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Oklahoma elementary schools see test score improvement with new action-based learning labs

(KOKH/Caroline Vandergriff)

When you envision an elementary school classroom, you probably think of sitting still, in desks organized in neat rows – not pedaling on exercise bikes or bouncing on trampolines.

However, that’s exactly what students do at more than a dozen Putnam City elementary schools in new, action-based learning labs.

“What we do in here, we exercise, we say our letters,” said Destiny Sibrian, a kindergarten student at Lake Park Elementary School. “That’s what we do.”

The labs look more like a gym than a classroom, but the goal isn’t just to get exercise. Study after study shows that by pairing physical activity with learning, kids often do better in school. Each station also helps students develop important skills like balance, rhythm, and visual tracking.

“And every time they do this, it opens up neurological pathways in their brain for them to store education,” said Kimberly Hefty, the action-based learning lab coordinator at Lake Park.

Combining movement with curriculum has been effective for kindergarten, first and second grade students at the elementary school.

“My children have definitely learned their alphabet sounds, which is major in kindergarten,” said kindergarten teacher Shawnda Gilliam. “Their numbers have definitely improved on their testing.”

Down the hall, there’s a second lab for older students, where the exercise equipment is bigger and the lessons are harder.

“I like that it’s different than something you usually do in a classroom, and it has all this equipment we use to help memorize things by moving,” said Josiah Alleman, a fourth grade student.

An evaluation of Putnam City’s ABL labs shows students in third, fourth and fifth grades who use the equipment demonstrated greater improvement in math during the 2017-2017 school year, than students at schools with no ABL equipment. Academic studies also show children do learn better in a more stimulating environment.

“It’s hard to pay attention when your body’s still, and when you’re not actively involved with whatever you’re learning, said Dr. Laura Wilhelm, an associate professor of education at Oklahoma City University. “Children need to move.”

Putnam City Schools has more action-based learning labs than any district in Oklahoma.

“Getting up, getting active, stimulating the brain is the best way to get our kids to learn,” Hefty said. “So I think we’ve been going about it backwards for a very long time, and I think this is the future.”

But the classroom of the future is expensive, and unlikely to be a top priority in a state with some of the worst education cuts in the nation. An action-based learning lab typically costs $20,000 to $30,000. Putnam City Schools secured a federal grant to cover the expense.

Teachers and students at Lake Park say they wish every school had the opportunity to use an action-based learning lab, to work out their bodies and their minds.

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