School facilities as exercise spaces for shared learning

By Prof. Dr. Prof. h. c. Reiner Hildebrandt- Stramann, Department of Sports Science and Exercise Education, Braunschweig University of Technology

School facilities as exercise spaces for shared learning

The term 'inclusive education' as used within the debate on forms of inclusive schooling acknowledges the natural right of those involved to be provided with the same level of access to all forms of education at school. Any school that is 'inclusive' in this sense should provide its pupils with the opportunity to feel 'at home' in their school. But pupils are only likely to feel 'at home' if they can learn together with others in a collective. Learning, in this 'inclusive' approach, means “to be offered and accept the option of being 'at home' in the world by discovering (through learning) and interacting with one's surroundings, with all their impressions, effects and situations” (Girmes, 2007, p. 265).
The facilities themselves in educational establishments determine to a large extent whether such concepts can be actually realised. These facilities must offer a wide range of learning opportunities and provide pupils with points of reference, places where they can rest and relax and where they can exercise, but these must also be spaces where mental and intellectual freedom is possible and curiosity can be given free rein. These facilities, if they are to meet the requirements of the 'inclusive' approach, must also be places that promote learning within the collective. “It is the space itself,” writes Girmes (2007, p. 266) “that helps or hinders those using it when it comes to discovering to what extent and how they can make the social and cultural materials provided in the space their own – things they can enjoy, explore or change or not as they themselves wish.” Hence, in common with time, space can also represent an 'educational tool' that promotes or inhibits autonomous activity. This applies specifically to activity in the form of exercise. Facilities can encourage exploration through free movement or can suppress this, and thus determine, among other things, the educational quality of any teaching/ learning environment. The regimen in any school that claims to be an 'active' school must be based on the empirically demonstrated fact that learning also involves physicality and movement (c.f. Hildebrandt-Stramann, 2007). It must deliberately link learning and movement – and the design of the facilities should also promote this – and thus make it possible for all pupils to feel 'at home' in their school. In the following, I outline in brief a selection of school facilities that bolster the movement and exploration needs of children and thus promote both formal and informal learning processes.

The basic objective of this concept is to provide for more exercise at school by making active lessons possible through the modification of internal elements. This requires seating and desk furnishings that are not fixed in place, so that teachers and pupils can themselves actively participate in designing their own space and lessons become more mobile. Standard chairs are replaced or supplemented by portable seating equipment. This takes the form of cubes or half-cylinders made of expandable polystyrene covered by carpeting material or constructed from wood. They enable pupils to adopt differing work postures during lessons (dynamic sitting) and also participate actively in designing and staging lessons.
These seating elements can be used to create arrangements around tables for shared working in common without creating excessive noise or expending too much time. This provides for workshop-like activities, interest- based group differentiation and project-orientated working.
“Because the seating elements take this special form, the standard concept of instructive lessons is no longer viable. As there is no opportunity for leaning back, physiological factors make it impossible to impose discipline with regard to being seated for longer periods. Pupils and teachers thus need to shift posture now and again, and this form of movement during lessons must thus also be permitted (…). At the same time, the physical lack of familiar comfort forces pupils and teachers to actively discuss the otherwise detrimental postures normally adopted while seated.” (Sobczyk & Landau, 2003, p. 11). Provided for this purpose are lessons dedicated to dealing with the body and body posture. In an adaptable classroom, pupils need to be allowed to assume the disposition for working that suits them best (within certain limits, of course). To allow for this, the classroom will have corners and alcoves in which the pupils will be allowed to lie down, stand at reading or writing desks or even work on the floor.

