THE BOSTON GLOBE, MARCH 20, 2017
WALTHAM — Teachers of another generation may have had little patience for fidgety students. Students were expected to sit with both feet on the floor and hands on top of their desks, while their backs rested often uncomfortably against the wooden backs of their chairs.
But don’t expect second-grade teacher Kelly Fitzpatrick to tell her Northeast Elementary School students to “sit still.” Instead, she is providing an outlet for their energy— replacing many classroom chairs with exercise balls, standing desks, yoga mats, and plastic stools that wobble in all directions.
To Fitzpatrick’s surprise, students seem more attentive in the new seating than in traditional desks and chairs.
Across Massachusetts, teachers are increasingly embracing a lesson learned from the dot-com world: different types of seating can make folks more comfortable, which in turn can boost productivity and creative thinking.
Balancing on an exercise ball or a “wobble” stool can also bring health benefits, from burning more calories to strengthening core muscles, which could yield some critical gains as schools do their part in combating childhood obesity.
Flexible seating is popping up in classrooms in many communities, including Boston, Braintree, Chelmsford, Malden, and Plymouth. The movement has been organic — teachers copying colleagues in their schools or picking up ideas on social media where teachers are chronicling their efforts.
The transition is not always easy, as Fitzpatrick can attest. The sight of her 7- and 8-year-old students bouncing up and down and wobbling around during the day’s lessons took some getting used to, she acknowledged.
“I’m a Type A personality,” she said. “I like rigid routines and I’m very organized.’’
But many teachers are so committed to the change that they are funding the transformations themselves, opening their wallets or crowdfunding. While an exercise ball can cost as little as $10, a wobble stool can go for $70 or more.
In many cases, the rooms are becoming the highlight of a student’s day.
At Nettle Middle School in Haverhill Friday morning, some seventh-graders rocked back and forth on wobble stools as they read a book in an English class. Others sat at traditional desks with attached chairs, but they bounced their feet on a bungee cord their teacher, Diane Gentile, had stretched across the width of the desk legs.
In the back of the room, a half-dozen students sank into disk-shaped cushion chairs, fixtures in many college dormitories, and kicked their feet up on ottomans as they read a book or wrote their part of a fictional story they were circulating.
“We are more chill than being at our desks,” said Maya Lancey, nestled into a disk chair and using a clipboard to write on. “If you are more comfortable, you won’t get up as much to walk around.”
Her classmate Troy Gagne, 12, likes the wobble stools and the bungee bands, saying, “It gives me something to do instead of tapping my feet on the ground and being a distraction to others.”
Gentile, who is in her first year of teaching, initially set up her desks in the fall in rigid rows, but she said, “It felt too much like a classroom my grandparents would have gone to.”
She drew inspiration from a colleague, Jennifer Donais, who has hauled in some unconventional choices into her classroom: a high-top patio set, a blow-up chair, and a futon.
The new wave of furniture is a far cry from the days when schools bolted their desks to the floor and insisted that students sit with both feet on the floor and hands clasped on top of their desks.
Fidgeting during those days was a behavior deemed in need of correcting.
Such rigid order is no longer as necessary in education, said Daniel Wilson, educational chair of Learning Environments for Tomorrow at Harvard University. He said schools have moved away from a model of “transmitting knowledge into the heads of students” to one where students are encouraged to work in groups to solve problems and do hands-on projects or other assignments that foster problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.
But, he said, schools still need to be methodical about the furnishings they choose.
“Letting students sit on yoga balls might be more comfortable for them, but are they going to learn multiplication tables better or empathy?” he said. “Often decisions about furnishings and space design may feel good or look good, but that’s not enough. It needs to serve some educational purpose. It can’t just be flashy or comfy.”
Little research exists on whether flexible seating boosts student achievement or promotes better behavior. But anecdotal evidence from teachers, students and parents suggests there could be a connection.
Erin Nugent said she noticed a change in her son after his first-grade teacher, Jessica Sabino, adopted flexible seating in January at the Forest Avenue Elementary School in Hudson. He hardly complains anymore that school is too long and he argues less about sitting and doing his homework.
“Whether that’s a maturity thing or the seating I don’t know, but he does talk positively about the seating,” she said.
Teachers acknowledge that flexible seating could backfire if not implemented well.
