Juggling could help boost students' brainpower, Sheffield schools show

Students at Stocksbridge High School practising their juggling skills as part of the Spaced Learning study
Students at Stocksbridge High School practising their juggling skills as part of the Spaced Learning study
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It may sound like a load of balls but juggling between lessons could help boost students' brainpower, a pioneering study led by Sheffield schools suggests.

Hundreds of pupils in the city have been practising the pastime as part of an innovative approach to education called 'Spaced Learning'.

The results of the trial were so encouraging, Spaced Learning could soon be rolled out to schools nationwide

The results of the trial were so encouraging, Spaced Learning could soon be rolled out to schools nationwide

The method is inspired by neuroscientists' research suggesting our brains can better absorb information when it is repeated at regular intervals with gaps in between.

It's not strictly the juggling which does the trick. Those interludes could be filled with any physical activity giving us the chance to process that new knowledge while occupying another part of our grey matter.

But juggling was the task chosen for a study developed by Sheffield's Hallam Teaching School Alliance (HTSA) and Stocksbridge High School, and run by Notre Dame High School in Ranmoor.

Two thousand GCSE pupils from 15 schools across the city and elsewhere in the north juggled in between intensive science revision sessions during the SMART Spaces study, paid for using a grant from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

They sat three lessons over three days before answering a series of questions from a past GCSE paper.

The results were so promising there are now plans for a larger trial which could lead to the technique becoming commonplace in schools nationwide by 2019.

Alastair Gittner, deputy headteacher at Stocksbridge High School, who led the study, said: "Neuroscience suggests repeating a fact with gaps in between can help that memory become fixed. It's a method that's already used by lots of teachers but there's never been a definitive study before now to show whether it actually works.

"We did 15-20 minutes of science and then 10 minutes of juggling, which is a distraction that enables the brain to process the learning.

"Lots of the students found it engaging and lots of the teachers involved found it a good technique, with many continuing to use it once the study was over.

"The tests showed enough initial impact for it to probably go forward to a full trial with hundreds of schools to see whether it does have the desired effect.

"We don't believe this will replace anything teachers are doing already. It's just another tool we believe works to help students with revision."

As well as Stocksbridge and Notre Dame, the schools taking part in Sheffield were Tapton High School, Wales High School, Handsworth Grange Community Sports College, Meadowhead School, UTC Sheffield, All Saints Catholic High School.

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