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Project moveSMART: Integrating Physical Activity and Computer Science Learning in Elementary School Classrooms



The Project moveSMART researcher-practitioner partnership (RPP) develops and delivers contextualized computer science and computational thinking (CS/CT) content in a Title I elementary school with a predominantly Hispanic student population. Project moveSMART is built around an educational game, designed to be played collaboratively by a fourth or fifth grade class, that integrates students' everyday physical activity with in-class academic learning. The class earns credit for physical activity in physical education, recess, or other in-school activities. The credit takes the form of distance traveled on a virtual journey along a physical route, and waypoints provide learning activities, including CS/CT activities that create new in-game features. For example, students program wearable activity monitors that become a physical activity data source for the game. Our experiences have surfaced multiple challenges that include pressures for all instruction to adhere to required standards, a lack of contextualization of CS/CT content, and unreliable at-home Internet that makes it difficult to reinforce lessons outside of school. By tying CS/CT to students' own physical activity, we address the dual problems of declining physical activity in children and a lack of contextualization of CS/CT content. To further address identified barriers, we co-designed game elements with classroom teachers to enable cross-curricular connections, including connecting CS/CT to language arts, cultural studies, music, etc. This paper will report on the structure of the RPP (which intentionally includes "specials" teachers like physical education teachers), the design of the game, and lessons learned in a first year pilot.
Project moveSMART: Integrating Physical Activity and
Computer Science Learning in Elementary School Classrooms
Connor Fritz
Department of Electrical and
Computer Engineering
University of Texas at Austin
Sheri Burson
Department of Kinesiology and
Health Education
University of Texas at Austin
Grace Lee
Department of Electrical and
Computer Engineering
University of Texas at Austin
Christine Julien
Department of Electrical and
Computer Engineering
University of Texas at Austin
Darla Castelli
Department of Kinesiology and
Health Education
University of Texas at Austin
Jamie Payton
Department of Computer and
Information Sciences
Temple University
Carol Ramsey
CS Ed Group
The Project moveSMART researcher-practitioner partnership (RPP)
develops and delivers contextualized computer science and compu-
tational thinking (CS/CT) content in a Title I elementary school with
a predominantly Hispanic student population. Project moveSMART
is built around an educational game, designed to be played collab-
oratively by a fourth or fth grade class, that integrates students’
everyday physical activity with in-class academic learning. The
class earns credit for physical activity in physical education, recess,
or other in-school activities. The credit takes the form of distance
traveled on a virtual journey along a physical route, and waypoints
provide learning activities, including CS/CT activities that create
new in-game features. For example, students program wearable
activity monitors that become a physical activity data source for the
game. Our experiences have surfaced multiple challenges that in-
clude pressures for all instruction to adhere to required standards, a
lack of contextualization of CS/CT content, and unreliable at-home
Internet that makes it dicult to reinforce lessons outside of school.
By tying CS/CT to students’ own physical activity, we address the
dual problems of declining physical activity in children and a lack
of contextualization of CS/CT content. To further address identied
barriers, we co-designed game elements with classroom teachers to
enable cross-curricular connections, including connecting CS/CT
to language arts, cultural studies, music, etc. This paper will report
on the structure of the RPP (which intentionally includes “specials”
teachers like physical education teachers), the design of the game,
and lessons learned in a rst year pilot.
Many eorts to integrate computational thinking and computer sci-
ence in elementary education presuppose characteristics of school
districts that may not be universally true. In this paper, we present
the Project moveSMART eort, which is built around a researcher-
practitioner partnership (RPP) that includes teachers from multiple
schools and school districts to develop an educational learning plat-
form that promotes both increased physical activity and computer
science and computational thinking (CS/CT). The experiences re-
ported in this paper highlight several challenges faced by school
districts with traditionally underrepresented or underserved popu-
lations. In our preliminary work, we have elicited challenges that
include the inability for teachers to integrate computing content
that lies outside of a required curriculum, a lack of contextualization
of computing material for students, and unreliable or unavailable
at-home Internet infrastructure. These challenges coincide with
more universal concerns about teachers’ inexperience with and
lack of condence in computing material in general.
Project moveSMART and the associated RPP are part of Whole
Communities Whole Health (WCWH) [
], a transdisciplinary re-
search Grand Challenge launched by the Vice President for Research
at the University of Texas. WCWH’s guiding principle is the use of
community engaged research, in which community members are in-
volved in research from the outset: from dening research questions
to designing and implementing solutions and analyzing results. For
WCWH, the community consists of underserved children and fam-
ilies in eastern Travis county, Texas. For this project, therefore,
the researcher-practitioner partnership includes researchers from
the University of Texas and partner institutions as well as teach-
ers, administrators, and children from the Del Valle Independent
School District (DVISD). DVISD has 10,828 students, with 76% of
the students rated as at risk of dropping out of school. More than
90% of DVISD students self-identify as ethnic minorities. Within
DVISD, our initial partner school is Hornsby-Dunlap Elementary
School (HDES). At HDES, 69% of the students are Hispanic, and
18.9% are African American. In the 2018-2019 school year, 27% of
students met grade level expectations in science, and 42% met the
expectations in math, with the school achieving a Texas Education
Agency accountability rating of “C” [
]. The campus has been iden-
tied for targeted support and improvement. It is a Title 1 school,
with high concentrations of poverty, as measured by the portion
Project moveSMART: Integrating Physical Activity and Computer Science Learning in Elementary School Classrooms
Figure 1: A Project moveSMART journey through Texas.
