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'Walking Classroom' at Fort Carson school features learning by podcast in fresh air

February 1, 2017 Updated: February 1, 2017 at 9:42 pm
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Three times a week, fourth graders from Mountainside Elementary School on Ft. Carson multitask by learning while getting exercise. They take a half hour walk while listening to Podcasts of their lesson. The kids walk down a trail near the school, learning about summaries on Wednesday, February 1, 2017. photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

Sitting in class all day can get "kind of boring," said 10-year-old Adrianna Moreno.

"You want to look around at stuff, and then the teacher tells you to pay attention, even though you're still listening," said Adrianna, a fourth-grader at Mountainside Elementary School in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8.

That's not an issue during "The Walking Classroom," an idea from a national nonprofit organization that takes kids outside for a podcast lesson.

"It's great," Adrianna said. "You can look and listen at the same time."

On three mornings each week, the 22 students in Shawn Solon's fourth-grade class at Mountainside get out of their seats, put on coats, insert earbuds and embark on a brisk 1.25-mile jaunt.

"The first time we did it, they were exhausted," Solon said.

While walking for a half-hour around their school, which is on Fort Carson, students hear lessons on MP3 players on all kinds of things: grammar, the Civil War, biographies of important people such as astronaut Neil Armstrong and others. There are 105 kid-friendly lessons, all attuned to Common Core State Standards, a set of goals and expectations for knowledge and skills that Colorado schools are required to use. Wednesday's walking classroom featured instruction on how to summarize a story, using the tales of The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella as examples.

"I remember the stuff better," said 9-year-old Gavin Sibayan. "It helps me think."

Getting the blood flowing early in the morning stimulates the brain and the desire to learn, according to the creators. The award-winning program is designed to strengthen the physical, mental and academic health of students while they walk, listen and learn.

The link between exercise and cognitive function is indisputable, said Solon, who earned a grant worth $4,000 from the Oak Foundation to obtain the program and equipment.

"I've noticed increased focus and decreased fidgetiness in class," he said.

It took awhile for him to gain approval for the program, which started last month when the second semester began.

"Technically, it's a field trip since we're leaving the school campus," Solon said.

That required permission from officials from the school district and the Army post, as well as parents.

"I saw I needed a different way to motivate students," Solon said. "I wanted to get out of our usual routine."

A good health message (Wednesday's was "be aware of your surroundings") precedes the tutorial.

Another missive, such as the dangers of bullying, wraps it up. Voices of children and adults are featured on the custom-made podcasts.

"It's very fun," said 9-year-old Aidan Patrick. "You get exercise, so you're not sitting in a chair all day."

"You get lots of fresh air," chimed in classmate Jenna Blum.

Wednesday's morning temperature was around freezing, which Solon said might be near the breaking point, as the walking classroom doesn't happen if the weather is too bad.

The children walk in a line with a partner along a training path for soldiers, with Cheyenne Mountain as the backdrop. Students take a quiz on the material when they return to class.

"They love it," Solon said. "They always ask if we're going to go."

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