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Blue Zones online project shows Longleaf Elementary fifth-graders keys to living a long life


Tiffany Rodriguez stood at her teacher's laptop computer answering personal questions as her fifth-grade class watched. How many days have you been depressed? How many times have you done rigorous exercise in the past month? How much do you weigh?

At the end of two minutes, Tiffany had her life expectancy tallied up­: 92.3 years, with another 6.1 years possible with some lifestyle changes.

Her Longleaf Elementary classmates immediately burst out their own results.

"I got 88!" one boy shouted. "Ha! I was 89!" said another.

"Mine was 100. I kid you not," another said.

For the past week, Mary Keane's fifth-grade class, along with four other classes at Longleaf, has followed a 10-day lesson plan on about life on the Greek island of Ikaria, one of the places in the world where people live the longest.

The classroom activities seem almost deceptively simple. Keane shows a short video and reads a daily dispatch from the research team in Ikaria. The students look at photos from the island and vote on the Web site's daily poll.

The whole thing lasts maybe 15 minutes.

But to the students, it's the best part of the day.

"It's more fun because you're not sitting at your desk listening to your teacher talk," said Jessica Nelson. "You interact with everyone and you write the things down."

"We really look forward to it because if you really pay attention and listen to the stuff they're saying and follow the steps, it can change your life," added Nathan Stalling.

Nathan paid close attention to the eating tips and started drizzling olive oil on his food, abandoning butter. He said he lost 5 pounds already.

Classmate Travis Addington took the message about the importance of family time to heart.

"It got me to go with my family more and play with my little brother more," Travis said. "They say if you spend more time with your family, you'll have a happier and longer life."

Keane effused over the positive response that her students have displayed toward the short online lessons. About half of the children visit the Web site while at home, she noted, and several have made conscious choices to change their lives because of what they've learned.

"It's just so much fun being on the cutting edge" with Web-based learning, Keane said. "They love it."

She credited school technology specialist Bettie Donovan with keeping the school abreast of the latest opportunities.

Donovan observed it can be difficult to fit such activities into the already packed school day, which has so many state and local requirements. But by pairing the interactive online projects with the existing curriculum — the Ikaria project ties neatly into Longleaf's theme of healthy living — teachers and students can make the day more fun, she said.

"Kids today are ready to learn online," Donovan said. "They call them digital learners."

And over at Longleaf, those learners just can't get enough about longevity in the Greek isles. They may be only 10 and 11, but they want a head start on making it to 100.

As Nicole Loiacana explained, "I want to see what the future is like."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

Research project identifies world locations conducive to a long life

The Blue Zones project is conducted by researcher Dan Buettner.

Buettner has traveled the world with a team of scientists seeking key factors to longevity.

The group has found nine factors common to the lifestyles of people who live the longest, including the following: eating wisely, walking regularly, belonging to a group and prioritizing family.

Some of the locations identified as longevity Blue Zones are Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Nicoya, Costa Rica.

For information, visit the project's Web site at

Blue Zones online project shows Longleaf Elementary fifth-graders keys to living a long life 04/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 7:37pm]
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