Action-based Labs Increase in Putnam City Schools

09.08.2017 8:15 AM

A burst of activity over the summer at five Putnam City elementary schools is ensuring that thousands of students get bursts of activity throughout the school year. Nine Action-Based Learning (ABL) labs were installed in five schools, meaning 2,300 more students are having instruction integrated with movement and physical activity.

ABL labs in schools look a little bit like a very busy circuit training facility for children. All exercise equipment in the room is sized for children. When a class is in the lab, typically students spend a few minutes at each station. Some of the stations include holders for printed information so that students can review the curriculum for the day. Students can also pair up and work with partners, one student on the move while the other is acting as a quizmaster. Students in ABL labs are constantly in motion, walking, climbing, lifting and balancing, all the while learning their lessons.

ABL is exercise with a purpose. It’s based on brain research that links movement and physical activity to increased academic performance. Mike Kuczala, author of The Kinesthetic Classroom, is a supporter of the concept.

A student gets movement and learning in an action-based learning lab “Human beings are built to move; we naturally learn that way. Action-Based Learning gives kids an opportunity to experience schooling in a way the brain prefers. It also allows for greater mental clarity, attention, focus and motivation,” Kuczala says.

Andrea Selfridge, a 5th-grade teacher who is currently the teacher of the year at Putnam City’s Hilldale Elementary, says she sees firsthand the value of ABL.

“Our ABL labs create opportunities for my students to combine physical activity with our grade-level curriculum. Students are better able to retain the information presented in the classroom by associating content with kinesthetic movements. Additionally, this active learning helps students keep energy up and optimizes instructional time throughout the day,” Selfridge says.

Putnam City now has a total of 25 ABL labs in 13 elementary schools. (Most schools have two ABL labs, one sized for students in kindergarten through grade 2 and another sized for students in grades 3 through 5.) The district’s commitment to ABL labs is exceptional, says Edward Pinney, owner of KidsFit, the company that manufactures ABL equipment in the U.S.

“The Putnam City school district has more Action-Based Learning labs installed than any district in Oklahoma and is in the top three in the country. In addition, their staff is fully trained in ABL techniques that help fill developmental gaps in children to help them learn better,” Pinney says.

An evaluation of Putnam City’s ABL labs shows they are making a difference. Students in grades 3, 4 and 5 in schools using ABL equipment demonstrated greater improvement in math scores during the 2016-2017 school year as compared to students attending schools with no ABL equipment, according to Deana Hildebrand, an associate professor in the Nutritional Sciences Department at Oklahoma State University, which carries out the annual evaluation of the program.

Chris Ridgeway, a physical education teacher at Windsor Hills Elementary School who is Oklahoma’s physical education teacher of the year for 2017-2018, is a fan of the ABL labs.

“The two ABL labs at Windsor Hills Elementary serve as extensions to our classrooms. They allow students to learn in a more natural and productive way, by touching and doing. Kids love and look forward to going to the labs not only because of the novelty of something different but also because they know it allows them to exercise and grow their brains,” Ridgeway says.

Jason Hasty, a former Putnam City physical education teacher who now manages a federal physical education grant for the district, says that all of the ABL equipment in the district has been paid for through the grant.

“It’s not funding that can be spent on teacher salaries of books, technology or buildings. It’s funding specifically to improve the health of students, and we’ve done it in a way that improves learning as well. It’s exactly what you want to happen in a school,” Hasty says.