My left-field lesson - The walk and the talk

How podcasts are inspiring students to exercise while they learn

In my classes, children walk around with headphones in. They are not playing up or being rude - I am the one who told them to do so.

It all started because I am interested in the concept of combining fitness with academic teaching, especially since 5th graders (aged 10-11) in California have to take a physical fitness test. I should also add that my class is 80 per cent male and I needed a kinaesthetic activity for them.

I found a programme called The Walking Classroom, created by former teacher Laura Fenn. It consists of WalkKits (MP3 players) preloaded with 14- to 20-minute podcasts that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards in science, social studies and English language arts.

First, I reveal the title of the podcast the students will be listening to and ask them to think of anything they already know about the topic. Discussing the title is a short but powerful way to ignite their curiosity.

We then head out to the school field, turn on the podcast and begin walking and listening. The children do so diligently and it is great to see them exercising as they learn.

Afterwards we return to the classroom, where the pupils jot down as many details of what they heard as they can remember. When they have finished making notes, I ask them to discuss their findings with a partner or in groups (on some occasions a whole-class discussion may be more beneficial). The goal is for students to be able to answer both "thin" and "thick" questions. Thin questions are related to facts and recall, whereas thick ones are more open-ended.

Finally, I ask the children to write a few organised paragraphs that include details and their opinions of what they have just learned.

My students were extremely eager to be the first in our school to take part in the programme. Although most children are already very tech-savvy, the novelty lies in using MP3 players for learning.

It is still too early to tell exactly how much impact this learning method has had. However, the students have certainly gained the ability to discern relevant details and organise them much more effectively. I have also noticed that while they may not be able to instantly recount all the details on paper, having a conversation with a peer seems to trigger the recall of far more details and ideas than they originally remembered.

Other teachers and students have seen us on our regular walks - they are curious about the programme but are waiting to see how this first year turns out before adopting it themselves. Because the programme isn't yet available at all grade levels and still requires funding, my class was incredibly fortunate to be granted all the resources without any of the associated running costs.

I always try to stay up to date with techniques and strategies that I believe can create deep thinkers and build character in students. However, I know that the most powerful techniques are the ones that involve fun and learning at the same time. The walking programme certainly does that, and it keeps my class physically healthy as well as mentally agile.

Julie Rust is a 5th-grade teacher at Yorbita Elementary School in California, US. She was speaking to Theo Serlin

Top 10 resources for active learning

1. Stretched to the limit

Before a PE lesson, warm up using the animal stretches in this fun, informative PowerPoint. They include "the flamingo", "the shark" and "the angry bear".

2. Outside offerings

This resource is full of ideas for al fresco lessons, from pavement cafes to windy weather boxes. You'll be out in the open in no time.

3. Careers with spheres

Nurture the next Lionel Messi - or just encourage your class to get fit - in this session on basic football skills.

4. Astronaut athletics

Watch a video of astronauts explaining the importance of exercise, then run a Nasa activity course that gives children the mission of improving their general fitness.

5. Warm-up winners

From classic games such as stuck in the mud to new ones including a human version of Bop It, this set of warm-up activities will soon get pupils running around.

6. Shuffle along

If you have never heard of shuffle ball, it's definitely time to acquaint yourself with this entertaining game. It's great for developing ball skills.

7. Overcoming obstacles

Get creative and keep active with these problem-solving games that include a blindfold obstacle course and a hoop race.

8. Cheer challenge

Challenge your tutor group to create a cheerleading routine using this checklist as a guide.

9. Helping handball

Give handball a fun twist with these strategy and tactics cards - perfect for a friendly tournament between classes.

10. Formula for success

Bring a new dimension to relays in PE with these Formula One-style rules that can be used to liven up races.

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