of students who receive free or reduced lunch. In a recent survey
of 76 households in HDES, 80% reported that they had at-home
access to the Internet, with only 65% having reliable, high speed
access. In the households with access, 55% rely on a cell phone for
connectivity. In contrast, the remainder of Travis County has 96%
While students across all demographic groups express interest
in learning computing, students from traditionally underserved
groups, like those at Hornsby-Dunlap, often encounter structural
barriers that limit access and exposure to computer science learning
opportunities. They face social barriers as well, including stereo-
types of who belongs in computer science and parents’ and educa-
tors’ beliefs that Black and Hispanic students are not as interested
in pursuing CS [
]. Given that the students in our community
have very limited access to computers and the Internet in their
homes, delivery of CS/CT material must occur during the tradi-
tional school day. While teachers at Hornsby-Dunlap Elementary
are enthusiastically supportive of teaching computational think-
ing and computer science, their ability to add to the curriculum
is constrained by the need to align with state accountability stan-
dards and to adhere to a provided curriculum. To address these
challenges, we have forged connections with teachers, administra-
tors, and students at Hornsby-Dunlap Elementary that have led to
the partnership behind the Project moveSMART learning platform.
The foundation of the CS/CT content delivery within Project
moveSMART occurs through a collaborative educational game that
integrates physical activity into the academic curriculum. Project
moveSMART exploits an open-source gamication framework [
that has been deployed in smart city games around Europe [
]. No-
tably, this framework has been used to implement the KidsGoGreen
game [
], on which Project moveSMART is directly based. Project
moveSMART has been designed to motivate lasting changes to kids’
participation in physical activity, while simultaneously exploiting
the known positive correlation between physical activity and aca-
demic achievement. Project moveSMART is designed to be played
cooperatively by a single elementary school class that takes a vir-
tual journey on a physical route (e.g., the current 4
grade game
follows a route through historical sites of Texas, see Figure 1). The
class makes progress by earning “steps”, which are explicitly tied
to distance traveled on the route. Students earn their steps by par-
ticipating in in-school physical activity. The progress, calculated by
class aggregate, unlocks “waypoints” that contain learning modules
that incorporate curricular material from across disciplines (science,
math, cultural studies, language arts, and computer science and
computational thinking) placed in the context of each waypoint.
As examples of this contextualization, when in the panhandle of
Texas, students may read the book Sarah Plain and Tall and respond
to writing prompts about the worries facing people living on the
plains. When traversing West Texas, the students may unlock a
science lesson about the impacts of wind erosion.
The researchers and administrators and teachers at Hornsby-
Dunlap Elementary school have worked together to design Project
moveSMART so that it addresses the needs of the 4
and 5
teachers, is responsive to the district’s required curriculum, and
supports and promotes existing in-class instruction, including the
addition of new CS/CT learning activities. In this paper, we rst
describe the Project moveSMART platform (Section 2), then we de-
scribe the nature of the RPP (Section 3). We then report on our initial
experiences using Project moveSMART to deliver novel CS/CT con-
tent tied to physical activity in active elementary school classrooms
(Section 4). We conclude in Section 5.
Project moveSMART is an educational “game”, delivered as a web
application, that is played cooperatively by elementary-aged stu-
dents within a class. Each class embarks on a virtual journey through
areas relevant to their educational objectives (e.g., a 5
grade class
that is studying American History moves through a route across
America, while a 4
grade class focused on Texas state history
moves across the state of Texas). In the Project moveSMART game,
students receive “steps” for participating in well-dened physical
activity “events” during the school day (e.g., physical education
class, recess, or physical activity in the classroom). Students log
physical activity data by self reporting their activity level on a four-
point scale (“more active”, “active”, “less active”, and “inactive”),
designated by the colors green, yellow, red, and white. These levels
are based on self-reection reports that elementary physical educa-
tion teachers commonly employ. In the deployed game, 4
and 5
grade students can log their physical activity in one of two ways:
(a) using the game’s web portal or (b) through a “check-in” box that
uses RFID proximity cards and a set of four colored buttons. In addi-
tion, a teacher can enter aggregate activity for the entire class. In all
cases, the activity levels are converted to distances within the game
and are aggregated for the whole class either at the end of each
day, or upon completion of a class activity. This approach promotes
autonomy for individual students, while fostering collaboration
within each class.
Figure 2 shows the Project moveSMART check-in box, which
contains a Raspberry Pi, an RFID reader, and four buttons. On the
one hand, the use of the check-in box may hinder the scalability
of the game. However, our focus group and pilot studies made it
apparent that the box itself, including its transparent design, was
essential to capturing and maintaining the interest of the students.
The fact that the box is made with inexpensive o-the-shelf com-
ponents tempers scalability concerns; it is also conceivable that, in
Connor Fritz, Sheri Burson, Grace Lee, Christine Julien, Darla Castelli, Jamie Payton, and Carol Ramsey
Figure 6. Prototype “Check-In” Box
Figure 2: Check-in box.
Figure 4. Views of the Project SMART app
Figure 3: Project SMART, entering activity data.
the future, creating the box could be framed as a CS/CT learning
activity. A student activates the box with a proximity card and
then presses a button that corresponds to their activity level. The
selection is transferred to the game, which computes the distance
credit. RFID check-ins can be anonymous or pseudonymous [
]; in
the former case, a set of RFID cards is associated with the class, and
a student may use any card to check in; in the latter case, each stu-
dent checks in with their own card. This design allows us to collect
both aggregate data for the game and individual data that can be
mapped to students’ physical tness and academic achievement for
research purposes, while safeguarding student identity and privacy.
