“Take a Walk”: Walking, Creativity, and Implications in the College Classroom

by Guest Blogger on March 15, 2016

Teaching photoMorgan Livingston is a lecturer in the English Department at Cal Poly. She was inspired to write the following blog post through her participation in the CTLT Faculty Learning Community, “Teaching Technical Communication.”

Last Tuesday was a beautiful and sunny 75-degree day in San Luis Obispo. My students walked into the classroom, sweating from the lack of air conditioning and exhausted from the accumulation of finals, projects, you name it. I looked at them. They looked back at me. And I said, “That’s it. You’re going for a walk.”

When I was growing up, my mother’s answer to any problem was “take a walk.” Have an argument with your best friend? Take a walk. Eat too much pizza? Take a walk. Stressed with exams? Take a walk. While I was resistant to it at the time, there is something to be said about walking’s natural ability to clear the mind.

Aristotle and Pupil

But what about walking and its connection to creativity? Many historical geniuses went for daily walks: on these walks, Aristotle lectured his pupils on rhetoric, Beethoven heard the bird songs that would inspire his sixth symphony, and Steve Jobs held business meetings. It seems, then, that walks not only clear our heads, but they clear our heads enough for creativity and inspiration to enter. And that’s exactly what some recent Stanford experiments sought to prove.

Over the course of four experiments, Stanford researchers found that walkers overwhelmingly have more (and better) creative thoughts than sitters. From walking on a treadmill to walking outdoors, the study proved a link between creativity and the act of walking itself. The implications for education, then, seem to be substantial.

After discovering this link between creativity and walking, I decided to test the theory in my own classroom. I teach English 149, Technical Communication for Engineers, and if we flash back to the bright and sunny day at beginning of this post, my students were brainstorming for a large report. So, prefacing it as a “hippie experiment,” I sent them out in pairs to walk and talk during class time. I did not want them to feel restrained, so my only requirements for the activity were that they walk the whole time and that each person’s topic should be discussed for a total of 10 minutes.

Student responses to this assignment were overwhelmingly positive. In fact, in a post-walk reflection, 100% of my 97 students said they would like to do the Walk and Talk again, and many explained that they felt more innovative and free than they would in the traditional classroom. One of my quietest students even said it was hard for him to stop talking after his allotted 10 minutes were up.

While my class activity was by no means a formal study or experiment, I am pretty excited by the results. I am now convinced that students need to move more during class time. Because we know of the connection between walking and creativity, we are doing a huge disservice to students by forcing them to stay sedentary during key educational moments that demand creativity (like brainstorming).

The next time my students need some creative inspiration, then, I’ll tell them “take a walk” – like mother, like daughter.


Comments:

1. Author : Amy Wiley
E-mail : awiley@calpoly.edu

What a terrific post, Morgan! Thanks so much for sharing this–I’m definitely going to incorporate it into my own classes.

2. Author : Matthew Luskey
E-mail : mluskey@calpoly.edu

Great post, Morgan. The National Survey for Student Engagement measures the importance of talk, so this sounds like a great activity. Healthy, too!

3. Author : Erin Martin-Elston
E-mail : ejmartin@calpoly.edu

Love this idea, Morgan.

4. Author:  A. Moretti
Email:  moretti@calpoly.edu

Thanks for this wonderful post, Morgan!


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