The Walking Classroom delivers fresh air, exercise and content
As a fourth grade teacher, Kristen Rafferty knows how difficult it can be for elementary students to sit still. She also knows how students can burn off some pent-up energy while still learning: The Walking Classroom (TWC).
The concept pairs physical activity, such as a walk around the block, with a 20-minute auditory lesson. Promoted by The Walking Classroom Institute, a nonprofit in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, TWC was developed by a fifth grade teacher who noticed a positive correlation between academic performance and physical activity.
“Kids today are not traditional learners who can sit at a desk for extended periods of time,” said Rafferty, who teaches at Carondelet Catholic School in Minneapolis. “With The Walking Classroom, I can give them both opportunities to move and instruction at the same time.”
The content is delivered via small audio players on lanyards that students place around their necks and plug into headphones. Each audio player, known as a WalkKit, comes preloaded with 125 podcasts on numerous topics that fulfill Common Core standards.
The fourth grade WalkKit, for example, covers scientific topics such as climate and weather patterns, animal classification and the human body.
It also has social studies topics — including the American Revolution, Native American culture and map making — plus English language arts content. “It’s intentionally interdisciplinary,” said Sue Kerr, principal of Carondelet, which enrolls 400 students in preschool through eighth grade.
One of those students is Adele Cormier, who was in Rafferty’s class last year and in the first group to use the WalkKits. Although her favorite podcast was “Superheroes and Villains of Writing,” which addresses grammatical no-nos such as double negatives, she also enjoyed the lessons on math and social studies.
“THE KIDS ARE SMILING AND HAPPY BUT ALSO LISTENING INTENTLY. YOU CAN TELL THEY WANT TO ENGAGE IN THE MATERIAL AND WITH EACH OTHER WHEN THEY GET BACK TO THE CLASSROOM.”
“It’s so nice to get out of the classroom and move around. Walking doesn’t take much concentration, so you can pay attention to the podcast,” Adele said. “Usually there’s a question at the end to talk about when you get back to the classroom.”
“Every podcast comes with a lesson plan, introductory questions and quizzes,” Rafferty noted. “Some podcasts are tied directly to our curriculum, and others I’d pick at random based on what sparked the kids’ interest.”
One rainy day, for example, Rafferty replaced indoor recess with TWC.
“Instead of the kids just sitting around, we walked around the inside of the building and listened to a podcast on precipitation,” she said.
Now a fifth grader, Adele misses TWC but hopes it remains “a special fourth grade thing.”
Kerr said teachers appreciate how the students retain the information when using TWC.
“The kids are smiling and happy but also listening intently,” she said. “You can tell they want to engage in the material and with each other when they get back to the classroom.”