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TEACHERS COLLEGE RECORD, Columbia University, New York
Commentary by Abby Brown, Elementary/Health Educator
has been exciting to have reporters visit our sixth grade classroom just north
of Stillwater, Minnesota to interview and take photos for ‘Stand Up for
Learning.’ This is an innovative,
action research project that began two years ago. In the first months of school
last fall, students warmed-up to media attention when local anchors and camera
crews began to visit our classroom to gather information and footage.
By the time the ABC World News crews arrived last fall, the students were
confidently experienced and took the visits in stride.
We have something intriguing to share and have become known as the
experts on a new concept that is beginning to impact learning environments for
children around our country. These
sixth graders and I are thrilled others are taking notice.
all the attention? In my classroom,
and an additional three at Marine Elementary School, students have the option to
position themselves in a variety of ways as they learn.
These classrooms contain desks that enable fidgeting, standing, leaning,
swinging of legs, or sitting at a high stool that has been adjusted to match the
students’ standing positions. My students and I call the adjustable height
desks “standing stations,” but Sunway, Inc. in Centuria, Wisconsin, has
trademarked this new furniture option as the AlphaBetter Desk and has patented
the Pendulum footrest that students and teachers love.
These desks are a unique addition to an age-old strategy for working and
learning productively on your feet.
design of the desk was a result of connections with the local ergonomics company
that took interest in the idea. It
wasn’t until after I was granted
money to begin the research that I discovered there weren’t any student style
standing desk options available from school supply companies. I tried a variety of drafting tables made in other parts of
our world, but the desks were not durable enough to withstand even a few months
of classroom use. The Sunway team
and teachers came up with the AlphaBetter Desk design by considering the best
features of each trial drafting table and adapting them for student use.
The addition of the Pendulum swinging footrest was a brainstorm of the
company’s CEO with inspiration from his wife.
are still in use in our classrooms, though with student input, improvements have
been made for the AlphaBetter Desk now available.
Teachers learned students could tip high stools onto two legs making a
game of balancing, so the Sunway stool was designed to prevent this danger and
has proven to keep the “best of the tippers” on four legs.
any given time of the day, I observe students using all options while learning.
One may be standing with foot moving in a rhythmic swing, while other
students may swing as they lean against the stool or sit completely upon it.
In my next glance, I will notice that they’ve switched positions,
naturally adjusting to what they need to focus on the task before them. We’ve found that standing for math, science, and art is
most desirable, and pulling up a stool to sit and read aloud is still our
preference during reading time. There
is less standing after physical education class and recess, but even while
sitting, the students like to swing the Pendulum.
This concept of option empowers them in ways the traditional classroom
our building you will see a variety of classroom arrangements, much the same as
with traditional desks. Some
consideration does need to be made to accommodate shorter students so that the
view of the teacher or front area is not obstructed. Because I just make it over the five-foot mark, I have added
a footstool, known as my ‘command station,” to perch upon and increase my
visibility. Although students have
free movement within their own desk area, there are still those that like to
wander over to the pencil sharpener to whisper an important message to a
classmate, and being social creatures means my 6th graders love the
larger tops that allow them to gather together to do group work. It creates an environment where children want to learn.
this project, I have rediscovered my love for wellness concepts.
My undergraduate degree is in health education with a fitness emphasis.
Being an elementary teacher allows me to do some health education, but up
until a few years ago, it never dawned on me that the time I spend standing is
much greater than that of my students. Our
school day was increased in length with no additional time for physical
activity. NCLB has brought stories to my ears that tell of “no time’ for
physical education in the high stakes academic setting our country has been
subjected to in recent years. This
concerned me. What I have come to
realize is there are countless educators who are not aware of the ways in which
their attempts to meet the new academic demands are counter to allowing the
whole child to develop.
research on issues related to health and wellness support the ‘Stand Up for
Learning’ change in the classroom environment.
The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, author John Ratey, Ph.D., notes the
hypothesis that exercise enhances school performance. As neuroscientists conduct
research, it becomes clearer that exercise better enables student brains to be
ready, willing, and able to learn. It is essential for students to engage in
aerobic activity to reach their full potential.
Adding the option for students to stand while in the classroom may be a
good supplement for aerobic activity, leading to increased fitness levels and
released in November 2007 by Marc Hamilton, University of Missouri, and Theodore
Zderic, Amsterdam, indicates there are health benefits to standing at a desk.
In the article, “MU Study Finds That Sitting
May Increase Risk of Disease” evidence suggests there is a misconception that
actively exercising is the only way to make a healthy difference in an otherwise
sedentary lifestyle. Hamilton’s studies found that standing and other
non-exercise activities burn many calories in most adults even if they do not
exercise at all. Additionally,
exercise alone was not sufficient to reverse the negative effects that sitting
has on fat and cholesterol metabolism.
Education Minnesota Foundation is funding an on-going research project to
determine possible impact of the standing option on academic achievement.
Researchers are documenting student body positioning in both the traditional
setting as well as in our classrooms that give students standing options.
