A little girl pauses, studying the tile floor in front of her.
Then she jumps. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Back and forth, she hops from one blue tile to the next.
Not far behind her, a little boy does his own two-foot shuffle from tile to tile. Another kid goes flat-out, leaping from colour to colour.
Don’t run in the halls, teachers used to say. Not anymore.
Staff at Panorama Hills School in Northwest Calgary still don’t want kids to run — safety is an issue, after all — but kids are being encouraged to skip, hop, jump, or dance in the halls.
In mid-January 2015, six sections of school’s polyvinyl tile floor were replaced with brightly-hued tiles, in a variety of patterns.
Sizes vary, but the longest is about six feet (1.8 metres) by 20 feet (6.1 metres.)
The school’s physical education specialist Chris Fenlon-MacDonald led the initiative. Long dismayed at how few children walk to school in Calgary these days, Fenlon-MacDonald says he is constantly looking for ways to build physical activity into everyday life.
Then, in early 2014, he attended a physical literacy workshop, where Canadian physical literacy expert Dean Kriellaars was speaking.
Fenlon-MacDonald was so inspired by what he learned from Kriellaars and others, he approached staff at his school about implementing some of the ideas.
“As teachers and students, we spend a lot of time moving between classrooms,” he says. “Why not make that active transport?”
Fenlon-MacDonald then worked with Kirk Newman, a math specialist with the Calgary Board of Education, to come up with a series of patterns that function both as creative spaces for movement, as well as places to build math skills.
For example, the space between one set of tiles doubles between each set. First, there’s one yellow tile. Then there are two. Then there are four.
Other sets alternate in patterns: blue, yellow, red.
“We’re not just teaching math or wellness,” Fenlon-MacDonald says. “We’re teaching both at the same time.”
School staff gave their support to the idea when they realized how little it would cost to implement. Fenlon-MacDonald found spare tiles already in the school system; the only cost to the school was installation.
To study the results of the changes, a group of 30 Grade 3 students have been outfitted with Garmin step trackers. Fenlon-MacDonald is comparing their steps before the change and after.
“Sure, it may not be a lot. But over the course of a day, it could be 1,000 steps,” he says. “And that’s halfway to making up the loss of that walk to school.”
Eventually Fenlon-MacDonald says he hopes to publish a paper about his findings. And he would like to see the idea implemented in all kinds of public spaces — shopping malls, airports, sidewalks.
“Physical activity doesn’t have to be just in the gym,” Fenlon-MacDonald suggests. “It can exist anywhere.”
2016 update: The program was a success! Read more about it here.