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Reflecting, Walking, and Stimulating the Mind

Posted by on in Student Engagement
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Two giraffe at mysore zoo

We recently went to the zoo on a rather warm and sunny day. The animals were active and our kids had tons of questions we loved contemplating the answers to.

Summer has arrived!  The school year is finally coming to an end. This is the time of year when my jealousy of teachers who have already been enjoying summer vacation since May has finally started to subside.  There are so many reasons to love summer—time with my kids, enjoying the sun, traveling, exploring nature, and reading for fun (and professionally).

The best part of summer for me is being able to be outdoors and moving through nature whether it is hiking on a trail, walking on the beach, wandering through the zoo, playing at the park, or running through the neighborhood. Not only do I experience joy for these activities, but my kids do as well.  We talk, ask questions, explore answers, and reach new heights in intellectual stimulation.

It is at these moments when I think about students seated in classrooms during the school year. My mind races around multiple ways to use movement activities in the  classroom as a teacher and during professional development sessions as a teacher leader. Some of my ideas are simple ways to get kids up and moving, and other ideas involve more creativity regarding a specific lesson in a unit of study.

I am passionate about advocating for the use of physical movement in every class each school day. The benefits are vast. I become giddy when I’m visiting schools and see teachers getting students up and moving via a brain break, a gallery walk, or a moving discussion. Adding movement activities at the middle and high school levels can make some teachers jittery. Activating the mind is vital at any level. Reducing levels of stress and anxiety is important at any level. Helping students cope with ADHD is needed at all levels. Physical movement activities can mitigate feelings and behaviors that inhibit learning while promoting behaviors and emotions that increase learning success.

Some teachers embrace movement, but others fear chaos that might result when students get up from their compliant seated positions. However, when used frequently, the benefits of physical movement outweigh any chaos that might.  Most likely the chaos will be structured chaos, which can result in educational chaos beneficial to learning.

I often suggest teachers at the secondary level to start small and capitalize on what they are already dong in the classroom.  I could mention several ways to do so, but I am going to focus on the idea of going on a walk. When school starts in August and September, the weather across much of the United States is relatively pleasant. While some teachers already do so, I suggest taking students out of the classroom and go for a walk outdoors. Of course, a walk itself is nice to do, adding purpose to the walk adds the educational component building on the benefits of moving. One thing teachers can do is to pose discussion questions prior to walking. Students could be paired up to discuss these questions as they walk, with pairs mixing up at different points during the walk. The walk could be used a think time, with a question being posed and students contemplating a response while they walk. After a certain amount of time, students can be given time to stop and write a response before another question is given with time to walk, think, and then reflect. Another possibility could involve walking/thinking/reflecting, followed by walking/pair discussions, and ending with a larger class discussion perhaps seated outdoors and back in the classroom. The activity is simple, it is flexible, it activates the mind, and it will raise the levels inquiry and discussion. It is also a natural way to add movement that celebrates the outdoors while avoiding what some teachers might feel as a forced way to add movement. Capitalizing on excellent weather, the great outdoors, and what is good for the mind is what makes this activity work.

As I reflect over the summer, I am consistently thinking of ways to improve instruction.  I challenge teachers to do the same, but also think about ways to engage students with movement, not matter how great or small. I know my kids would love it, and I know they would raise their own levels of inquiry as a result. 

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John Helgeson is a Secondary ELA Curriculum Specialist in the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington. John has been in education for 18 years teaching middle school and junior high students English, Social Studies, and Drama. He has experience teaching in low-income settings, co-teaching with special education colleagues, and teaching pre-AP/IB honors classes. He has enjoyed teaching in Minnesota, Washington, and Japan. 

John has presented at several local and national conferences including WERA/OSPI Annual Conference, AMLE Annual Conference for Middle Level Educators, ASCD Annual Conference, and the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education Biennial Convocation. Topics have included using physical movement in the classroom; effective reading, vocabulary, and writing instruction strategies; flipping the ELA classroom; and exploring literature circles in a mixed-grade/mixed-ability setting. In addition to presenting these topics, John has written several articles on literacy instruction and physical movement in the classroom. John currently sits on the Executive Council for Kappa Delta Pi. 

In his free time, John enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, reading a good book, running and participating in triathlons. 

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Guest Monday, 22 July 2019