In Waltham, Fitzpatrick had each of her second-graders sign a contract agreeing to use the seats for their intended purpose, a practice that many teachers have adopted. So, in other words, no kicking the exercise balls around or throwing them in the air.
She also reminds students each day to choose a seat that is best for them and not one that is simply next to their best friend.
Relinquishing control of her seating charts was a gamble, she said, noting that teachers cherish the power to separate chatty buddies and to foster relationships with other students.
“I have a really well-behaved class this year and I trust them,” she said, “but next year you never know what might be coming down the road.”
One of the favorite seating options among her students is a table lowered to 16 inches off the floor and surrounded by yoga mats, making students feel like they are working at a coffee table.
“I like sitting on the floor,” said Maria, 7. “I’m afraid of heights.”
Wobble Stools | Movement in the Classroom | Stability Balls
“St. Gregory’s students in Jamie Casteel’s third grade bounce throughout the class as they sit on stability balls.
The stability balls replace normal chairs in Casteel’s classroom as part of a curriculum program and the students seem to enjoy the mobility.
She started utilizing the balls five years ago. She had read articles about their benefits and had students in her class she thought would benefit from the extra movement. She researched her options and presented it to Principal Susan Martin who was on board with the idea.
Casteel orders the balls from WittFitt.com, a company started by former teacher Lisa Witt who conducted research and data collection. The company offers a variety of alternative seating as well as specific lesson plans for teachers to incorporate.
Casteel begins introducing the balls to the classroom after Labor Day, giving her students time to adjust to being back in school. She teaches the lesson plans and goes over the rules for correct usage of the balls. Each student then takes a contract home that they and their parents sign stating they understand the rules. Students must sit with their feet on the floor, bottom on the seat, sit up straight and respect the ball.
The students begin sitting on the balls for 30 minutes at a time, working their way up to sitting on the balls all day long. The balls have four udders on the bottom to help keep them from rolling around on the students.
Each ball is customized to each student, allowing for just enough air to place the student in a perfect posture stance. Several times a year, Casteel will air up the balls completely and re-size them to each student to keep up with their bodies as they grow.
The stability balls improve student posture, help focus their attention, work their core muscles and improve their balance. The better posture allows for more oxygen to flow, helping with their breathing. The balls allow them to move into a more comfortable position and keep them from hunching over, resulting in better handwriting. As the students move using their gross motor skills, their fine motor skills improve.
“They are more comfortable on it; they don’t readjust all the time and shift around. It’s an avenue to get the energy out without negatively affecting their own or anyone else’s learning,” Casteel said.
The students had positive comments about the balls. Weston Tally said they help with posture while Brylee Acklin said she enjoyed them because it is fun to bounce.”
THE NEWS-MESSENGER, MARCH 7, 2017
CLYDE – The pupils in kindergarten teacher Aubrey Baur’s class usually have a ball — actually, they sit on ball chairs.
It is no surprise that the students bounce on the balls, but that does not stop them from working on their assignments and staying on their seats.
Baur, a third-year teacher at Clyde Elementary School, said she has had her own learning experience incorporating the ball seats into her classroom.
“I had tested one out with last year’s students,” she said. Then, for the 2016-17 school year, Baur’s parents donated 24 colorful, inflatable chairs for her class at a cost of about $25 per chair.
“They allow the students to still sit at their seats but allow movement,” the teacher said.
Baur said that studies show the work expected of kindergarten students is becoming harder and harder. “The kids can’t sit still that long,” she said. In kindergarten, children are expected to count to 100 and be able to read, the teacher pointed out.
Looking for options, Baur brought in ball chairs, which are inflatable.
“They allow the students to still sit at their seats but still allow movement,” she said.
During class, tots bounce on their seats, roll back and forth, and still keep working on their assignments. “I found that some of the kids who had a harder time keeping up on their work, those kids are doing much better.”
Baur’s class is not alone at Clyde Elementary when it comes to unique seating. Principal Jackie Davis said she has two third-grade teachers who also have unconventional classroom seating.
Teacher Kristie Badik approached Davis last spring about offering alternative seating to her students, and added a couch, standing desk, old-fashioned desk, rocking chair and a bench with table to her traditional student desks.
Tiffany Hall’s third-grade room also has similar items.