As students check in, the game displays the class’s activity levels
in a column chart and converts the duration of the activity and the
activity levels into a distance traveled.
Figure 3 shows a pair of views from a mock game for a class of
32 kids in which the class has recorded ve physical activity events.
The main screen shows the column chart for each activity, where
each column represents the number of PA entries at a specic activ-
ity level. The inset in the gure shows a popup that appears when
the teacher or students nalize an activity. Each activity level is as-
sociated with a speed; the speeds and duration are used to compute
the distance traveled by the class for each activity. A math learning
cue is shown after every class physical activity event is entered; this
cue helps students quantitatively analyze their individual contribu-
tions to the larger goal while still maintaining student privacy (i.e.,
physical activity data is not individually identied). When students
hover over a bar in the graph, a tooltip appears that explains how
the corresponding entries were converted to distance within the
game. Teachers can use these data displays to guide lessons on
representing fractions and decimals, multiplying with fractions and
decimals, representing rate, and interpreting graphs—all of which
are learning objectives for Texas 4
and 5
grade students [
]. By
integrating relevant and explicit computation activities related to
students’ own physical activity, Project moveSMART introduces
students to data analysis in a way that is personally relatable.
As a class travels along its journey, it unlocks “waypoints” that
contain educational content and assessments that incorporate cur-
ricular material from across disciplines. Educational content can
either be embedded within the game, or be provided through links to
outside resources. This exibility allows activities delivered through
Project moveSMART to take on a variety of forms. For instance, we
have co-constructed learning material with elementary school con-
tent experts to align with grade-level Texas Essential Knowledge
and Skills (TEKS) and Common Core learning standards. Prelimi-
nary focus group data showed that aligning the content explicitly
with the required curriculum is a prerequisite for using Project
moveSMART in the classroom. We have also explored tying these
learning objectives into CS/CT learning activities. In a pilot study,
described in more detail in Section 4, an activity that guided stu-
dents through the creation of a physical activity monitor was deliv-
ered through Project moveSMART. Links in unlocked waypoints
directed students to a set of tutorials and an online coding envi-
ronment. Each tutorial introduced students to a specic CS/CT
concept (e.g., variables, conditional statements) while guiding them
through the iterative construction of a pedometer. At the end of
each tutorial, students completed short assessments within Project
moveSMART to solidify their understanding of the topics they had
been introduced to.
We have designed the game in a way that is very exible; each
classroom can have a separate deployment that incorporates diverse
modules that can include content drawn from dierent require-
ments or standards. In a given game, modules can include content
from all academic subjects or simply from a subset as determined
by the teacher, and individual teachers can curate the content for
their particular classes. A Project moveSMART journey can also
include “bonus” waypoints along the route that teachers can enable
when the class’s progress slows or when they want to inject new
content on-the-y.
From the inception of Project moveSMART, we have leveraged
aCommunity Engaged Research (CEnR) [
] approach. CEnR is a
Project moveSMART: Integrating Physical Activity and Computer Science Learning in Elementary School Classrooms
paradigm that originated in the health sciences and transforms
how research is conducted by giving voice to participants, focusing
on social issues [
], acknowledging the uniqueness of vulnerable
communities [
], and equitably incorporating all partners and their
strengths [
]. In the model that we adopt, a community is dened
as a unit that: (a) meets basic needs; (b) has a central social interac-
tion; and (c) shares a symbolic identity [
]. The elementary school
is a perfect match—in our preliminary interviews with stakeholders,
one school principal told us, “schools are everything to these kids.
We clothe them, feed them, and love them. We raise money to send
backpacks of food home for the weekend because we know they
have nothing to eat.” The elementary school, including students,
teachers, and parents, is an ideal location to explore community
engaged research.
Project moveSMART undertakes CEnR at the intersection of
computing and health, a domain to which this style of research
has not yet been applied. However, there is a natural and obvi-
ous synergy between the application of the CEnR paradigm in a
school and the creation of a researcher-practitioner partnership.
Project moveSMART fundamentally integrates practitioners (i.e., el-
ementary school teachers and administrators) with researchers; our
initial aims were to increase physical activity levels of elementary
schoolchildren by directly connecting physical activity with the aca-
demic curriculum. While physical activity was the initial target, the
academic curriculum is the conduit because teachers need to justify
the use of classroom time to achieve specic learning objectives.
Similarly, promoting computer science and computational thinking
(CS/CT) in elementary classrooms often takes a backseat to more
traditional curricular subjects. Through the Project moveSMART
platform, we therefore seek to address all three goals simultane-
ously: increase elementary schoolchildrens’ physical activity levels,
engage students in the academic curriculum, and provide an early
integration of CS/CT in elementary learning. By integrating CS/CT
into Project moveSMART, we present CS/CT curriculum in a way
that increases students’ academic engagement and learning of com-
puter science and computational thinking by directly connecting
the academic topics to students’ physical activity. In this way, when
CS/CT learning is the target, physical activity becomes the conduit.
Initially, our plan was to mimic the approach of KidsGoGreen [
and encourage active transportation to and from school. In this
conceptualization, students would use RFID badges to sign in and
out at the beginning and end of a school day and indicate their
utilization of active transport. However, through teacher and ad-
ministrator focus groups, we discovered that our partner schools
lacked the readiness to encourage active transportation since very
few students actively transit to school. Further, one administrator
was eager to have her students work with our team to co-construct
the game but stated that using RFID badges for students to sign in
to school to indicate active transport was likely out of the question,
due to parental concerns relating to student data privacy, the po-
tential for loss of the cards, risks of location tracking, and a lack of
obvious benets since most students come to school by car. Another
school similarly welcomed the opportunity for teachers, students,
and parents to build the application together, including support for
RFID-based logging; however, the school sta encouraged a focus
on physical activity within the school day rather than on active
transportation. To additionally address the rst administrator’s con-
cerns related to the use of RFID cards to checkin to the platform,
we also designed pseudonymous support for checkins, even with
RFID cards.
