Studying while walking
A single-file line of fifth-graders at Lake Sybelia Elementary walk the sidewalk outside their stucco-walled school with earbuds stuck in one ear, their fingers fiddling with a palm-sized media player in their small hands.
They’re not texting or listening to music. This is how Susan Maddox’s fifth grade class studies.
There may not be any books or worksheets in front of them while they briskly walk the sun-soaked pavement, but flowing through their earbuds is a lesson taught by kids for kids. Today’s topic: The Statue of Liberty.
The media-player dangling around the necks of each student is packed with 95 different “Walking Classroom” podcasts, covering everything from idioms and the ocean floor to William Shakespeare and the Oxford dictionary.
The podcasts sound like the inner workings of an exceptionally engaged classroom, with scripted students and teachers talking through the ins and outs out the topic offering vocabulary and history lessons along the way. A teacher from North Carolina developed the Walking Classroom program as a way to stretch her students’ minds and bodies simultaneously.
The program made its way to Lake Sybelia thanks to a grant from the Winter Park Health Foundation, providing one fourth grade and one fifth grade class at the school with enough headsets to get each classroom on their feet and mobile.
“On the first day of school we told the students we were going to do something very exciting this year, and it’s only gotten better since,” said fifth-grade teacher Susan Maddox.
When her students get back from lunch, it’s time to pack up their papers and pens and put on their headphones. Once they reach the bottom of the school’s stairwell and feel the sun on their faces, it’s time to press play. For the next half hour or so, they walk in a single-file line along a pre-planned route along the sidewalks out front of the school while the day’s Common-Core-approved lesson plays in their ears.
“It’s fun,” said fifth-grader Trey Demesmin. “I get to learn stuff while also being active.”
Demesmin said his favorite lessons have taken him into outer space and to 16th century England with audio lessons on Neil Armstrong and William Shakespeare.
His classmate Natalie Botelho said her favorite part of the Walking Classroom is that it gets her brain and body moving at the same time, which she said helps her focus and better remember the lessons.
“And it’s healthier than just sitting down in a classroom,” she said.
Their teacher, Mrs. Maddox, said when she quizzes her kids on their comprehension of the lessons they learned on their walk, test scores increase a whopping 25 to 30 percent.
Lake Sybelia Principal Julie Paradise said she loves seeing her school’s students and teachers so excited about learning, especially in a new innovative way.
“We’re always looking for way to save a minute during the day … When we can combine physical education with learning – and see an uptick in retention – we love it,” Paradise said.
For more information about the Walking Classroom program, visit thewalkingclassroom.org
Melodie Griffin, a contractor for the Winter Park Health Foundation, said the Walking Classroom has seen such success at Lake Sybelia that the foundation is working to secure grants to bring the program to other local elementary schools that the Foundation serves, which are all of those that feed into Winter Park High. First on the list are Hungerford and Aloma elementary.
“Slowly but surely we hope to expand the program to our other schools,” Griffin said.
The topic of the classes’ first walk-and-learn in February was inspired by Natalie Botelho’s science fair project about why the Statue of Liberty is green. Going into the lesson, the class could tell you the science behind the copper coating of the statue turning colors, but afterward, they were able to spout off even more Lady Liberty facts – and some new vocabulary.
“I learned that the people who made it, it took them 10 years until it was actually made,” said fifth grader Kaley Kolb.
Before the lesson, Maddox asked her students to listen carefully for the definition of one of their vocab words, which was mentioned in the lesson: “colossus.”
After pressing pause and plucking out her earbud, a confident smile spread across Kolb’s face.
“It means a statue of gigantic size,” she said.