Engaging High School Students In Place & Community: Walking Curriculum (Part 2)

“People have long harboured a touch of disdain toward walking.”

(Rubinstein, 2015, p. 96)

Walking With Secondary Students

The Walking Curriculum offers learning activities designed to simultaneously develop students’ sense of place and to enrich their understanding of cross-curricular topics and core competencies. It reflects principles and practices of Imaginative Ecological Education bringing engagement of the body, imagination and the local natural and cultural context together in outdoor learning activities.

While all of the walks in the Walking Curriculum can be adapted for all ages of students, this post shares activities specifically designed for students in secondary school. Themes cultivated in this set of walks include story, cultural values, community-building, “walkability”, and metaphor.

(Here is the first set of walks designed specifically for secondary school students.)

If you are new to the Walking Curriculum then I encourage you to take time to read the next section.  It overview the main aims of the Walking Curriculum and provides important links with information for effectively using the activities. One of the most important links discusses how to imaginatively introduce the Walking Curriculum to students—be sure to set that scene!

If you are familiar with the Walking Curriculum, then scroll down to read about the new activities designed for secondary students.

New To The Walking Curriculum?  

Walking Curriculum activities are designed to:

  • engage the body, emotions, and imagination in ways that can increase familiarity with the local and natural contexts of school and learning;
  • increase attention to detail, particularity and their attunement with place;
  • connect place-based learning activities with cross-curricular goals;
  • serve as examples for your own, place-inspired teaching ideas.

Successful use of the Walking Curriculum requires proper preparation and follow-up. Here are IMPORTANT links with resources to support your work:

Before You Start:  Preparing To Use The Walking Curriculum

Before You Start:  Introducing The Curriculum To Students

Post-Walking:  Debriefing & Extending Learning Across The Curriculum

Motivations, Musings, & Sources of Inspiration

All The Walks! (One stop shopping.)

Four Themed Walks For Secondary Students

#1 The “What Rules?” Walk

In many places, cars rule. Pedestrians beware! Urban and suburban landscapes are designed to allow for easy use of cars and other forms of transportation. When it comes to getting around, people love to drive. With the advent of the automobile, cities were designed for cars (fuelled by cheap gas and preferential taxation) and it was desirable to drive out of the cities to larger, more private suburban homes.  This was a time when laws emerged to control pedestrians—e.g. laws against “jaywalking”. But even before this invention became widespread, there was some “disdain” towards walking. Rubinstein (2015) notes that the word “pedestrian” comes from the Latin pedester meaning on foot.  Even before automobiles were invented, it was preferable to be equester or on horse.  Indeed, pedestrian is used to refer to what is “prosaic, plain, commonplace, uninspired” (Rubinstein, 2015, p. 96).

Story-form/Narrative: What story does this landscape design and local land use reveal? Ask students to walk around the local community looking for evidence that cars have a priority. Encourage them to look at land and space usage; infrastructure etc.—does it privilege pedestrians or drivers? Following their walks, the students can to do maps of the community on which they should indicate where and how “cars” rule. Sense of Wonder: Now challenge your students to redesign the same space so that pedestrians rule. What would change? What kinds of amenities, shelters, environmental additions—and subtractions—would make sense? How would residential land use and house design change? (This walk transitions into the next one on “walkability” and what makes a neighbourhood agreeable and desirable for walking. I encourage you to do both activities!)

#2 Walkability Walk

How “walkable” is your neighbourhood? How comfortable, useful, safe, or appealing a footpath is for pedestrians determines its “walkability”. Walkability is increasingly being discussed as a solution to environmental sustainability concerns, public welfare etc. Jeff Speck explores these themes in a book entitled “Walkable city: How downtown can save America, one step at a time” (cited in Rubinstein, 2015, p. 101.  Here is a link to Jeff Speck’s TedTalk). Speck outlines a “General Theory Of Walkability”. He suggests that four criteria influence the “walkability” of a route.


  1. need to be useful—do they take us where we want to go (Are clear paths available? Are the paths continuous? etc.)
  2. need to be safe—are they free from cars and other threats (What dangers exist on the routes? Are there tripping hazards? etc.)
  3. should be comfortable—think design here…are they stark/closed or warm/open?—(Does the route make the walker feel at ease?  How wide is the route?  How is the lighting in the evening?)
  4. should be interesting—How appealing is the route? Is it aesthetically pleasing? interesting? inviting? (Speck cited in Rubinstein, 2015, p. 102)

One possible walking activity for older students is to rate different routes around their local area according to Speck’s criteria. Older students might have more fun, however, using the Walkability App to conduct a walkability audit (Younger students could do an “audit” of the schoolyard according to Speck’s criteria or could also play with the app).

Sense of Agency. As a way to get local involvement in improving local communities, formal “walking audits” or “walking assessments” are being organized all over the world. “A walkability audit often involves organising an event where local people, politicians, police and design experts ‘walkabout’ several streets, identifying problems and suggesting solutions.” (Source). Enlist your students in conducting a walkability audit.