Based on these initial learnings, we co-created the current Project
moveSMART learning platform alongside teachers and students.
From students, we have learned that they desire individual credit
as a behavior motivator even though they are energetic about the
cooperative aspect of working together as a class on a larger goal.
Throughout the eort, students have also shared creative ideas
about game incentives and motivators, including earning avatars
and avatar accessories. Students themselves have expressed a desire
to have a physical mechanism to “check-in” and log their activity
rather than having data be passively or implicitly collected. Most
interestingly, students have suggested novel ways to integrate the
game with their curriculum; for instance, they suggested math
problems that would use their data, and they suggested having the
ability to look in on their data midday so they could plan for how
physically active to be for the rest of the day. Finally, students that
are part of the RPP have also shared ideas for connecting game
content to other in-class activities, for instance using a tabletop
experiment when exploring a wetland region or earning a dance
party when the class reaches a goal.
As part of the Project moveSMART RPP, we have worked with
elementary school teachers, including both classroom teachers and
physical education teachers to create initial game-based journeys
for 4
and 5
grades and to develop learning modules aligned with
grade-level curricula. The RPP also includes K-12 CS/CT content
experts, who have co-created the computing learning activities. As
parf of the RPP, the teachers identify learning activities that align
with and enrich the existing curriculum and guide how and when
they integrate with the students’ journey in the game so that the
timing aligns with the curriculum. Given today’s standards-based
focus in schools, the teachers also requested that assessment data
be collected and tracked within the game.
In a now more stable form, the partnership includes elemen-
tary school administrators, physical education teachers, 4
and 5
grade teachers, a K-12 computer science teacher, broadening partici-
pation in computing researchers, computer science researchers, and
health education researchers. We have further collaborated with
the 4
and 5
grade students themselves as well as with an expert
in elementary education equity. The development of the Project
moveSMART RPP has demonstrated that having individuals from
each of these roles has been essential to the success of the project.
The school administration is necessary to ensure the project is
able to navigate the district’s needs and requirements and identify
key resources. Classroom teachers are essential to establishing the
grade level curricular integration and understanding how game
play can and does intersect with day-to-day education in the class-
room. Physical education teachers are necessary to understand
and navigate the interplay between academics and physical educa-
tion and to identify appropriate opportunities for physical activity,
while the computer science teacher assists with connecting CS/CT
educational activities to existing curricula. We have found that
expertise in educational equity is essential in contextualizing the
activities to ensure engagement of the students. On the research
Connor Fritz, Sheri Burson, Grace Lee, Christine Julien, Darla Castelli, Jamie Payton, and Carol Ramsey
side, expertise in computer science and software engineering are
necessary for ensuring the feasibility of the planned interventions,
while expertise specic to broadening participation in computing
is needed to help ensure proper contextualization of the CS/CT cur-
riculum for the target demographic. Finally, research that combines
physical activity and elementary pedagogy is necessary to leverage
the interplay between academics and physical activity, which is the
linchpin for Project moveSMART.
Project moveSMART has three main goals: increasing students’
physical activity, improving students’ understanding of computer
science and computational thinking (CS/CT) concepts, and deliv-
ering content that aligns with state educational standards. How-
ever, physical activity is a typically marginalized component of the
curriculum, and Texas state educational standards do not dirctly
address CS/CT. This makes accomplishing the rst two goals dif-
cult, because the eectiveness of Project moveSMART depends
on teacher adoption and enthusiasm. Although students can in-
teract with Project moveSMART independently, teachers play a
key role by motivating students and integrating activities into cur-
ricula. Because teachers cannot justify dedicating classroom time
to activities that do not meet state standards, all content deliv-
ered through Project moveSMART must align with these standards.
Project moveSMART therefore addresses its three main goals si-
multaneously by integrating CS/CT concepts and student physical
activity with content that aligns with state standards.
In this section, we describe rst how we have incrementally
rened the moveSMART platform based on interactions between
the members of the researcher-practioner partnership. These re-
nements move the delivery of the game closer to simultaneously
achieving the above three goals. Then we talk in depth about the
CS/CT activities that are integrated into the moveSMART learning
activities and report our initial results from our rst deployment of
the moveSMART platform in elementary school classrooms.
4.1 Game Renements Based on the RPP
Interactions among the members of the rsearcher-practitioner part-
nership (RPP) have led to continuous enhancements of the Project
moveSMART platform to improve accessibility for students and
practicality for teachers. By integrating the voices of students, teach-
ers, and a multidisciplinary research team, the RPP has facilitated
the creation of a platform that is better able to address the needs of
the end users and progress the goals of the project.
