing to share how amazing our programs are, much of this support follows.

For example, when we started this process of going from sports-based to fitness-based, our fitness equipment comprised of 2 exercise bikes and 30 year-old weight room equipment.  After 7 years of advocating for our cause, 2 failed PEP grants, and countless brainstorming sessions to figure out how to get a quality fitness environment to teach in, we gained administrative support to go to referendum to build a Student and Community Wellness Center.  With the help of MANY people, it passed with flying colors and we now have the most beautiful fitness center to teach our students real-life wellness skills in on a daily basis. It was a lot of work but it was totally worth it! 

Now there is plenty of national data that already supports the theory that students who participate in quality PE programs are more successful students. 


However, Paul Z. recommends gathering data at your own school to show the administration and school board that this outcome can be realized at your school.  Prior to this experiment I showed the national data and findings from John Ratey’s Spark book to my administration and school board.  (I highly recommend reading that book if you haven’t already!) The administration was supportive of the improvements we wanted to make to our program, but I felt if I truly wanted to take the next step and develop a Learning Readiness PE Program, I was going to need to data from our students.  I have documented the steps I’ve taken thus far in my journey and would like to share that with you now. 

Step 1:  Research! I began my journey by rewatching the interviews that Paul Zientarski has given on the topic of Learning Readiness PE Programs.  Here are some of the videos I found beneficial:

Want Smarter, Healthier Kids? Try Physical Education!
Need to Know – Physical Education in NapervillePBS 
What Steps Should a PE Teacher Take to Start a LRPE Program?
Why Do Kids Do Better After Exercise?
What Happens to Your Brain After You Exercise?
What is the Ideal PE Class to Help Students Physically and Mentally?
What Should Student’s Do BEFORE Their Standardized Test?

Step 2. I found a champion for my cause.

Paul Z. suggests you seek out your math and/or reading departments in your school because they collect the most data.  This sounded easy at first but proved tougher for me once I put this advice into action. I needed to meet the following criteria with the champion I chose:

  1. Students involved in the data collection needed to be in the same classroom to avoid more external factors influencing the data (such as different teachers and different dynamic in the room)
  2. Said students needed to be active within the 2 hours prior to the class (this is how long the benefits of exercise last in the brain)
  3. I needed to find these 2 situations above within the current master schedule so as to not cause major interruptions 

While it took a while to find a class to fit these requirements, I was able to find a Geometry class that might work.  I found my math department was VERY willing to embark on this journey with me and I was excited to find a situation that met all 3 criterion I needed to gather my data.  We decided the 7th hour Geometry teacher was going to administer a unit pre-test to her class prior to starting Unit 8 and administer a post-test at the end of Unit 8. We would use this test to gauge whether students moving prior to class would make greater gains on the assessment than students who were inactive prior to class.  

I had several students from 7th hour Geometry in my 6th hour PE class so I could guarantee they would be in their target heart rate zone for at least 20 minutes prior to each 7th hour Geometry class.  I also asked for a couple volunteers who did not have PE prior to Geometry 7th hour. I was able to get 3 students to agree to run in our Student and Community Wellness Center for 20 minutes during 6th hour for the 2 weeks Unit 8 was going to last.  Here are the results of the experiment: 

7th Hour GeometryPre-Test AvgPost-Test Avg
All Students (25 students)20.1/5141.6/51
Active Students (8 students)20.9/5140.2/51
Inactive Students (17 students)20.4/5142.2/51

Step 3.  Analyze My Process –  I had our school’s Statistics math class take the data I collected and analyze it for me.  While I don’t have their official report yet, they readily determined that the sample size I was working with was not large enough to create conclusive findings or trends.  They suggested I work with a larger sample in the future. I look forward to their official report to see if there is any other advice I can use in the future! 

