- Associated Press - Monday, December 4, 2017

BETHANY, Okla. (AP) - Considering the American classroom has remained fairly consistent for more than a century, with rows of desks facing the same direction and a board - chalk or digital - the focus of attention, the action-based learning lab inside Lake Park Elementary could be considered a dramatic shift in both classroom layout and the structure of learning.

In what looks like a mix between a workout gym and an obstacle course, the classroom is arranged into dozens of stations, each with a dedicated physical activity designed to stimulate brain activity and mesh physical and mental exercise, The Oklahoman reported.

One station uses a jump rope to practice shoe tying, another has students organize colored beanbags using their opposite hand and there are several cardio machines that include an easel for vocabulary words.

“I think it’s obvious that kids don’t move enough,” said Jason Hasty, the physical education coordinator for Putnam City schools, where Lake Park Elementary is located.

“For behavior and health reasons, students need to be moving way more.”



In a state that ranks in the bottom 10 in overall childhood health, according to the Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, incorporating physical activity and health-based education is a necessity, said Savannah Owen, the director of health and physical education for the state.

“Oklahoma is the only state that doesn’t have some type of mandate for health education in schools,” Owen said. “We leave it up to local education entities.”

In an era of school budget cuts and an increased focus on core academic subjects, it can be hard for schools to invest in an area that doesn’t carry with it a state requirement.

But more schools are realizing the importance of healthy students and the impact it not only has on their future, but their academic abilities.

“We can have all the education and knowledge, but if we don’t have our health it doesn’t do us much good,” said Shana Classen, the physical education teacher at Washington Irving Elementary in Edmond.

“It has to be a whole child approach.”

Edmond schools offer elementary students a health class, which Classen said is not too common across the state.

“When I say we have a health class, other teachers are sometimes like, ‘You have a health class? We wish we had that,’” Classen said.

Classen’s class focuses on nutrition, learning about the body and establishing healthy habits.

Classen has heard from parents that some students have switched out juice for water, entered a 5k race or joined a sport teams in an effort to live a healthier lifestyle, examples of her lessons hitting home.

“When you hear those stories you know it’s working, that kids are getting it,” Classen said.

Owen said it’s beneficial when schools offer a dedicated health class. But for those that don’t, she said other programs, like the action-based learning labs in Putnam City, can be an asset.

With 25 labs across the district, Putnam City has more action based learning labs than any other district in the state, and ranks fourth in the nation, school officials said.

Teachers take their class to the lab at least twice a week, and Hasty said he’s heard a positive response when it comes to student behavior and academic performance.

“When you take students back to class after the lab they should be more alert and in a better state of mind,” Hasty said. “From the responses we get from the teachers they are seeing that.”

Other schools with action-based learning labs have also reported an improvement in student behavior, including at Stan Hupfeld Academy at Western Village where school staff credited it for a reduction in discipline referrals, according to the nonprofit Healthy Schools Oklahoma, which provided a grant to fund the lab.

At Lake Park Elementary, Kim Hefty is a teacher assistant who works in the action-based learning lab, helping the classes that come in throughout the day.

“Once you sit for 17 minutes your brain goes to sleep. Basically, you are on autopilot,” Hefty said. “Our concept here is to get them up, doing 20 minutes of physical activity that also has an education component.”

Teachers will regularly review material for an upcoming test with students while they cycle through the stations.

“The kids are moving and exercising, but they are also doing site words and studying for an upcoming test,” Hefty said.

Hasty said the action-based learning labs are not a replacement for physical education class of recess. Rather, he sees it as a unique style of learning that not only benefits a student’s health, but also their mind.

“This is a culture change,” Hasty said.

Owen said the labs are an example of not necessarily treating health as a separate area of focus, but promotes a more holistic approach to education she hopes will spread.

“Whenever you start focusing on the health of the child it begins to impact their capabilities as a leaner,” Owen said. “We want to see health and activity become a regular part of school.”

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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