Biology professor says exercise is key to success

Brief breaks in the classroom for physical activity are associated with improved cognitive function, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Scott Kirkconnell, professor of biology, has been instilling the importance of exercise habits in his students for years.

A few minutes before the beginning of class, Kirkconnell gives the students the opportunity to walk with him around a section of campus. During class he sets a timer to go off every 15 minutes and when the timer goes off he encourages the students to stand up and exercise with him. He encourages the students to run 40 steps in place, do five jumping jacks and five toe touches.

“I became increasingly aware of cognitive function for students to learn a lot,”Kirkconnell said. “I started reading things like “Brain Rules” by John Medina. I also started listening to the “Brain Science Podcast” by Ginger Campbell,” he said.

As he began paying more attention to these findings he became more aware of things that would influence his students.

“The average attention span is 15 minutes long and the average class is 50 minutes to 80 minutes,” Kirkconnell said.

He tried to think of something that would be effective but not take much time.

“I just thought that running 40 steps in place, then five jumping jacks and then five touch your toes would work; that’s when I started setting my egg timer,” Kirkconnell said.

Correlation between exercise and academic success has been recorded in studies by the CDC, but Kirkconnell is also noticing success within his students.

Kirkconnell told a success story of a young woman who was in his microbiology course and barely passed.

The student decided to retake the course, Kirkconnell began, but she was making the same grades as she did previously. After Kirkconnell spoke with the class about the important of exercise, eating right and being around nice people, she decided to implement regular exercise at home with her kids.

Kirkconnell immediately noticed a change in her grades.

“Her grades were the total opposite,” he said.

When he asked the student what she was doing differently, she informed him of her regular exercising habits. She said that her daughter, who was also having trouble in high school, was now getting better grades because of the exercise, Kirkconnell said.

“I want my students to succeed in my courses and their other courses,” Kirkconnell said.

Kirkconnell has found the walks with his students to be beneficial to him as a professor. Students will tell him all sorts of things like, “Blackboard isn’t working” or “the bookstore doesn’t have a certain book.”

Students appear to find this very beneficial, Kirkconnell said.

“I have noticed that even if I forget to set my timer I will be reminded; after about 15 minutes I will notice students starting to doze off,” he said.

Student feedback has been uniformly positive. Students have even noted that they now notice students in their other classes dozing off after about 15 minutes and often wish other professors would have them get up and move around, Kirkconnell said.

Kirkconnell continues to walk with his students and exercise with them throughout each class period. He hopes that other professors will begin to try this with their own students.

“It’s been an exciting journey for me, getting to see these implemented in the classroom and now passing them on to other professors,”Kirkconnell said.