There are teaching tools that help students reach prescribed learning outcomes and then there are those that help school communities learn together beyond grade-specific curricula.
When I think about my fondest memories of teaching elementary and junior high school, several recollections race through my mind. Although my first three years were spent in a busy Special Education classroom with several outstanding elementary school children, I always tried to find time to help create an active and healthy environment throughout the school. In order to promote the importance of physical education, physical activity and health education, it seemed important to bring the school community (i.e., students, staff members, parents/guardians, community members) together so that the children developed an understanding that these subject areas are not only important during the school day; they are critical outside of school hours too.
This article shares an idea that arose from a simple teaching tool and evolved into an annual school community event that integrated a variety of subject areas. It is hoped these ideas help you develop similar initiatives to promote your subject while including the school community.
The “Activity Shoe” Teaching Tool
Early in my career, I stumbled upon a simple teaching tool that a colleague shared with me. The teaching tool was simply a drawing of a side view of a running shoe which was divided into ten portions. Above the shoe was a short explanation of how to use it throughout the school year. Of course, just like any teaching tool, it was easily modified to fit specific learning needs. For example, one way I chose to use the newly named Activity Shoe was by asking the children to colour in one portion of the shoe after thirty minutes of physical activity was completed with a parent/guardian after school hours. Once their shoes were fully coloured, they handed them in to me.
This simple teaching tool was used to gauge the amount of physical activity the school children engaged in outside of school time with a parent/ guardian. The Activity Shoe worked very well! The children were proud to hand them in throughout the school year and to collect their next shoes to begin colouring. They began to recognize and appreciate the correlation between physical activity and health benefits as we discussed them in class. Their learning became apparent when they began discussing the positive effects of physical activity voluntarily.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE ACTIVITY SHOE
After recognizing the Activity Shoe’s success in the classroom, I put forth an innovative idea to the school administrators. They decided that the idea had merit and I received permission to move forward. The Idea The idea was to distribute an Activity Shoe to every child in the school. Every time a child walked, jogged, ran and/or travelled (e.g., wheelchair) with his/her parents/guardians outside of school time, he/she would write down in a portion of the Activity Shoe how many kilometres he/she covered. After ten outings (i.e., the number of portions), the child would colour the full shoe, add up the kilometres, and write the accumulated number on the coloured shoe. The Activity Shoe would then be cut out, handed in and placed in the school hallway for display.
In order for parents/guardians to become physically active supporters in their children’s learning, they would receive Activity Shoes as well. However, instead of writing the number of kilometres travelled on the shoes, they would colour them, write “Physically Active Supporter” on them, and hand them in to be displayed with the children’s shoes.
For the first Activity Shoe School Community Event, our staff decided to accumulate the kilometres it would take to travel from Edmonton, Alberta to Disneyland in California. We wrote that number in large font throughout the hallways along with a motivational statement: “Everybody … Let’s Go to Disneyland!”
The organization of the initiative followed the pattern of any school-wide endeavour—the individual with the idea takes on the lead role and gathers a passionate committee. The Disneyland Trip Committee I was able to create included two teachers, a teacher assistant, a parent/guardian council member, and four school children (two from Grade 5 and two from Grade 6). The committee completed the following tasks:
- Creating a bulletin board dedicated to the Disneyland Trip
- Creating a map of North America in a school hallway
- Displaying pertinent information throughout the school hallways
- Distributing information letters and Activity Shoes to all school children and their parents/ guardians
It was important to maintain a sense of excitement and curiosity surrounding the Disneyland Trip as it took a few months to reach the schoolwide goal. The committee continued communicating the status of where we were on the trail to Disneyland through morning and lunch announcements, in the monthly newsletters, and on the painted map on a wall near the school’s front entrance. The committee also ensured that every completed Activity Shoe was displayed in the hallway and that the children and parents/guardians who completed their Activity Shoes were provided new ones.
The Culminating Activity
The culminating activity was exciting, colourful and physically active! The parent/guardian council along with the staff decorated the gymnasium, school hallways and the playing field for an afternoon of celebration. Our entire school community travelled the final kilometres together around the school block and entered the school gymnasium to a roaring applause from those in decorating mode.
During the final kilometres, we had some very special guests join us, including several parents/ guardians, the school district’s physical education consultant, the co-ordinator of Ever Active Schools, and a local MLA. The culminating activity included healthy snacks, large group games, tug-of-wars and small group activities. It was a rewarding experience to observe school children engaged in physical activity with their parents/guardians, teachers and community members.
The Evolution of an Idea
The Disneyland Trip was our first schoolwide initiative with the Activity Shoe and focused primarily on the promotion of physical education, physical activity and health education. However, additional ideas were brought forth by staff members in subsequent school years that integrated a variety of subject areas easily. For example, one year we participated in the Cross-Canada Trip. A map of Canada was painted on a school hallway wall and the Grade Five class completed reports on the locations we passed through en route from Eastern Canada to the west (e.g., reports on musicians, athletes, writers, etc.). The reports were communicated to the school community via morning and lunch announcements, newsletters and bulletin boards.
The Conclusive Evidence
The Activity Shoe and the Disneyland Trip helped jumpstart several school community events. Evidence that the Disneyland Trip was successful included:
- a school community came together
- a special school projects committee worked together on other ventures
- parents/guardians engaged in physical activity and learning with their children
- school children were proud of their accomplishments
- school children asked when the next Activity Shoe event would be
- staff members came up with future ideas—and they volunteered to help out
The next time you discover that a simple teaching tool works well in the classroom, take a moment to think whether it may assist in the development of a strong school community. The Activity Shoe that I stumbled upon early in my career evolved into a very effective teaching tool for my school, bringing students, staff members, parents/guardians and community members together for a common purpose and assisting in the development of active, healthy lifestyles and student learning! What will your “Activity Shoe” be this school year?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brent D. Bradford
Brent D. Bradford has taught at the Elementary and Junior High school levels. After a decade of teaching, he returned to the University of Alberta to pursue graduate work. He is currently working towards a Doctor of Philosophy Degree and teaching curriculum methods courses as a Teacher Educator. In 2011, he was recognized as an award-winning Teacher Educator at the University of Alberta.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2013 issue.