Can Exercise Improve Math Facts?

Years back, I had an idea on how to combine exercise with math fact practice. I remember as a young student thinking how stale it was using flashcards for math fact memorization, and I think there are many students today that feel the same way. However, memorizing math facts is incredibly important because it makes all math calculations easier to do, which improves confidence in one's mathematical abilities. I wanted to use this blogpost to share some data I collected from an experiment I conducted with three 6-9 classrooms during this earlier this year. I unveiled a lesson that taught different exercises, and then we used them practice memorizing math facts. However, to really know if it was effective, I needed to conduct an experiment and gather data.


How can memorizing math facts be more fun and engaging for young students?


Using exercise to memorize math facts will help kinesthetic learners memorize their facts better, and may provide a more stimulating experience for any student looking to expend energy while practicing their math fact memorization.

Experiment (procedure):

Students self-selected between three different mixed math fact sheets: addition and subtraction, multiplication math facts up to the five's table, multiplication math facts up to the ten's table. Students were encouraged to choose a level that was difficult, but not impossible. The students were given a pretest with five minutes to answer as many questions out of fifty. Next, students proceeded to learn different movements for the experiment. Once the students learned and practiced those movements, students broke up into pairs with someone who did the same math fact sheet they did. One student would exercise, the other student would be the recorder, and they would switch after each practiced math fact. The exerciser would choose a fact that they needed to practice and the movement that they wanted to practice. The recorder would keep track when a set had been completed, as well as counted how many movements they had done. Once they practiced for about fifteen minutes, the students did a post-test with the same difficulty of math fact sheet that they did for the pre-test. The pre and post tests were checked for accuracy, and the data was recorded.


Here is the breakdown of the results from the three classes in chart form.

6-9 Class #1.jpg
6-9 Class #2.jpg
6-9 Class #3.jpg

Looking at the data, there was plenty of improvement, as well some students that did worse. I rearranged the data sets so that I compared the students to what they were studying instead of by classroom, and that shed some light on an interesting trend.

Changes in score for addition and subtraction facts.jpg
Change in score for multiplication tables up to five.jpg
Change in score for multiplication tables up to ten.jpg


The second group of charts makes it obvious that exercise was very beneficial for students practicing multiplication, but was not as beneficial for students who were practicing addition and subtraction. There were outliers to the data; some can be explained and others cannot. Some students were distracted during the pre or post test, which would alter the data significantly. However, the initial data seems promising, and further development of a material and lesson plan may be warranted.

Continued research:

Because this initial research was meant to be more exploratory than conclusive, there were major flaws to the experiment based on materials and time. First, I would need to add control groups: one group that took a pre and post test without studying, and a group that took a pre and post test with traditional flash cards. The students took their post test immediately after exercise and practice, so it would interesting to do another post test a week later to investigate longer term retention.