Research indicates that exercise, movement, and multisensory stimulation can positively affect learning and retention (Shams & Seitz, 2008; Winter et al., 2007). John Medina, molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (2008), even suggested installing treadmills in the classroom! That may not be practical; however, it can be beneficial to develop assignments that include movement and increased sensory stimulation.
A group of 48 freshman students in a health issues course, commonly taken by nursing majors, completed an assignment that required walking around campus to gather information on health in developing nations. Prior to the assignment, students were presented with an overview of this topic and discussed factors that were relevant to international health. The objectives of the assignment were the following:
- Students will identify factors affecting health in developing nations.
- Students will use teamwork to complete a learning activity.
- Students will participate in a learning activity while performing aerobic activity (walking) in a multisensory environment (outdoors).
The instructor posted information on health issues in developing countries in 10 strategic locations on campus that related to each specific issue to stimulate students’ understanding of the concepts. For example, facts about the lack of clean drinking water were posted above a water fountain and material about poverty was displayed near an ATM. Information about limited transportation and poor road conditions was placed on a vehicle window in the parking lot adjacent to the classroom.
Students were divided into groups of three or four to complete a crossword puzzle that contained questions related to international health needs. The locations of the information were listed on the crossword puzzle, and students had to walk to each site and determine the answers from the material posted there. A sign-up sheet was available at each location to ensure that students visited all of the required sites.
Examples of crossword puzzle clues included (a) Many people in developing nations (more women than men) cannot perform this essential skill (Answer: reading); and (b) Hunger affects your ability to do this (Answer: learn). For the clue related to reading, statistics about literacy rates were posted in the library. Reading this information while surrounded by books helped provide a meaningful context to the concepts presented. For the clue regarding the issue of hunger, information and statistics on malnutrition and its effects on attention span and learning were placed near vending machines in the hallway outside the classroom to assist students in answering this question. Considering these statistics while standing next to a vending machine filled with a variety of food offered an environment that stimulated deeper thought about the issue.
As part of the assignment, students filled out a questionnaire to evaluate the experience. Using a Likert scale of 1 to 5, where 1 equals strongly disagree and 5 equals strongly agree, 37 of the 48 students (77%) responded with a 4 or 5 to the statement “This activity improved my knowledge about health in developing countries.” Thirty-nine of the 48 students (81%) responded with a 4 or 5 to the statement “I enjoy learning activities that allow me to be active.”
Student comments included “We got to move around and be active at the same time as learning something new” and “It was fun to learn by going and looking for the answers—much better than sitting and listening to a lecture.” Another stated, “I liked that while I learned about developing countries I could look around campus and feel thankful to be drinking clean water and getting an education.” Suggestions for improvement included eliminating the sign-up sheets because they caused congestion at the information sites and using a map to direct students to the sites instead of listing them.
This assignment could be adapted easily to a variety of topics, including nutrition, obesity, and the effects of socioeconomic status on health. It provided a learning environment that included active movement and that was contextually rich and stimulating. When students were asked what they liked about the assignment, one student summed up the experience by saying, “It was a beautiful day and we were outside.”
Julie Y. Sappington, PhD, RN, CNE
Southeast Missouri State University
- Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
- Shams, L. & Seitz, A.R. (2008). Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12, 411–417. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.07.006 [CrossRef]
- Winter, B., Breitenstein, C., Mooren, F.C., Voelker, K., Fobker, M. & Lechtermann, M. et al. (2007). High impact running improves learning. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 87, 597–609. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2006.11.003 [CrossRef]