Dana Chambers: Action Based Learning Labs in Willowbrook Elementary - Oklahoma City Public Schools, OK

Learning in motion


About 20 third-graders at Willow Brook Elementary in northeast Oklahoma City took turns carefully navigating the obstacle course in Diane Combest's Action Based Learning Lab.

The activity involved walking across connector bridges while reviewing vocabulary words on a sheet of paper.

A student rides a stationary bike and works on math problems at the same time. Others trace numbers and letters with their feet as they walk a figure-eight pattern on a mat for two minutes at a time.

“You do stuff around here and you learn while you're doing it,” said Avarie Mitchell, 8.

It's called Action Based Learning, and Dana Chambers coordinates labs like the one at Willow Brook for Schools for Healthy Lifestyles, a community-based health education program for Oklahoma elementary students.

Chambers said the labs help raise test scores, increase attendance, and decrease behavior problems.

“Not only is it helping the body, it's helping the brain,” she said. “When they're moving, they're more engaged. Ideally, we want all kids moving the entire time they are in the lab, and throughout the school day.”

Combest, who is in her 36th year as a physical education teacher, said safety is a priority and discourages competition, particularly on the obstacle course.

“It's not recess. It's not PE,” she said. “It's all about focus. The muscles and brain are working together as one unit. A lot of my students learn when they're moving, so this is perfect.”

Two schools in the Oklahoma City district — the other is Martin Luther King Elementary — received grants of $10,000 each from Schools for Healthy Lifestyles that paid for kid-friendly equipment. The equipment includes balance boards and “moonwalkers,” which are similar to elliptical trainers and simulate stair-climbing.

Willow Brook Principal Glenna Berry said the idea behind Action Based Learning is to increase student engagement through physical activity.

“I see increased attention to task in their classrooms (and) motivation,” she said. “Students are excited about learning. They can't wait to get in here when it's their time to come into the ABL lab.”

For some, the activities can have a calming effect.

“For those students that have some aggression or just may be having a bad day, they can take a walk on the figure-eight map and it helps calm them,” Chambers said. “It's also great for visual tracking.”

Measuring results

It's too early to measure the results of the activity on academic performance since Tuesday was the first day children took part in the labs after several days of training.

Students take part in the labs twice a week for 20 minutes each. Most are so excited to hop on the equipment that Combest has to calm them down before they enter the lab.

Third-grader Kagne Levine, 9, prefers the moonwalker machine, but the obstacle course came in a close second.

“You're swinging your legs and spelling words,” he said with a smile.