This might sound like a negative outcome but it is quite the contrary.  I knew this was a daunting task from the start and I would need to take baby steps in proving LRPE could work at my school.  In the process of pursuing this endeavor, I had some amazing outcomes occur:

  1. We implemented exercise opportunities for our juniors prior to taking the ACT test.  
    1. I would often mention to my students they needed to exercise and eat a healthy breakfast prior to standardized testing.  A few would pursue this on their own and felt it helped their attentiveness during the test. When I introduced this idea at a staff meeting it was greeted with very positive feedback.  As a result, we informed the students they could come and exercise in our Student and Community Wellness Center from 6:45 – 7:15 am and then the staff would cook breakfast for them at 7:30 am.  I also opened up the gym at 6:45 am so students would have the option to play basketball instead of the options in the Wellness Center. We had ⅓ of the class show up to exercise prior to breakfast! Through informal conversations, the students who participated said they felt much more alert and focused to take their ACT test.  
    2. As a result of the conversations I was having about LRPE, this was an unexpected but really great outcome to have take shape in our school!
  1. Our Special Education Department began working with our PE Department to increase the success of our shared students.
    1. Through many informal conversations where I shared the benefit of exercise with my colleagues who teach Special Education, we began implementing more opportunities for our shared students to exercise.
      1. Special Education Students who were struggling with attention or anger issues on a particular day were allowed to either join a PE class or exercise in our Student and Community Wellness Center to help regain their focus before continuing to work on their academics. 
      2. Special Education Teachers purchased exercise balls so students could use them instead of chairs to help promote core strength and create more movement within the classroom.
      3. Special Education Students were allowed to study vocabulary while walking around our indoor track, our outdoor track, or while biking in our Student and Community Wellness Center. 


  1. I predicted my first attempt at collecting LRPE data might not go smashingly well.  My ultimate goal was to learn from the process so I could create a scenario where my local data would support the national data in the hopes of creating a LRPE Program.  So what did I learn?
    1. I learned that the sample size needs to be much bigger than 1 class of students.  At the time that I wrote this article the Statistics class wasn’t completely finished making their recommendations.  I would guess the sample size should be as large as the population if possible. So in my situation, I would need to try to gather data on all math students or all Geometry students depending on my intent.  
    2. I learned that the students do believe that exercise improves their ability to learn.  I handed out some informal opinion surveys where the students assessed their focus and on-task behavior prior to PE class and after their PE class each day for about 2 weeks.  All students reported feeling more focused after PE. I only administered the survey to 7 students so I could see how they interpreted the questions and I now plan to administer this on a larger scale when I try this process again!  
    3. I learned that many teachers in my building are ready to embrace this concept.  The stereotypical perception of PE has changed in my building as a result of our department’s efforts to show that we are a quality program.  We all know we are fighting old childhood memories of their PE classes. Through my effort on this experiment I had many meaningful conversations about how to create an environment where our students are better learners.  Many of our teachers are now willing to include PE in that conversation!  

Where do I go from here?

When I attempt to collect data again in the future, my plan is to look at all PE students within a given semester if they have a math class within 2 hours after their PE class.  This will give me a larger sample size. I also plan to look at the data over a longer period of time. Paul Z. suggests looking at the data over the course of a semester. I wasn’t able to do that this year because of time constraints, but I also needed to have time for essential conversations with staff members that would lay the foundation for this experiment.  Now that they are in support of this idea, I do believe analyzing data over a semester is realistic! This will require the math department to give a pre-test at the beginning of the semester and a post-test at the end of the semester.

I truly believe that much of the success our program has is due to a couple of things:

  1. We believe in the quality of our program and are willing to advocate for ourselves.
  2. We believe in being an example of hard work and perseverance to our students.
  3. We have earned support from our administration and school board.
  4. We operate by the philosophy that “you’ve gotta start somewhere”.
  5. We don’t believe we will ever “arrive” – each school year is an opportunity to improve our program and ultimately improve the health and wellness of our students.

This experience has been invaluable and I plan to continue my pursuit of developing a Learning Readiness Physical Education Program.  Aspects of it are already starting to fall in place which is very encouraging. I would be grateful to learn from other educators who have already developed a LRPE so please contact me if that describes you! 

Submitted by:  Lisa Van Dyke, Wrightstown High School, [email protected]

Works Cited

Paul Zientarski. Learning Readiness PE. 2012-2019. https://learningreadinesspe.com/. Accessed 1 June 2019.
Ratey, John J.,Hagerman, Eric.Spark: The Revolutionary New Science Of Exercise And The Brain. New York : Little, Brown, 2008. Print.