The subject matter experts and educational and computer science
researchers of the RPP regularly meet to discuss the moveSMART
platform and goals. These meetings have led to insights informing
project development that might not have otherwise been discovered
had the team been composed of individuals with similar areas of
expertise. The educational researchers and subject matter experts
of the RPP often identify in-game improvements that make Project
moveSMART more accessible for students. For instance, through
discussions with teachers, educational researchers identied the
need to better support emerging readers. Even among the fourth and
fth grade audience of Project moveSMART, an assumption of uent
reading cannot be universally made. For instance, in our partner
Figure 4: In-app messaging about check-in
school, in 2019, 57% of students approached or exceeded grade-
level standards in reading, leaving a signicant number of students
in need of additional support. To address this issue, developers
optimized Project moveSMART for screen reader use and changed
the content of the website and in-game activities using the Flesch-
Kincaid readability test [
]. While the developers had the skill
set to make these changes to Project moveSMART, they would
not have been aware of these tools without the input of other
members of the RPP. Members of the RPP also discussed the fact that
45% of the students in the school have limited English prociency;
for this reason, the platform has a switch to transition seamlessly
between English and Spanish. Because RPP meetings are face-to-
face, the developers of the moveSMART platform can respond with
the feasibility and estimated time to completion of these features,
and the team can prioritize eort for benet. This improves the
eciency of the development process and makes it more likely that
suggested improvements will be implemented because changes can
quickly be discussed.
From the outset, physical education teachers have been part
of the RPP. Through collaborations with these experts, we have
designed the activity levels within the moveSMART platforms to
mimic daily self-reections that the PE teachers already asked stu-
dents to do upon exiting PE. These reections help students learn
to think about their own physical activity and the intensity levels
they should individually be achieving. We also worked with PE
teachers to develop visual communication around the activity lev-
els, including a poster that hangs in the elementary school gym and
information included within the app’s check-in page (see Figure 4).
To help motivate the students to achieve high activity levels, we also
worked with the PE teacher to implement class-level achievement
badges, as shown in Figure 5. The PE teacher also created a bul-
letin board with space for each class to showcase the highest badge
each class had earned. The goal of this display was to encourage a
low-level of competition among the classes.
Finally, to prepare for the initial deployment, the members of the
RPP collaborated to develop relationships among the researchers,
administrators, teachers, and students throughout the school year.
This includes classroom visits (both virtually and in person) to
introduce the students to the Project moveSMART platform and the
integration of physical activity with classroom learning activities.
It showcased the universal buy-in for the platform by the school
Project moveSMART: Integrating Physical Activity and Computer Science Learning in Elementary School Classrooms
1 Day 50% Participation 2 Day 50% Participation 7 Day 50% Participation 12 Day 50% Participation
1 Day 75% Participation 2 Day 75% Participation 7 Day 75% Participation 12 Day 75% Participation
1 Day 100% Participation 2 Day 100% Participation 7 Day 100% Participation 12 Day 100% Participation
Mount Everest Badge
5.5 miles
Mariana Trench Badge
6.8 miles
Eiffel Tower x 100 Badge
20.1 miles
International Space Station Badge
254 miles
Mount Everest x 100 Badge
550 miles
Amazon Rainforest Badge
1200 miles
The Great Barrier Reef Badge
1400 miles
The Earth’s Core Badge
1800 miles
The Oregon Trail Badge
2100 miles
Teamwork Badges
Distance Badges
Your class can earn teamwork badges when lots of students log their activity. You can help your class earn
more teamwork badges by logging your activity each day. You can also tell your classmates to log their activity!
Your class can earn distance badges by moving along the path in the game. Each badge has a distance. Once
you move past that distance, you unlock the badge. You can help your class by logging your activity as much as
you can. You can even log your activity multiple times a day!
Figure 5: Poster used in the elementary school to display badges
and their teachers (including their physical education teacher), and
it introduced the students to the research team in preparation for
the pilot deployment. During these visits, the team led students
through a physical activity and walked them through logging that
activity in the Project moveSMART platform, including modeling
how to self-reect and assess their own physical activity intensity.
These visits also gave students the opportunity to ask question
about how the game worked and how it was developed, to seed
their interest in the coming CS/CT learning activities.
4.2 Integrating CS/CT Content in moveSMART
We initially launched the moveSMART platform with an integra-
tion of physical activity and classroom learning activities tied to
standards across the curriculum. However, since CS/CT is not a
state learning standard in the state of Texas, we did not initially
integrate CS/CT learning in the platform. As part of the eort of
this RPP, we developed and piloted a series of learning activities
through which students create their own wearable activity monitor
and integrate its reports of sensed activity levels into the Project
moveSMART game.
These learning activities rely on the BBC micro:bit [
], a small
computer built for educational purposes. The micro:bit is equipped
with accelerometers, 25 red LEDs, and two buttons, among other
features. The CS/CT learning activities we designed for Project
moveSMART are meant to be completed in succession, as each one
builds upon concepts introduced in earlier activities.
Using the expertise within the Project moveSMART RPP, we
connected each of the CS/CT learning activities to grade-level state-
learning standards and to grade-level components of the K-12 Com-
puter Science Framework [
], a set of guidelines used to develop
computer science educational standards and curricula. The K-12
CS Framework consists of both concepts and practices. Practices
describe behaviors and ways of thinking that are expected of com-
putationally literate students. Concepts are the major computer
science content areas that are relevant for computationally literate
students. Concepts are divided into the core concepts: Computing
Systems,Networks and the Internet,Data and Analysis,Algorithms
and Programming, and Impacts of Computing. Each core concept
is further delineated by subconcepts. For instance, the Computing
Systems core concept includes the Devices,Hardware and Software,
and Troubleshooting subconcepts. By completing the moveSMART
educational content, block-coding exercises, and post-tutorial as-
sessments associated with each of the learning activities, students
can quickly build an understanding of fundamental CS/CT concepts.