“I believe it gives students choice and adds to the classroom climate of being comfortable, and therefore it would indirectly have an academic impact,” Davis said. “If they have flexibility, it gives the feeling of self-control — and they do better.”
Davis said her initial concerns that the alternative seating could disrupt the learning process proved unfounded.
“That has not been the case whatever,” she said. “Every time I have been in any of those classrooms, they have been time on task.”
“The kids love it,” the principal said. “As kindergartners, it probably needs to be more phased in. In third grade, they can start off better.”
Baur’s students are big fans of the ball seats.
“It feels good,” 6-year-old Nathan Scruggs said while sitting on his green ball chair. “I like bouncing on it.”
In preschool, Nathan used a regular student chair, he said. “I like the ball chair better. Everybody knows that.”
Six-year-old Alivia Aldrich said the ball chairs are “good” and that she likes them because “you can bounce.”
Baur and her students did have a learning curve when the ball chairs, which have feet, were incorporated into class at the start of the year.
The teacher learned quickly that kindergartners had to be taught that the balls were not toys — and that her young students needed to learn to stay seated in a standard chair before being given a ball chair.
“First of all, I realized that coming into kindergarten everyone starts at different places,” she said. So the ball chairs became a reward for those who wanted a chair. The students had to earn a ball chair by earning stickers daily for being a good student.
“They essentially need to be good for a month,” Baur said.
In her class, 90 percent of the students earned the right to qualify for a ball chair — but no student was forced to use it.
“There are some rules with them,” she added.
While students may bounce on the chair, they also must stay on their chair. Also, students must not have sharp objects around the rubber chairs. Baur said he had only one pop so far this year, and she had an extra one on hand.
She found that with normal student chairs, children were regularly finding reasons to leave their seats as sitting still was a strain for little children. Students now tend to stay “seated” on the balls — rocking, bouncing, rolling and even sliding a bit — but the motion does not upset their teacher.
Baur plans to use ball chairs again next school year, and they should last a few years. She added, though, that her 2017-18 students will start the year with standard student chairs and again have to earn their right to bounce.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS, ME. JUNE 2013.
Students at the Dr. Levesque Elementary School in Frenchville participated in a pilot project that replaced classroom chairs with stability balls. Posted June 03, 2013, at 3:23 p.m.
Public school students in Aroostook County who sat on stability balls instead of chairs experienced benefits including improved academic performance and better health, according to results from a recent formal study. The study, conducted during the second half of the 2011-2012 academic year, assessed each student’s “squirminess,” task level and posture before and after using a WittFitt stability ball over a four-month period.
It also assessed standardized test scores for each class, penmanship, observations from teachers and parents, and student opinions. The initiative replaced chairs with stability balls in 13 classrooms located throughout Aroostook County, after teachers completed training during the first half of the school year. Students spent part or all of each day sitting on the stability balls at their desks and in other parts of the room. The latex-free stability balls, which have legs on the bottom to keep them from rolling, are similar to the type used at the gym and in the home for stretching and strengthening exercises.
The study found that more than half of students were more able to sit still and stay on task, and showed improved posture after switching from a chair to a ball. Students also reported overall satisfaction with using the balls as chairs. “The benefits are greater than I had ever imagined,” said Robin Norsworthy, a fifth-grade teacher at Zippel Elementary School. “The kids are quieter when getting into groups and they move more quickly between tasks. They take great ownership of the stability balls, and they love using them.” The study also found that about 80 percent of students improved their standardized test scores over the course of the year. Teachers said that students’ academic performance remained the same or improved after using the stability balls in classrooms. The pilot project included students ranging in age from 6- to 18-years-old in seven school districts. Teachers assessed their students before and after implementing the stability balls. Each student also was measured for a custom-sizes ball. The project came about through a partnership among public health organizations and schools that kicked off in early 2012.
It was funded by The United Way of Aroostook, The Aroostook Medical Center and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems. “When we began the project, we anticipated that the integration of stability balls would improve the classroom environment, allowing students to move throughout the day, therefore improving facets that would lead to improved academic performance,” said Martha Bell, community transformation coordinator for the Aroostook Public Health District. Replacing classroom chairs with stability balls helps students focus, study… http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/03/health/replacing-classroom-chai… 1 of 2 6/4/2013 2:52 PM TAMC helped analyze data. “The analysis of the data is an important step in local efforts to curb youth obesity and improve the overall health of children and adolescents,” said Jorge Pineiro, a TAMC pediatrician.
