Moving Feet, Learning Lessons

Published 9:30 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The children in Leigh Jackson’s second-grade class at MamieMartin Elementary School helped their classmate Danielle Fuller asshe answered questions on what colors various items are.

And she wasn’t just using her head, she was using her feet.

Danielle was on the “Dance Mat,” which is a tool used in theclassrooms at Mamie Martin to allow children to get active as theylearn.

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“It does so many things at one time,” said Jackson. “It’s notjust math or language, but it also increases their physicalactivity and especially their hand-eye coordination.”

School officials said the dance mats are part of a growing trendtoward interactive technology in the classroom. With children ableto play all different kinds of gaming systems at home, as well ashaving access to the Internet and to the various applications oncell phones, it’s becoming harder and harder for traditionaleducation to hold their attention.

“In today’s world kids have much more opportunity to work andplay with technology at home,” Mamie Martin Principal Danita Hobbssaid. “We as educators are always trying to compete for theirinterests, and updating our technology helps us stay on top ofthat.”

The other positive of the dance mats in Jackson’s room, though,is that children learn to encourage each other as they let theirtoes speak for them in front of the class.

“It’s OK, good try,” one student called out when one of herclassmates got an answer wrong.

Jackson said some of the children learn things like manners andsportsmanship at home, but many of them have begun to master itbased on similar exercises in the classroom.

“Sometimes we forget that they’re still little people and somethings have to be taught,” she said. “So exercises like this teachthem teamwork and how to work together.”

Brookhaven School District director of curriculum Marsha Woodardsaid the district is trying to find new ways to incorporatetechnology in the classroom not just for the stated reasons, butalso to keep from becoming outdated.

“Everything changes with the times,” she said. “The jobs thesechildren will have will be more heavily influenced by various kindsof technology. Culture changes and education is just a part ofproviding exposure for children to help them become competent andproductive citizens.”

The children are more attentive and more engaged in their work,too, officials said.

“They get excited about learning,” Hobbs said. “Answering aquestion isn’t just about bubbling answers anymore. When a child isinvolved with any learning activity that’s hands on, that’s howtheir learning goes directly to their brain.”

Woodard said a lot of the fundamentals of learning, of course,will stay in place, like various labs and other hands-onactivities. Just anything that can keep children learning, shesaid.

“You’ve got to keep that element of fun and interest inlearning,” she said.