KODIAK DAILY MIRROR, AK. NOV. 2009.
Stability in the classroom East Elementary class uses balls to sit on instead of chairs Article published on Friday, November 13th, 2009
By LOUIS GARCIA
Mirror Writer – kodiakdailymirror.com.
Big, blue, bouncy stability balls are what 20 students get to sit on when learning at East Elementary School. Fourth-grade teacher John Malloy, who is in his 11th year teaching at East, had read about stability balls in classrooms from a Colorado newspaper article. So, he decided to try it out with his students.
“I read a lot of articles about businesses and even some classrooms moving toward the stability balls because there’s some data out there that was indicating that it helped with focus. And, it was showing that it improved posture and it kind of gave the kids an outlet for that kind of squirmy behavior,” Malloy said.
The balls were introduced into the classroom slowly. First students used them in 15- minute intervals that were increased to 30 minutes and then an hour until they were sitting on them the whole day. “A few of the kids after school were still a little sore because they just weren’t using those muscles (stomach muscles) before,” Malloy said. He was a little hesitant to introduce the balls into the classroom because he wasn’t sure about requiring one more new thing of his students. “It would be one more new thing that I didn’t want to overload the kids with,” Malloy said. “It’s a one-on-one classroom, so all the kids have a laptop computer, also. I was really waiting until there was a good time to balance out the technology component of stuff and teaching all the kids that with the new stability balls.”
He used the WittFitt Web site to learn about the benefits of using stability balls. The information provided is from Lisa Witt, a former teacher and founder of WittFitt. He also did some preliminary research in his own classroom, having experienced some problems with chairs. “I had Barb Rabold, the occupational therapist, do some observations with my class without the stability balls (just with chairs),” he said. “Then I had a whole year with this class in third grade before I moved up to fourth, so I had some background information as to which ones are a little bit more fidgety than others, and some situations where some kids were getting their hair pulled with screws or whatnot, or maybe they were falling off chairs.” This led him to believe there was a need for some new seating in the classroom. “I went to school here when I was in third grade and they’re probably the same chairs,” Malloy laughed.
After getting the details worked out Malloy had to find funds to buy the stability balls. Each ball costs about $25 plus shipping. “Obviously, the budget’s pretty well strapped,” he said. “So I had some parents (of his students) that were in the Lions Club and they thought it was a worthwhile proposal to bring to the Lions Club and see if they could help with the funding. They not only paid for the balls, but they also paid for the shipping — and that was great.” The balls aren’t just for helping with physical activity, enhancing attention and keeping hair from being pulled. “We’ve done a lot of different lessons off of it,” Malloy said. “We’ve done lessons on the alignment of the spine which goes along with our science unit. We’ve talked about where the balls come from in Italy and to Wisconsin, and that helps in our social studies. And the kids wrote thank-you notes to Lisa Witt and also to the Kodiak Lions Club which helped out our handwriting. We’ve really tried to weave it into the curriculum as much as we can here.” Malloy has seen a couple of improvements after the switch to the new seating.
“I have noticed a difference in this class with using them,” he said. “There hasn’t been the hair getting pulled from the screws of the back of the chairs, kids aren’t tilting their chairs because it’s a ball and they can’t really put their head on the desk because it wouldn’t work with the ball.” There are legs on the ball to keep them from rolling around too much, the balls slowly lose air if they are punctured instead of popping, and kids also can deflate or inflate their balls at recess to customize their comfort level. Space is an issue when students sit on the balls at their desks. “When they’re sitting on the balls it probably takes up a little more space in the aisles in the classroom,” Malloy said. He also said upkeep is another issue. “They’re obviously not going to last as long as the chairs and you just can’t replace a leg,” he said. “Once they’re popped you either have to seal it or buy a new ball.” Aside from those two issues he likes using the lighter and quieter stability balls. “This is sort of the pilot year,” Malloy said. “We’ll see how it goes this year. I know right now the kids really like it and it definitely is an incentive to have them. I’d like to keep it going indefinitely. I’d like to get enough data to justify keeping the program going.” He’s also sure the students would like to have the program continue, as well. “There’s already some talk in here about going to fifth grade with no stability ball and no laptop, so they’re worried about that,” he laughed. Mirror writer Louis Garcia can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.