A more educated populace could expect longer life expectancy, reduced burden of illness and improved opportunities and quality of life. Research indicates that students who are physically active have better grades, better school attendance, and better classroom behaviors. Schools and teachers play a vital role as influencers in the life of young children, and provide a venue to educate, and to start introducing healthy behaviors and discussions in early childhood. Discussions around character values like determination, honesty, accountability and learning from failure are great life lessons and contribute mightily to civil discourse and self awareness. The Walking Classroom podcasts are an innovative way to teach children while they move. More than 100 Podcasts that cover topics that include a wide variety of history, biographies, science, and language arts--all of which align to curriculum--come preloaded on audio devices. Importantly, each 15-minute podcast includes a brief health message AND there is a character value woven into the podcast with discussion questions included in the companion Teacher’s Guide.
The Walking Classroom was created by Laura Fenn when she was a 5th grade teacher. Time for PE and recess was being cut or eliminated, and the students who needed recess the most were often required to stay inside for academic remediation. Fenn began recording some of her lessons so her students could get some desperately needed fresh air and exercise without sacrificing instructional time. The walk, listen, and learn method was an instant hit with all of her students, and Fenn started The Walking Classroom Institute as a nonprofit organization in 2011. The program has evolved over the past five years. We have a fourth grade curriculum and a 5th grade curriculum. The 4th and 5th grade curricula align to standards teachers must address and cover a wide variety of history, science, and language arts topics like the Boston Massacre, Hurricanes, Prepositions, Rosa Parks, and many more, including a Careers in Science series created with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. More than 100 kid-friendly, educational podcasts come pre-loaded on audio devices, and each podcast is about 15-16 minutes long. Podcasts begin with a brief health literacy message (the importance of sleep, limiting screen time, exercise and concentration, etc.) , transition into the main content area, and include a character value (patience, integrity, tolerance, self-respect, etc.). Podcasts are supported by extensive lesson plans in the companion Teacher's Guide that include discussion questions about the content, the health message and the character value. There is also a comprehension quiz for each podcast. TWCI provides free online training for all adults who will be using the program with students.
The following is a testimonial from Josh Montero, a 5th grade teacher in Stockton, California, about his experience with The Walking Classroom:
"Over 80% of our school's population are living in poverty, and over 70% are English learners. Sadly, we lack the resources to make enough of a difference for these kids, all of whom are below grade level in most everything. Being able to take them out with our WalkKits gets them engaged in a way even my best in-class instruction cannot. It doesn't feel like school, and as their brains open up to new things, it has helped me engage them better when we are in class. The topics and questions presented via the podcasts have gotten them to think differently, to be more analytical and introspective. Not only are my kids moving and walking, but we have finally found a catalyst to help them begin to catch up and narrow the gap between their education and that of the kids in wealthier schools. I am absolutely in love with The Walking Classroom, and so are my students. Every Wednesday and Friday they ask me as soon as I see them if we are walking, which we always are. It may only be a small start, but these are kids who need to be taught to be excited about school. And who know, sometimes a small ember can become a raging inferno!"
Our program has grown exponentially over the years mainly due to word-of-mouth from teacher to teacher and their social media postings about the program. Teachers LOVE our program, and they are eager to share the fun and beneficial things that their students are doing. Today nearly 35,000 students nationwide improve their physical, mental, and academic health as they listen to educational podcasts as they walk several times a week throughout the school year. And, due to popular demand, we have recently introduced a STEM curriculum that combines all the science related podcasts from the 4th grade and 5th grade curricula. Demand is strong for these WalkKits, too.
The Walking Classroom provides a way for ALL kids to feel successful in the classroom. Fourth grade and fifth grade is a time when children are transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn. In any given public school classroom, there is a wide range of reading abilities. By age 4, children from low income families have heard 32 million fewer words than their higher income peers, which impacts their ability to read and comprehend. The Walking Classroom, with its long list of history and biography podcasts, provides many of the cultural and historical references that are important in understanding many vocabulary words and reading passages. The Walking Classroom podcasts provide a way for ALL students to access information and, therefore, participate in class discussions. We consistently hear in survey responses that kids are interested in finding out more about the topic after listening to a Walking Classroom podcast.
In addition to the core content areas (history, science, language arts), each podcast begins with a health literacy message. Each time students walk, their knowledge of health and healthy choices improves and they are able to make better, more informed, choices. And, integrating a discussion about the character value seems natural and allows the students to reflect on what they heard and how they may have responded in similar situations. This leads to rich, reflective and introspective in class discussions.
Kids love the program because they think they’re “getting out of something,” and teachers love the program because it enables them to cover the required curriculum content, engage different learning styles, and get the students some desperately needed fresh air and exercise. Teachers can conduct some engaging discussions about the content including the important character values woven in. Students come back to the class refreshed and with oxygenated brains that are ready to learn even more!
"I think even the trouble makers are learning more with The Walking Classroom and that is a miracle!", Ashley, 4th grader in North Carolina.
Finally, The Walking Classroom is not a one time intervention, but is designed to be used several times per week throughout the year. The WalkKit audio devices are easily shared between teachers and classrooms maximizing the impact. And, the devices have an estimated life of 3 to 5 years, with a low cost replacement (fully preloaded with all podcasts) available from the manufacturer. There, once in place, this program could be impacting many many children over several years. We have proposed that is it possible to reach and influence a generation of elementary school kids and, in fact, received private grant funding to put The Walking Classroom in all 4th and 5th grade classrooms throughout 7 poor rural counties in North Carolina. The objective is to move the needle--health literacy wise and academically--for an entire generation of elementary school kids who will be using the program over the next several years. Feedback from the over 100 teachers currently involved in this initiative is great with high enthusiasm to use the program going forward.
We rely on our partnership with teachers. This is working for us, because once teachers see what a great and easy-to-use program this is, they want to use it:
"Students get excited when they hear we are going to do The Walking Classroom. Some students even come to me at the beginning of the day asking if we will be doing The Walking Classroom. Having students ask to learn….what an awesome experience for a teacher.
The choice of stories was also very well thought out. There are plenty of opportunities to match them to what we were studying or integrate with our current lesson plans. The students and I also liked how the message was more than just the stories. We not only learned the content but how to discuss that content and what made the story or passage worth listening to.
It has been a worthwhile experience on so many levels. From my non-readers to my advanced learners…Using The Walking Classroom WalkKits with my classroom has been an awesome experience." Mrs. Watson, 5th grade teacher