In general, the learning activities each start by introducing stu-
dents to relevant CS/CT content delivered through age-appropriate
embedded videos, text, and examples. These materials were de-
veloped through the RPP by leveraging the expertise of elemen-
tary education researchers and practitioners. After viewing this
educational content, students are routed to a walk-through in the
Microsoft MakeCode platform [
], a coding environment in which
students can use code blocks to create programs to run on a virtual
micro:bit. As an example, Figure 6 shows an intermediate step of
the second learning activity, which the students undertake after
learning about accelerometers in general, and how the accelerome-
ter on the micro:bit works. As you can see in the gure, MakeCode
provides a playground in which the students can experiment. The
MakeCode tutorial environment also allows us to embed “hints”
(see the lightbulb near the top right of Figure 6). The moveSMART
research team developed a dedicated set of tutorials for MakeCode,
along with moveSMART programming abstractions that allow us
to hide some of the complexities of programming, which the learn-
ing activities incrementally remove as the students’ programming
competence and condence grow. As an example, in Figure 6, the
students use the “show number of steps” block and the “increase
step count” block from the “MoveSMART” tray in MakeCode. The
reason for these abstractions, at this point in the curriculum is
because the students have not yet been introduced to the concept
of variables, which is introduced later in the learning activity. At
the end of each walk-through, students can easily download their
completed program onto a physical micro:bit to see their program
in action.
To fully integrate the CS/CT learning activities with the moveS-
MART platform, we also developed in-app assessments. These were
requested by the practitioners within the RPP for all learning ac-
tivities in the game, but they were essential for the CS/CT activi-
ties because no other forms of assessment existed for these in the
Connor Fritz, Sheri Burson, Grace Lee, Christine Julien, Darla Castelli, Jamie Payton, and Carol Ramsey
Figure 6: The second CS/CT learning activity in moveSMART, deliv-
ered through the MakeCode tutorial platform
Figure 7: An assessment embedded into the moveSMART platform
curriculum. These assessments integrate concepts learned during
the CS/CT activities with concepts that align with state learning
standards. We also leveraged the assessments implementation for
evaluating the research itself, as described in greater detail below.
Figure 7 shows an example of these assessments integrated into the
game, in particular the assessment that follows the fourth learning
activity, which introduces the students to control ow. Additionally,
students used the products of their CS/CT learning activities to
complete physical activity related tasks.
Below, we overview the seven CS/CT learning activities we have
designed for the game. To date, we have identied these seven
activities and we have integrated the rst ve into the moveSMART
learning platform, including dening and integrating assessments
associated with them. In addition, as described in more detail below,
we have piloted the rst two learning activities in our partner
elementary school during the 2020-2021 academic year.1
Learning Activity 1: Introduction.
The rst learning activ-
ity acclimates the students to the micro:bit and MakeCode en-
vironment and guides them through creating a timer. When
the timer is complete, the students work in pairs to time
Because of signicant changes to elementary instruction in 2020-2021 due to the
COVID-19 pandemic, most of our interactions with the elementary school were via
virtual channels. However, in the last week of the school year, we did have one class
period each with the
grade classes, where we piloted the CS/CT learning
activities, with real micro:bit devices and the in-game assessments.
how long it takes each of them to complete a Trail Making
Test [16], a cognitive exibility measure.
Learning Activity 2: Sensing.
In the second learning activ-
ity, we introduce the students to the concept of sensing, as
the students create a step counter that uses the micro:bit ac-
celerometer. Students then use the step counter to measure
their physical activity during a collaborative game.
Learning Activity 3: Variables.
The third learning activity
introduces the concept of variables and guides students
through refactoring their step counter program to use vari-
ables to store information.
Learning Activity 4: Control Flow.
This learning activity in-
troduces students to the importance of sequence and control
ow in computing and connects this concept to the impor-
tance of sequence and logical ow in reading and writing.
During this activity, students rene their step counter to
include an on-o button.
Learning Activity 5: Rate.
This learning activity introduces
the concept of rate, independent of any CS/CT concepts. Stu-
dents then rene their step counter even further to calculate
and display their step rate by dividing the number of steps
counted by the time elapsed since a button press.
Learning Activity 6: Complex Conditionals.
This activity
starts with a physical education lesson that demonstrates the
relationship between rate and physical activity intensity. The
students then rene their activity monitor to map their step
rate onto a moveSMART activity level (i.e., the red, yellow,
and green in Figure 4).
Learning Activity 7: Communication.
In the nal learning
activity, the students change the Project moveSMART game
itself. Rather than checking in to log their activity either
with an RFID card or with using the web-based checkin, the
students use a radio link to send their activity level to the
checkin box shown in Figure 2.
4.3 Initial moveSMART Pilot
In the nal week of the 2020-2021 academic year, we added the
rst ve CS/CT learning activities to our active moveSMART de-
ployment at Hornsby-Dunlap Elementary School and made them
available to two 4
grade classes and the entire 5
grade. We joined
the classes in person for their physical education lesson and guided
them through the learning activities. Students worked on the CS/CT
activities in pairs during a 50 minute class period. While progress-
ing through the tutorials, students could ask teachers and the other
RPP members in attendance for assistance. We worked with the
two fourth grade classes in person on the rst day, though because
of the COVID-19 pandemic, only 9 4
grade students were in at-
tendance in person. One member of the research team engaged the
virtually connected students via the remote learning platform, but
they did not complete the activities with a physical micro:bit. After
the visit to the fourth grade generated excitement in the school, we
worked with the entire 5
grade on the second day. The 4
had been engaging with the moveSMART platform throughout the
school year, so they could easily navigate the login process and were
familiar with the map and navigating the website. The 5
students had no previous exposure to the moveSMART platform.
