Active Classrooms in Orono

Orono Public Schools are taking part in the latest “movement” in education.
Lindsey Lallas's third-grade Orono class gets active during one of their "Jammin' Minutes."

Walk into Lindsey Lallas’s third grade classroom at Orono Intermediate School and you might be surprised what happens when the math lesson ends. After putting away their books and pencils, kids hop out of their desks and enthusiastically participate in a choreographed “jammin’ minute.” With music playing through the sound system, kids immediately transition into the first exercise: hands over head, slowly lower and rise up. After a half-dozen repetitions, the students move into the second movement: squat down, then explode up.

A mere 10 exercises and 60 seconds later, the kids return to their desks, refreshed and ready to focus on their next academic task.

The “jammin’ minutes” in Lallas’s classroom are part of a three-pronged approach the Orono Health and Wellness Committee has implemented to benefit the staff and students in the district. Along with non-food rewards in the classroom and a new “Tobacco-Free Campus” campaign, active classrooms, like Lallas’s, aim to increase student well-being across the district.

Active classrooms stem from the idea that there is a strong connection between the brain and the body. Students who move—whether in physical education class or in “jammin’ minutes”—are better equipped to absorb instruction, make connections between old and new information, and stay focused during lessons.

Lallas believes the jammin’ minutes she has implemented into her classroom have made a difference in her students’ learning. “Taking active breaks gives everyone a chance to get up and move, and come back together to learn in a meaningful and engaged way,” says Lallas.

Lallas got wind of the idea from Connie Priesz, who chairs the Orono Health and Wellness Committee. After watching an introductory video on jammin’ minutes, Lallas decided to share the idea of active breaks with her class. She began by showing example videos to her students, who immediately bought into the idea. As the class sampled a few exercises, Lallas talked with them about why these activities helped their brains and therefore their learning. This emphasis on the explanation and purpose of these movements helps kids remember that this is a focused activity, not play time. 

“Although these breaks are not scheduled,” says Lallas about her implement of jammin’ minutes, “I find that I do them a lot during our long afternoons together when the students' focus is lacking and we have a lot to get through. Taking the two minutes to move actually decreases the amount of time it would take to get everyone back on track.”

Lallas’s students now advocate for themselves when they feel they need an active break. “The open dialogue has helped students—and me—focus on our needs throughout the day,” says Lallas. “We are able to discuss what humans need to learn in the best ways possible.

Last summer, all four schools in the Orono district were named recipients of the 2011 Wellness by Design awards, given out by Hennepin County. The district was honored for its focus on developing healthy habits for both staff and students. The Health and Wellness Committee, chaired by Priesz, was noted as being particularly active in its work to promote well-being to all members of the Orono school community. “We are working to improve the health of students and staff,” she says. “We want these ideas—like active classrooms—to become practices, not just initiatives.”

Priesz is thrilled that Lallas has found so much success with active classrooms. The practice was used by many Orono teachers in the 2010–2011 school year. This year, it’s part of all schools in the district. “I’m so proud of how our staff has embraced this,” says Priesz.