By Matthew Tungate
Jessica Goldy Elliott, a 5th-grade teacher at Owingsville Elementary School (Bath County), recently faced what seemed like a sure disaster: She was leading one of her classes on a walk down Main Street and a man chased his loose dog for 10 minutes.
“And I was thinking, in another circumstance these kids would be going wild, laughing and trying to get the dog to come to them,” she said. “But they were like little Army ants. They just stood there and they didn’t make a peep because they were so engaged with the lesson that was going on.”
Another class saw three fire trucks speed from the firehouse with lights flashing and sirens blazing, but the students continued listening to their audio players.
“They’re just so engaged with it,” Elliott said.
The devices are loaded with podcasts created by The Walking Classroom Institute, a non-profit organization in Chapel Hill, N.C. The WalkKits, as they are called, are being used in nine schools in the state, according to the organization’s communications director, Julie Zola.
“The Walking Classroom program provides educational audio podcasts that allow kids to get outside and walk during regular class time (exercise without sacrificing instructional time),” she said. “Children are active learners as they walk briskly while listening to Common Core Standards-aligned podcasts on pre-loaded audio devices.”
Carrie Wedding, a special education teacher who co-teaches 5th- and 6th-grade language arts at Owensboro Middle School (Owensboro Independent), said she heard about The Walking Classroom through a colleague.
“We are always looking for ways to meet all learning styles, and this piqued our interest. As we investigated further, we fell in love,” she said. “The fact it was core content-based, the lessons and assessments were already done, and the ease of use were all great bonuses. We also know that students need to hear, feel, see and experience skills in order to make connections, so the Walking Classroom fit perfectly.”
Elliott said her students love using the WalkKits.
“Even on days we have field trips, they say, ‘Can we take a walk before we go?’” she said.
Elliott said she tries to take her students on two or three walks per week as they listen to the podcasts, which tie into English/language arts, science and social studies. Of the 170 or so podcasts, Elliott said her students have listened to lessons on Native Americans Sequoia and Tecumseh, and Christopher Columbus.
Elliott said she lets students listen to each 10- to 18-minute podcast two or three times. After the first time, they write a summary of what they heard. The second and third times, they write three new things they learned and draw a picture of what they visualized as they listened.
Jenni Baney, a 5th-grade teacher at Veterans Park Elementary (Fayette County), tries to use her WalkKits three times per week.
She said some days all four 5th-grade classes are using WalkKits at the same time and, thanks to clearly outlined and practiced expectations, “it has worked out beautifully.”
“The students are assessed through a written 10-question quiz whenever we return to the classroom after walking,” she said. “I allow my students to preview the quiz and highlight key words to listen for prior to beginning our walk.”
Wedding tries to use her WalkKits twice per week.
“We will plan our skills for the week and then check the Walking Classroom binder to see which of their lessons would fit our lesson,” she said.
After a walk, students go into small-group instruction, she said.
“The kids are so excited to tell us about what they heard that they are discussing it with their peers as we enter small group,” Wedding said. “For example, there is a lesson on Point of View that discussed Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the students loved it. They were referencing the book and movie and making connections. By incorporating Walking Classroom into our instruction, 100 percent of our students were able to obtain mastery (70 percent or better) on the skill of Point of View.”
Elliott said her school’s secretary, vice principal and principal have walked with the classes and can’t believe how much information the kids get out of them.
“They remember so much stuff in such minute details from the podcasts,” she said.
Wedding said she has seen a behavior benefit from the walks, too.
“We always do Walking Classroom the first thing in the morning, and we have noticed that call outs have decreased while attention to task has increased,” she said. “The students are more alert and ready to learn after we have used the Walking Classroom. Participation increases because they are able to make more connections on their own.”
Elliott said her class also has a set of pedometers, so students track the number of steps they take. They multiply their step lengths by the steps to get their distance travelled.
“So we’re tying a lot of content in there: we’ve got reading, social studies and math all tied in there in one activity,” she said.
She has already seen a health improvement, too. When the class first started taking the walks, some of the students struggled to make it the whole way and the podcast would end before the class returned, Elliott said. Now she often has to add extra distance to the walks because students are covering the ground more quickly.
“This is another way to reach kids on a different level,” Wedding said. “The lessons are mostly children providing the information, so it is not as intimidating as an adult providing the information even if the adult is just facilitating discussion between their peers. They are able to go into their own world and make their own connections and interpretations.”
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