In an interactive lesson, in which body and posture are the subjects, the primary objective is to make the children aware of their own bodies and posture and to initiate understanding of this. This is a process that I refer to as 'conscious learning'. Conscious learning involves establishing a suitable connection between what is being taught during lessons and that which children need for the purposes of developing the ability to exercise freely. Conscious exercise learning thus not only involves the process of learning information but also of learning how information can be acquired – information that can be applied suitably and effectively within the life sphere. The tasks and assignments of the learning concept must thus take into consideration the previous life experiences of the pupils and must also be applicable to everyday life. On the other hand, the learning concept needs to be problem-orientated, i.e. its starting point should be a physical or exercise-related problem of which the pupils have direct experience, that they can relate to and for which they can subsequently explore possible solutions. In this case, lessons take a form that encourages pupils to themselves research and investigate anactual body- or exercise-related topic. This thus represents a conscious exploration of how the body itself functions – the pupils are made conscious of and experience their own bodies.
Possible topics are:
How should I sit in a chair without a back?
My back is my support!
How to tension the body and how to relax.
How to balance oneself.
Stretching and bending.
Let's discover and explore our feet.
Let's discover and explore our hands.
There is now a wealth of publications with suggested lesson subjects for 'active learning' sessions (cf. Beckmann & Riegel, 2011; Beckmann, Janssen & Probst, 2012). Common to all is the recognition that exercise can be a medium that promotes the physical/sensory assimilation of subjects in lessons adapted to the actual activities undertaken by pupils and thus has the function of providing access to learning.
One of the core requirements for an 'active school environment' is active participation; i.e. all members of a school (that is, teachers and pupils) together with parents must be actively involved in the development of the school. In addition to its educational dimensions, participation also has a sociopolitical role. This can be considered briefly in the context of school environment and play area design. The design of schools and play areas (such as playgrounds) is of direct relevance to the corresponding community. The aim is not just to make school environments or the local district itself attractive (e.g. by providing exercise facilities). It is also important to ensure that these can be used as meeting places for the community. Participation becomes a sociopolitical activity where it concerns such aspects as the public presentation of the project, the collection of opinions (gained perhaps through previous experience of projects of this kind), the involvement of future stakeholders from the locality in the program, gaining the consent of the caretaker, the organisation of tool and material collections, convincing the school authorities and so on. It is now standard urban planning practice in the case of local authority projects to encourage children to participate in the design of playgrounds that are to be constructed in their neighbourhood.
To put it briefly, this kind of undertaking makes it possible to learn how to assume responsibility for certain parts of one's own living and learning environments. School environment and play area design can thus represent a training ground that prepares those involved for subsequent active participation in their local affairs. In these design processes, hallways and school grounds can assume the role of exercise spaces, children's playgrounds, spaces for sensory experience and for rest and relaxation.

Photos: Reiner Hildebrandt-Stramann, SIK

List of references
Beckmann, H. & Riegel, K.(2011). Bewegtes Lernen!
Mathe 1.-4. Klasse. Inhalte in und durch Bewegung
nachhaltig verankern. Donauwörth: Auer.
Beckmann, H., Janßen, S. & Probst, A. (2012). Bewegtes Lernen!
Deutsch 1.-4. Klasse. Inhalte in und durch Bewegung nachhaltig verankern.
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Dreier, A., Kucharz, D.,Ramseger, J. & Sörensen,
B. (1999). Grundschulen planen, bauen, neu gestalten.
Frankfurt am Main: Grundschulverband/Beltz.
Girmes, R. (2007). Die Leiblichkeit der Raumerfahrung als
Grundlage pädagogischer Raumgestaltung.
In R. Hildebrandt-Stramann (ed.), Bewegte Schule – Schule
bewegt gestalten (p. 262-273). Baltmannsweiler: Schneider.
Hildebrandt-Stramann, R. (1999). Bewegte Schulkultur.
Schulentwicklung in Bewegung. Butzbach-Griedel: Afra.
Hildebrandt-Stramann, R. (2007) (Hrsg.). Bewegte Schule –
Schule bewegt gestalten. Baltmannsweiler: Schneider.
Miedzinski, K. ((1983). Die Bewegungsbaustelle.
Dortmund: modernes lernen.
Sobczyk, B. & Landau, G. (2003). Das mobile Klassenzimmer.
Immenhausen bei Kassel: Prolog Verlag.

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