Engaging High School Students In Place & Community: Walking Curriculum (Part 3)

“What is this walking? …What is it about walking that helps with learning, teaching, writing, education, and more?” (Hotton, 2015).

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 by 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 is the third post in a short series specifically designed for high school students. Themes cultivated in the high school walking series include: mindfulness, humanization of “walking” activities, walking and mental health, mindfulness, social justice, community-building, and place-based assessments of “walkability”. Are you new to the Walking Curriculum?  If so, all you need to start and run a successful walking program is listed at the bottom of the post. So scroll on down! If you are not new to the Walking Curriculum, then enjoy these three new activities designed for secondary students. Get in touch and tell me how it goes.  Share your ideas for new themed walks! 

3 Themed Walks For Secondary Students 

#1 The Magnificence of Bipedalism.

Rubinstein (2015) argues that the capacity to walk on two feet—bipedalism—tops the charts in terms of its transformative impact on human life and possibility. You might introduce this topic to students as a riddle…What human skill is completely taken for granted today, but has totally transformed the course of human history? Clue: Most human beings are able to do this masterfully. It is so ordinary, in fact, that few consider its wonder-full nature. Another clue: There is fossil evidence that humans began doing this around 6 million years ago, were mostly doing this approximately 4 million years ago and fully doing this about 2 million years ago (Rubinstein, 2015, p. 13). Answer: Walking on two feet. Bipedalism transformed human existence.

The topic for exploration outdoors is why walking was so impactful in changing the course of human history. I propose a simple, fun, and effective activity to engage the Sense of Wonder and Engage The Body in understanding the transformative power of bipedalism. Divide the class into teams. They will do two different relay races. In the first round they must each move 4 basketballs from one side of a space (go outside if possible) to another. The distance should be significant (e.g. 50 meters/55 yards) The hitch: they may not stand. They can’t use their hands or feet to hold the balls. Their hands and feet must stay on the ground at all times. Watch the madness. Round two: The students are allowed to be bipedal—they may stand and use their hands. Debrief. What is possible when we have two working hands?  What do we have today as a result of bipedalism?

#2 The Slow Walk–like, really slow

Walking slowly—like really slowly—is a skill we have lost. When we were 2 or 3 years old going slowly, pausing, stopping, investigating was the norm (and it may have driven our parents bonkers). But now, as older humans, we easily pass by the detailed, living, wonder-full world around us. Indeed, hurrying is more often the norm. In this walk the point is to go slowly. Like, really slowly.

When was the last time you (yes, you, teacher!) took 15 minutes to walk 20 feet? Maybe when you were 2-3 years old or if you were in the presence of a 2-3 year old. A 2-year old can easily take 15 minutes to walk 20 feet; the child is captivated by the world around him.  He stops constantly to investigate the wonder of the world grabbing at his attention.

View this short video from Dr. John Medina’s brain research series called “Brain Rules”—the #1 rule in the series being the great importance of CURIOSITY for intellectual development. If you watch from 2 mins and 10 seconds in you will hear about the 20 feet in 15 minutes challenge. No need to share with students, but an interesting discussion!:

Change The Context/Role Play: In this walk, challenge your students to walk 20 feet in 15 minutes. I recommend you have your students do this ALONE to avoid distractions. Give them 15 minutes to walk 20 feet. They should not finish their 20 feet walk before 15 minutes is up. They are required to take note of absolutely all the things they can as they walk. They musn’t proceed if they haven’t investigated all there is to see. Plant the seed that there is always more than meets the eye. For everything they notice they can ask many questions. For example: What has happened here? What evidence is there of growth here? Where has this object been? Who created it? Where did it come from? Who put it here? How did it get here? What would I do without it? And many more questions. What’s it like to walk 20 feet in 15 minutes? Have students reimagine the 20 feet as if they were 2 years old. Get the students to describe the experience in “kid terms”.

#3 I Walk Walk

This walk has two parts: a research & role play component and then an artistic activity. The main cognitive tool evoking imagination is the Humanization of Meaning.

The research & role-play activities together aim to illuminate the significance of walking for learning and for living by associating the act of walking with real people who are, or were, committed to walking. This activity will require students to do some preliminary research into different people who have either used walking as a way of teaching or who have devoted their lives to walking as part of their professional lives. So ahead of time ask students to do some research into “famous walkers”. The following great teachers/philosophers who walked as part of their learning/teaching/thinking practice come to mind: Socrates, Aristotle, Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Aldo Leopold. Some people spend their lives walking as part of their professions. What professions focus on daily, frequent walking? (e.g. postal workers, dog-walkers, professional athletes (speed walkers)…other?) If possible, encourage students to interview real people who work in these fields.

When it comes to actually conducting this walk, students must be in role, as the people they have learned about. They should know a bit about this person’s life and, importantly, as many “interesting” and intriguing facts as possible. They can lead small groups in walking, and talking, about their life and times (in role).

Artistic Activity: In my research I discovered that some artists have devoted their lives to walking—as a practice and source of inspiration. I had no idea! Richard Long and Hamish Fulton—two friends who went to art school together in the late 1960s)–are two of the most world-renowned “walking artists”. They are two of the most celebrated artists associated with the land-art movement.

Introduce the story of Richard Long to students—one of Britain’s most famous land artists. His famous breakthrough photography was called: “A Line Made By Walking” (It was taken in a rural area where he walked back and forth in a straight line in long grasses until he formed a line. In the background there are a few bushy trees. The photograph is in black and white.) Google him. Here is the link. This was a walking-inspired, performative art piece. Richard Long’s work would often “respond” in some way to the environment he was in—so he would deliberately change the landscape in some way as part of his art (e.g. A Line Made By Walking 1967). His walking could change the landscape or he would use found objects to create shapes or sculptures that he incorporated in his artwork. Some of his artwork consisted of photographs of places with detailed description of his experience of walking the place. After discussing how Long was inspired by his walk and the places in which he walked and also after reading more about his story, provide space and time for the students to creative some walking-inspired pieces. In the style of Richard Long they can capture in photography their experience of a place through walking.

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.) 

References

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.

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

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