Project moveSMART: Integrating Physical Activity and Computer Science Learning in Elementary School Classrooms
As a result, most of the 4th grade students completed the rst two
CS/CT learning activities. In contrast, most, but not all, of the 5
grade students completed the rst CS/CT learning activity. None
of the 5
grade students completed the second CS/CT learning
Based on these interactions and our experiences engaging these
students with moveSMART throughout the school year, we made
the following observations: (1) even a short intervention using the
micro:bit-based learning activities has the potential to improve stu-
dents’ coding attitudes and (2) incremental deployment of features
helped maintain engagement. Further, because the micro:bit tuto-
rials also include physical activity components and concepts that
align with state learning standards, they could be easily integrated
into teachers’ curricula.
Importantly, we also received feedback from the teachers with
respect to the learning activities. One teacher (a physical education
teacher) told us: “Initially, I thought, computer science in elementary
school, it doesn’t matter. After watching [the students] doing it,
I was fascinated with how much they loved this activity. They
initially didn’t think they were capable of doing it. They had so
much fun, this opened their minds to doing computer science and
they really believed in themselves.
4.4 moveSMART Professional Development
A signicant part of the RPP is the creation of professional develop-
ment (PD) programs centered around Project moveSMART. In our
initial work with elementary school teachers, we found them eager
to introduce CS/CT concepts in their classrooms, but reticent to do
so, primarily because of a lack of their own condence in the mate-
rial. For instance, when we asked teachers what their biggest fears
about integrating CS/CT content in their classrooms were, they
shared fears centered on potential technical hangups and their own
(lack of) condence in CS/CT material. For instance, one teacher
characterized their fear as “comprehending enough to be able to
explain it to the students”, while another expressed a similar fear as
“not being able to answer all of the questions”. A physical education
teacher expressed that they didn’t want to “sacrice skill develop-
ment for a math lesson”, while a classroom teacher expressed a
fear of “incorporating stu that’s not in the curriculum”. Therefore,
the professional development sessions were designed to bolster
teachers’ capacity, capability, and condence to integrate CS/CT
content in the elementary school classroom in a way that dovetails
rather than interferes with the regular curriculum, including the
regular physical education curriculum.
Professional Development Session 1.
The rst of our PD ses-
sions were hosted (virtually) in Summer 2021 across two sessions.
Both sessions involved 9 participating teachers from three school
districts; 6 teachers participated in both sessions. In the rst session,
the content focused primarily on demonstrating how to introduce
CS/CT content while reinforcing the regular classroom instruction
and encouraging physical activity. We presented two examples of
learning activities that bring together the three principles of the
Project moveSMART approach:
Activity 1.
We had the participants play a modied version of
the class CS Unplugged Battleship game
. However, rather
than playing a generic version of battleship, we reframed the
activity around a dierent 5
grade learning standard: learn-
ing about explorers who visited the United States. In this
activity, the students learn through gameplay about the im-
portance of algorithmic thinking when searching and sorting.
As part of the exercise with the teachers, we discussed other
ways to contextualize the activity within their curriculum,
including connecting to ordering relations in mathematics
or to Native American tribes along the Texas/Mexico border.
Activity 2.
We introduced the participants to the CS concept
of conditional statements and to the importance of sequence
in computing. We then asked them to create a conditional
statement describing their own participation in physical ac-
tivity (e.g., “
it is Tuesday
I will have soccer practice”
or “
I run for exercise
I will drink more water”). Based
on these starter sentences, the participants were then chal-
lenged to write a story, with details, and represent it in a
six-frame storyboard. They were then asked to think about
the importance of sequence in their story and then create a
“buggy” version of the story by mixing up the frames. As a
large group, we “debugged” the story by putting the frames
back in order.
To present the learning activities, we used a variety of content, from
short child-friendly video clips, brief descriptions at an elementary
reading level, and guided instruction. The rst activity involved
the participants being physically active, while the second activity
involved the participants reecting on being physically active. Both
were directly connected to grade-level state learning standards; in
the rst activity, the focus was on cultural studies, while the second
focused on reading and writing.
After each activity, the PD session held time for discussion among
the participants about how the activity could be incorporated into
their classrooms, providing opportunities for peer learning and
bolstering the teacher participants’ condence.
Professional Development Session 2.
The second Summer
2021 professional development session was specically focused on
helping the teachers grow more comfortable and condent with the
micro:bit platform. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the session
was held remotely, but we shipped each participant a micro:bit
device ahead of time. Prior to the activities, we opened the session
with a group discussion about how their students can benet from
CS/CT instruction and the ways in which they already integrate
some aspects of CS/CT. One of the classroom teachers told us “The
kids in the demographic at our school, they don’t get a lot of ex-
posure to computer programming and the things that they can do.
I’ve used animation in my class and coding with scratch” and that
coding helped demonstrate to students “why it is important for
story telling in a sequence and to be able to recall information or
retell stories in a sequence.” A physical education teacher relayed
integrating technology in PE class, saying “I used a heart monitor
and projected their activity into the gym, including the target heart
rates they were shooting for, and gave them feedback on it. This
seemed to especially really get girls involved and moving more.
The same teacher expressed a struggle faced as well, saying “I also
emailed parents about how and what [their students] were doing.
Connor Fritz, Sheri Burson, Grace Lee, Christine Julien, Darla Castelli, Jamie Payton, and Carol Ramsey
This helped parents get involved in caring about PE, but the biggest
thing we ght in our district is Internet access.
These discussion fortied the community-based approach of the
Whole Communities–Whole Health eort that Project moveSMART
is a part of, and the importance of integrating CS/CT instruction
in the regular school day rather than relying on extracurricular
After this opening, the session moved into the activities:
Activity 1.