The Walkability App. The Walkability App was designed to enlist citizens, using their personal electronic devices to help build understanding of the walkability of places all over the world. The results are mapped using the GPS from the device. Using the walkability App your students can contribute to this initiative. (Source)

  1. Walk Score & Walkonomics—Increasingly, people want to know how pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods are before they decide to live there. Walk Score (https://www.walkscore.com) is a site that provides some of that information. You simply put in your address into Walk Score and you can discover how your community rates in terms of walking distances to locations/amenities etc. (Note: not all communities are listed—add yours!). Walkonomics (http://walkonomics.com) offers a much more detailed assessment of walkability. On the Walkonomics site “you get ratings based on street widths, traffic levels, 311 cleanliness reports, gradients, crime statistics, pedestrian accidents and even how many trees are on each street. This automatically generated data is complimented by crowdsourced reviews from local residents and visitors, with the idea that any incorrect ratings are cancelled out by the ratings of local people who know the area. Each street rating is mapped on a Google Map using colour-coded markers to show the overall walkability rating for every street” (Source) Specifically, Walkonomics uses the following 8 factors to assess walkability: road safety; ease of crossing the street; quality of sidewalks; hilliness; ease of navigation; fear of crime; the aesthetic quality of a route; and whether the street is “fun and relaxing.” (Source). Check out your street or neighbourhood here. (Note: Not all areas are available–but you and your students can upload the data!)

Rather than using technology you can have your students do manual assessments of community walking spaces using the 8 criteria listed above–begin by clarifying a ranking or rating scale.  If you want to use the tech, then try the walkability app. The Walkonomics mobile app (free) “enables users to add their own ratings and reviews as they walk down each street. App users can even take photos with their smartphone, geo-reference them and add them into each review”. (Source)

For whatever you choose to do it is important to follow up. What recommendations do students have for improving the walkability of the spaces they live in? How can they connect with members in the community to make a difference?

#3 Walk ‘n Talk: Walking Is…

Human beings use metaphors all the time. We use them so often, in fact, that we are blind to how they infuse our daily language (catch that one? Blind to… infuse…). On this walk ‘n talk ask students to think about aspects of their world that they can imagine in terms of walking—what activities/experiences does one “walk into” or “meander through”?—How is school like walking? How is learning a new subject or skills compared to walking? Metaphor: The following is a list of walking metaphors compiled by Dr. Veronica Hotton as part of her research on Walking as Pedagogy (pp. 160-161). Assign one metaphor to a pair of students. As they walk ‘n talk ask them to explore the metaphor and to elaborate upon it (e.g. how is walking a church? In what ways? How is walking a reflection?). Ask them to also come up with their own metaphor—Walking is… In a final class discussion students can elaborate upon/explain these metaphors.

Walking is singing with others, being attentive, and noticing signs.

Walking is an essay; hiking is an academic paper.

Walking is a process; hiking is a destination.

Walking is discovery.

Walking takes you places you cannot go otherwise.

Walking is an endangered species.

Walking as an endangered way of noticing the world.

Walking is a church.

Walking is the womb of writing.

Walking is a practice.

Walking is a studio.

Walking is reflection.

Walking with purpose is living with purpose; walking without purpose might be living without purpose.

Walking is meditation.

Walking is a quest.

#4 Service Walk

Robert Putnam’s (2000) book called Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community look at the idea of “social capital”.  This concept informs these walk themes. Putnam describes how social networks are valuable for both individuals and groups. Formation of “groups” and membership in groups helps the group and individuals as they can be sources for sharing and belonging. Putnam suggests that there are two kinds of social capital: bonding and bridging. “Bonding is something that is internally generated within a particular group or community…Bridging, on the other hand, is more outward-looking, and is hallmarked by relationships between people in different social groups” (Putnam, 200, p. 69).  With an interest in bridging—cultivating diverse social groups—these activities encourage students to consider service activities that could bridge people.

Ask students: Where can you be of service in this place/community? Encourage your students to look closely as they walk around the local community. What kind of volunteer work could improve the space? (e.g. weeding, cleaning, protecting, creating). Ask them to identify something that they, personally, would consider an improvement for the community. What is their vision? Sense of Agency. Students should now outline a plan of action for achieving their vision. They say “more hands make light work”—how could they enlist members of the wider community to help them achieve their goal? Who else would care about the project? Sometimes we can work together on something that benefits ourselves but also benefits other people. How could their plan support the bridging of different social groups and, ideally, lead to an outcome that benefits the wider community?  I am reminded of an initiative in my own neighbourhood—someone created a “Little Library” in a local park. It is a small birdhouse-like structure that is a source for sharing books. Leave a book, take a book. It is another feature of the local park that brings people together.

Stay tuned—the next set in the Walking Curriculum for secondary students is coming soon!

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Hotton, V. (2015). Walking practices in higher education: An inquiry into the teaching, writing, and walking practices of five contemporary academics. Unpublished dissertation. Simon Fraser University.

Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. London: Simon & Schuster.

Rubinstein, D. (2015). Born to walk: The transformative power of a pedestrian act. Toronto: ECW Press.

Walkonomics: http://walkonomics.com

WalkScore: https://www.walkscore.com


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