Research conducted in other parts of the country suggests that stability balls can make a difference in the classroom. A 2011 University of Kentucky study demonstrated that teachers prefer having stability balls in the classroom and found evidence that using stability balls is effective for students who exhibit hyperactivity and problems paying attention. Other studies have expanded on these findings by showing the benefits of stability balls for a wide spectrum of students, from elementary school through college.
THE MERCURY, PA. FEB. 2013
By Caroline Sweeney
Tuesday, February 26,2013
Yoga balls are used in Phoenixville Middle School’s sixth-grade writing class rather than chairs. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/The Mercury) PHOENIXVILLE —
The big yellow spheres in Jim Duey’s sixth-grade writing classroom at Phoenixville Middle School can be seen before you enter the door. Some students sit with both feet on the ground, bouncing slightly, every so often. Others have both legs underneath them, perched on top of the sphere. But they are all working. Duey has been teaching for 25 years. Before he taught at the middle school, he taught in West Chester and in Rome, Italy. This is his third year teaching sixth grade. Three years ago, while Duey was teaching a “movement in teaching” class at St. Joseph’s University, a librarian at the Westtown-Thornbury Elementary School brought in a video of students in a classroom on exercise spheres.
After that class, Duey went to a Five Below discount store and purchased five spheres for his own classroom. “I thought, this has got to work and I noticed immediately that with a lot of kids it just helped settle them,” he said. “Kids don’t get up and use the washroom and they don’t get up for a drink of water a lot in here because they don’t need to clear their head.” Phoenixville students get a bounce from ‘exercise spheres’ in classroom … http://www.pottsmerc.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130226/NEWS… 1 of 3 2/26/2013 10:46 AM Students may not know exactly why they need to get up and move around but they can feel the difference when they study. “I like it because you move a lot and you can’t lay on the tables and fall asleep,” said Robbie, 12, a student in the class. Morgan, 11, and Declin, 12, both think the spheres are fun. All three said they focus better on their assignments compared to other classes. Duey originally earmarked the first five spheres for students he knew needed them but after the holidays that year, half of the class came to school with them.
Last year, Duey received a grant that enabled him to purchase more durable spheres from a company called WittFitt LLC for the entire class. The benefits to these spheres are their durability and the small feet attached to the bottom that prevent them from rolling all over the classroom. The spheres from WittFitt come in different sizes and colors that correspond with a student’s height. Preserving the spheres is a concern for Duey, so the spheres have requests from the students. “Like the sphere says, only bring non-pointy objects near me,” Duey said. The sphere isn’t a drum either. Duey said that students are not required to use the spheres and he hasn’t had any parents come to him with problems. In conjunction with the spheres, Duey incorporates other learning styles into his classroom. He will lead his class in “hookups” that engage the student’s right and left brain. They stand, cross one foot over the other, then cross their arms and link their hands. Duey leads the students in deep breathing exercises as well.
According to Eric Jensen, a brain researcher and former teacher, students in middle school and high school can only focus for 12 to 15 minutes. At least twice in a period, Duey has his students do something that isn’t learning. “It may seem like a waste of time in class, but what it does, is it enables them to have a moment of not learning which is as important as learning,” Duey said. He also said that the spheres have to fit into the teacher’s style of teaching or they won’t be beneficial. This seating arrangement will not be school-wide, said Sandra Claus, community relations coordinator for the Phoenixville Area School District, but some of the elementary school classrooms are using the spheres as well. “I’ve had a lot of kids tell me that they miss having them,” Duey said. Morgan, Declin and Robbie said they will miss the spheres next year, too.
CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL & CLINICS, MN. DEC. 2012
Published on Friday, 14 December 2012 07:00
Written by Allison Balfanz
Our friends and families gave in ways big, small and surprising in 2012—from donating hundreds of hours, to hosting a birthday party in honor of Children’s, to buying a meaningful item from our Giving Store. When they gave to us, they gave to kids. Because here at Children’s, every cent is kid spent. During the next 12 days, we’ll show you how individuals, families and organizations gave to Children’s. We’ll post a new story each day here, on Facebook and on Pinterest. We hope these amazing stories will touch your heart as much as they have ours.