Researchers are also collecting data on the effect of standing options on
students’ classroom behavior and standardized test performance (Minnesota
Comprehensive Assessments and NWEA.)
of kinesiology from the University of Minnesota are also conducting research
utilizing highly sensitive accelerometers with students who have the standing
option. These devices are measuring kilocalorie expenditure of each child while
working in both classroom settings over a two-week period.
groups that have taken interest in pursuing research regarding impact on ADD and
physical health range from doctors of behavioral medicine to the Office
Ergonomics Research Committee supported by such corporations as Apple, Dell, and
Chevron. The current objectives of the OERC have been to understand the
association between office work and discomfort, fatigue and musculoskeletal
disorders. Now their interest
expands to the impact of ergonomically sound standing options for students in
the classroom. This change will in
turn impact the working environments of adults.
research potential is wide open for future investigations. I hope that work on
the variety of wellness areas this option potentially impacts will take place in
other districts around our country.
their co-authored book, Fidget to Focus,
Roland Rotz, Ph.D. and Sarah D. Wright, M.S., A.C.T. explain that “fidgeting
is a rhythmic sensory stimulation and our body’s natural way of activating our
understimulated brains to facilitate focus, which allows us comfort and rest.”
Fidget to Focus
reminds us that adults have the freedom to move around, change tasks, take
breaks, or use whatever techniques are necessary to stay alert and focused while
children in the traditional classroom do not. The standing station with a pendulum footrest option is a
‘respectful fidget’ that does not distract others and allows the needed
simultaneous sensory-motor stimulation to arouse and activate the brain.
students’ reactions to the standing stations provide compelling evidence to
support making the change to an environment that allows natural movement.
Although we should not always give in to children’s savvy attempts to convince
parents to purchase new things such as the latest electronics, students’
requests for a standing option is one that parents, school board members, and
administrators should take to heart. Since
we have started using the standing stations my students appear to be more
focused. They report having more
energy at the end of the day.
this letter from one of my sixth grade students: “Standing
stations are amazing; they improve so many things, such as posture, handwriting,
and I focus way better. At home
when I do my homework, I have to stand! Although
I don’t have a standing station at my house, I use a dresser.
It’s not as great as a standing station, but I get the opportunity to
stand. I have also been more active.
I have been able to spend more time with my super-active brother and that
means a lot to me. Thank you for
giving me the best learning environment possible, Mrs. Brown.” ~~Audrey
‘Stand Up for Learning’ initiative has become an amazing professional
journey for me; one that has grown due to the support of researchers, teachers,
parents, and community organizations. An idea that started as my plan to improve
the learning environment of my own classroom has begun to impact classroom
learning environments around our globe. The
International Herald Tribune, owned by the New York Times, ran Susan Saulny’s
story on the same day that it hit the Times’ front page in the United States.
The international title; “In education, furniture matters, too.” Ms.
multiple classrooms filled with stand-up desks, Marine Elementary finds itself
at the leading edge of an idea that experts say is gaining momentum in education
— that furniture matters and should be considered as seriously as instruction,
particularly with childhood obesity on the rise, and as schools scale back on
physical education and recess.”
Brooks, Ph.D., expresses my sentiments in “Physical Exercise in School:
Fitness for Both Body and Mind” as he ends with these thoughts: “I
look forward to the day when educators at all grade levels in all schools detail
the ways in which their approach is rooted in the latest brain research,
including that which confirms that physical activity and learning are
inextricably interwoven. I also look forward to the day when removing recess is
not applied as a punishment; instead, recess and other opportunities for
physical expression are used to strengthen learning and interpersonal skills.
Hopefully, that day is not too far in the future.” Ditto from me.
to ‘stand up for learning’ is here. Join
the efforts. Children need adults
to advocate for them. Students do
not make decisions regarding classroom materials, curriculum, and furniture.
Without us, the option to move naturally as needed while learning cannot
be a choice for them.
How can you do
this? Start by seeking out desks in
need of replacement in your building. Ask
that capitol funds be used to purchase new ones that allow the standing option.
Add a few to your room; it will spark parent and community interest that
could lead to more funding. If you
work with primary students, find tables or intermediate desks that can be raised
to the top height. These will
provide a standing area for the younger children.
And breaking the habit of saying “Sit down!” is one of the first
steps in moving toward changes. You,
too, can make a difference. J
November 2007, MU News Bureau, MU study finds that sitting
increase risk of disease, MU Professor offers solution: Just stand up!
September 2008 “Physical exercise in school: Fitness for both
body and mind, March 24, 2009, http://www.drrobertbrooks.com/writings/articles.html
(2008) SPARK, The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain, New York,
New York, Little, Brown and Company
Rotz, R., &
Wright, S., (2005) Fidget to focus, Outwit your boredom:
Sensory strategies for living with ADD, Lincoln, NE, iUniverse
International Herald Tribune, February 25, 2009, Susan
Saulny, reporter; “In education, furniture matters.’ http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/02/25/america/25desks.php
to AlphaBetter Desks