We started with the classically silly Robot: Make
me a Sandwich activity
as a simple ice breaker to get ev-
eryone thinking about computer programs as instructions
in sequence. After this, the participants discussed the many
ways in which sequence is important for the classrooms. One
teacher observed that there are many such sequences in our
lives: “cooking, getting ready in the morning, all kinds of
daily activities that we don’t even think about” and the phys-
ical education teachers in the room discussed the importance
of sequences of steps in skill development like dribbling and
Activity 2.
For the rst programming activity within this ses-
sion, we had the teachers complete the second learning ac-
tivity in the moveSMART game itself, i.e., they followed the
tutorial instructing them on using the micro:bit to make a
timer. Once everyone had completed the timer, we shared
the idea of having the students use the timer for activities
in class and asked the teachers how they thought it might
be useful. One teacher shared that the students have a list
of 1000 sight words to learn; the students could use the
timer while working in pairs to time how fast they could
get through a partial list. Another teacher expounded that
the students could also make another program that counted
when the button was pressed, and the students could use a
second micro:bit to count how many of the words they got
correct. The physical education teachers immediately recog-
nized the potential to use the student-built timers for pieces
of the FitnessGram [
], in particular for the PACER test.
Finally, several teachers wondered about using the approach
to create countdown timers to help students with focus and
periodic breaks, to help with social emotional learning and
classroom management.
Activity 3.
In the third activity, the teachers extended their
approach to build the basic step counter using the micro:bit
(which is analogous to learning activity 3 above).
At the conclusion of the session, the teachers again reected on
their experiences. We challenged them to continue working with
the devices and shared additional grade-level appropriate resources
for them to explore CS/CT concepts on their own. In the closing
informal discussion, one teacher, whose class is a dual-language
English-Spanish fth grade class, wondered constructively about
ways the CS/CT content could be tied into reading and writing, in
particular to reading comprehension. This teacher explicitly focused
in on the connection for the attention to detail in sequences from
the peanut butter and jelly sandwich activity as a starting point.
4.5 Looking Forward: the Future of the RPP
In the past, interactions between members of the RPP have directly
informed design decisions within the Project moveSMART platform.
This is a continual process, and more recent interactions between
RPP members have led to insights into ways to further improve
accessibility and usability. In addition to the feedback from all RPP
members, during the deployment of the ve micro:bit tutorials in
the 4
and 5
grade classes, we were able to observe students’
interactions with Project moveSMART. These observations allowed
us to identify specic problems that hampered student progress.
Currently we are working on addressing these problems by imple-
menting new features.
Many students, especially those who had not interacted with
Project moveSMART to a great extent, had trouble logging in be-
cause they could not remember (or did not know) their moveSMART-
specic username or password. To address this, throughout Summer
2021, we have implemented single sign-on authentication using
ClassLink Launchpad [
], which the students and teachers in our
partner school district already use to access many digital learning
resources. This integration allows a smooth login process for all
students in Project moveSMART.
As students completed micro:bit based CS/CT learning activities,
some were confused after clicking links that led them to outside
educational resources. Additionally, some students had diculty
returning to Project moveSMART once routed to an external re-
source, or would continue to explore links within the outside re-
source instead of returning. For instance, students would continue
to watch recommended videos after nishing a YouTube video in-
cluded within a CS/CT learning activity. To minimize this, we added
functionality that allows embedding most learning content directly
within the game. Now, students can access external content such as
Google Docs or YouTube videos without having to leave the Project
moveSMART page. Instead, these resources appear in a modal that
is overlaid on the moveSMART map page. Additionally, we disabled
video recommendations within embedded YouTube videos.
We also observed that some students had diculty reading and
understanding content during the delivery of the micro:bit tutori-
als, despite our previous eorts to address student comprehension
concerns, e.g., by optimizing the platform for screen reader use and
rewriting content to have grade-level appropriate readability. In the
future, we will explore improving accessibility by including audio
aids within the Project moveSMART platform.
This paper presented the rst report on the workings of the Project
moveSMART Researcher-Practitioner Partnership (RPP). This part-
nership was designed around an existing learning platform that
combined physical activity with standards-aligned classroom learn-
ing for 4
and 5
grade students. Through the RPP we have both
developed deeper relationships among the practitioners and re-
searchers and meaningfully integrated computer science and com-
putational thinking (CS/CT) activities. Based on preliminary feed-
back from teachers and our observations from a small initial pilot,
we hypothesize that this three-way integration of core curricular
Project moveSMART: Integrating Physical Activity and Computer Science Learning in Elementary School Classrooms
content, physical activity, and CS/CT learning will provide empha-
sis and engagement across all three areas of learning. The part-
nership continued to grow even through the COVID-19 ravaged
2020-2021 academic year, with virtual engagement among all of the
RPP partners, including the elementary school students. The team
completed a small pilot of the three-part moveSMART platform,
with valuable pilot feedback for renement in the summer. The
team further prepared for a full roll-out through summer profes-
sional development sessions that elicited important insights and
directions from the practicing teachers and opportunities for the
researchers to support the teachers’ growth in competence and
condence in teaching CS/CT. These eorts situate the RPP team
for a full deployment in the (in-person) 2021-2022 academic year.
The authors would like to thank the teachers and administrators
who are part of the RPP. Without their patience and dedication,
none of the work in this paper would be possible. This work was
funded in part by the National Science Foundation under grants
CNS-2031498 and CNS-2031324 and by Whole Communities–Whole
Health, a research grand challenge at the University of Texas at
Austin. Any opinions, ndings, conclusions or recommendations
expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reect the views of the sponsors.
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