This past August, Lisa Witt was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the kind of moment when “you realize you are not invincible,” she says. During a run one morning, she decided it was time to “pull it together.” She decided to run a half-marathon before her surgery to raise money. Though she was battling cancer, she thought about how heartbreaking it would be to have a child going through it. “Having two children of my own, I could relate to this fear. Our son Ian, now 6, was born with Down Syndrome and spent his first month at Children’s. That was scary enough,” she says. She raised $1,500, which was matched by her company WittFitt LLC, and donated it to Children’s. The money is being allocated to several programs including Art Out of the Box and The Cancer Kids Fund. “I wanted to have the money spent on making not only the kids’ lives better, but their parents’ lives easier as well,” she says. Dec. 23 We can’t do what we do without the help of some very special people.
So far in 2012, 1,699 volunteers have dedicated their time to Children’s. The dollar value of that time? More than $729,000! Those volunteers play video games with the patients, make arts and crafts in the Sibling Play Area, bring books to patient rooms, and offer storytelling time. Dec. 24 Fourth-graders from the International Spanish Language Academy in Minnetonka raised nearly $770 after opening Mercado Central, where they made and sold their own art work including jewelry, wood decoupage and drawings. Students also collected old books and had a smoothie stand for customers.
FIDDLEHEAD FOCUS, ME. DEC. 2012
4 December 2012
FRENCHVILLE – Fourth graders at Dr. Levesque Elementary School were able to connect via video teleconferencing to a class at Zippel Elementary School in Presque Isle and participate in a press conference regarding extra funding to analyze survey results and data in connection with a WittFitt pilot project started earlier in 2012 that introduced stability balls into their classroom.
According to a press release, the WittFitt project is a unique partnership between public health organizations and schools that kicked off in early 2012. The project replaced chairs with stability balls in 13 classrooms located throughout Aroostook County for the second half of the school year. Students in the classrooms spent part or all of each day sitting on the stability balls at their desks and in other parts of the room.
A class from St. Francis Elementary School also participated in the WittFitt project. Pilot program collaborators introduced the stability balls, which are exercise balls with knobs on the bottom to keep them from rolling, in an effort to increase balance, posture, handwriting skills, attitude and focus in students, according to Reegan Brown, WittFitt project coordinator and community education specialist for Healthy Aroostook. Martha Bell of Healthy Aroostook/ACAP said, “The intent of the original pilot was to analyze the effects that the physical activity during the school day has on academic performance, thus validating the need to integrate the two together.” Bell continued, “Participating teachers in the pilot became certified on how to instruct proper use of the balls in the classroom, measured each student for proper ball size, eased the balls into the classroom in segments, and assigned pre-, interim, and post-survey data with the students, parents, as well as themselves. Collection of the data wrapped up in June 2012 and is in the process of being interpreted by Hart Consulting, Inc.” Though the pilot program is no longer active and teachers are simply holding onto the balls they received as part of the program, the data remains to be analyzed. Stevens said, “Now that we have all the data, it’s very important that we analyze it so it can tell us how effective these balls really were, because if it does what we think that it will do, I think that it will be very easy to raise funds around that, because everyone wants to see every child do well.” Raising funds could provide stability balls to more students in the area. According to students in Ms. Castonguay’s fourth grade class at Dr. Levesque Elementary, they want to take the balls with them when they move on to the fifth grade. An increase in funding for stability balls could allow access to a wider range of students, according to Stevens. Dr. Levesque instructor Meranda Castonguay said, “More children can benefit from this than the pilot students.” Additional data analysis will proceed due to a collaborative donation.
Our hope is that the results will encourage schools to integrate more physical activity into the curriculum.” Bell continued, “We think that doing so may have a positive impact on not only their academic performance, but also their health and well being. Progress will only be possible if efforts are supported by a wide range of collaborators, including schools, public health officials, hospitals, as well as other collaborators in the community. We look forward to working with all of these partners to discuss the final results.” At a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 28, Ms. Castonguay’s class and another WittFitt project class from Zippel Elementary School connected via video teleconference to participate in the announcement of funding. Castonguay said, “I’ve been thrilled to be a part of this.” Brown said, “We were very happy to have this class involved in the press conference. They were pretty much our poster classroom for the project.”