The online teacher-training program to help promote physical activity in children was created by ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE) and the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition.

It is led by IPPE’s Professor Chris Lonsdale, who is also Associate Dean, Research at the Faculty of Health Sciences, and ably supported by team members Dr Taren Sanders, Professor Phil Parker and Mrs Kirsty Bergan of IPPE; Dr Michael Noetel, Professor David Greene and Dr Tim Hartwig of the School of Behavioural and Health Sciences; and Dr Renata Cinelli from the School of Education.

Chris, who co-created iPLAY with the University of Newcastle’s Professor David Lubans, said it uses curricular and non-curricular interventions to counter the decline in Australian kids’ fitness in recent decades.

The program equips teachers with the skills and resources to involve students in 150 minutes of planned physical activity at school each week, and two to three ‘classroom energiser’ breaks. It also promotes activity after school and on weekends.

“With the curricular portion, we’re trying to help teachers build more physically active and high-quality physical education and school sport lessons, as well as get more physical activity into their classroom lessons,” Chris said.

“In the non-curricular component, we’re looking to engage parents and community sport groups, and also help children to be more physically active during their school breaks.”

Moving on up

To date, the project has been delivered in 138 NSW primary schools, and 3,000 teachers from 190 schools have completed the professional learning program – improving the health of more than 45,000 Australian children.

This wide take-up demonstrates iPLAY is affordable and scalable. And feedback from both the teachers and the mentors, who help deliver the training, is overwhelmingly positive.

“A lot of the teachers who have been part of iPLAY haven’t had a lot of background in teaching physical activity and may have not even enjoyed doing PE at school, but they’ve really enjoyed the training and one-on-one time with the mentor,” said Kirsty.

“Those who have really got involved in the intervention have given the feedback that it was really easy to do, they really enjoyed it, and they see a massive difference from the start to the end.”

Renata added that the program’s online delivery helped teachers not only develop their confidence in teaching physical education, but also left them with resources they could access at any time. 

“The accessibility of the platform was something that teachers said they found really helpful. It really improved their confidence and actually their ability to have these outcomes with the children.”

It’s effective, too. A randomised controlled trial of 22 schools embedded within the project showed iPLAY improved students’ fitness, and these gains persisted 24 months later.

“What we were able to show is that if we compared schools that got iPLAY to schools that didn’t get iPLAY, the cardiovascular health of the children who were part of the iPLAY intervention was significantly better than the children who weren’t,” said Phil. “This is a really significant finding.”

And next, the world

The project team has achieved significant results so far thanks in no small part to government, research, community and industry partnerships.

The NSW Department of Education has been a major funding and development partner from the start, and the NSW Office of Sport, Sport Australia, Special Olympics Australia, and the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER) have helped the team to adapt an effective delivery model to promote the common good. University partners include institutions in Australia and around the globe.

These partnerships will help ensure the team can continue with their ambitious agenda, which includes making iPLAY accessible to any teacher, anywhere.

“We’re trying to make iPLAY as flexible, high quality and available to as many people as possible,” said Michael. “And because it’s an online intervention, we hope that we will be able to take it around Australia and maybe even around the world.”

Along with their research partners, Taren said they’re also expanding the program to include a version known as ‘iPLAY for Inclusion’ and one called ‘iPLAY for All’.

“iPLAY for Inclusion will target kids with an intellectual disability. iPLAY for All aims to support kids with lower fundamental movement skills, who we know are less well served by the original iPLAY intervention.”

For now, though, Chris said it’s wonderful to have both the program and the truly collaborative work of the research team acknowledged through the Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Awards.

“It’s a nice recognition of good research happening in many different parts of the university.”

Added Michael, “It’s really nice to have a testament like this award to recognise that [research] is not all about impact factor, and to see that it’s also about real impact and impact on people’s lives.”

Professor Chris Lonsdale  Dr Taren Sanders Professor Phil ParkerMrs Kirsty Bergan  Dr Michael Noetel Professor David Greene Dr Tim HartwigDr Renata Cinelli
Page last updated on 22/11/2021

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