Schools trying alternative seating arrangements to improve student focus



Students in Marielle Edgecomb’s class at Peninsula School in Gouldsboro have the option to use standing desks. PHOTO BY JACQUELINE WEAVER

Students in Marielle Edgecomb’s class at Peninsula School in Gouldsboro have the option to use standing desks.
PHOTO BY JACQUELINE WEAVER

GOULDSBORO — In Marielle Edgecomb’s class at Peninsula School in Gouldsboro, kids can stand, push their feet up against a stretchy band or roll back and forth on an exercise ball as long as they focus on the math problem at hand.

“I have students that stand for awhile and then choose to sit and others who stand the whole class,” Edgecomb said. “The students make choices about what they need each day and throughout the class.”

She keeps building on her inventory of alternative seating, which currently includes 12 therapy balls, six stand-up desks, two therabands, 12 wiggle cushions, seven hand fidgets and five slant desks.

And whether it is a glass of water or something to munch on, Edgecomb said she tries to give students what they need to keep them focused.

“If they need it, we do it,” Edgecomb said.

Zach Lord, 14, of Gouldsboro prefers to stand in Edgecomb’s math class. He uses an adjustable tabletop piece that can be set at different heights.

“When you stand up, you’re more aware,” the eighth-grader said. “When you do math problems, you’re more in tune.”

A few tables away, Rhiannon Alley rocked back and forth on a large therapy ball while her group strategized solutions to math problems.

“The ball is a little bit closer to a comfortable height,” said the 13-year-old from Winter Harbor. “And you can move more than you can in a chair.”

Jill Cohen, principal at Mountain View School in Sullivan, received approval from the Regional School Unit 24 Board Dec. 1 to seek funding to purchase 10 to 12 stand-up desks for her school.

She hopes to pilot the project by putting two desks in each of six classrooms. Cohen said she won’t put the desks in classrooms with the youngest children, nor will she put them in the laboratory.

The desks she was looking at come with stools.

“We don’t want them standing for 60 minutes,” Cohen said.

She believes standing instead of sitting could make a difference in the concentration of some students. Just being able to shift from foot to foot might be helpful, Cohen said.

“Some students have a need for tactile stimulation,” she said. “The real question is does this increase the engagement of students? We want to make sure it’s making a difference before we jump in.”

Following the public health mantra that sitting is the new smoking, there has been a trend in some workplaces to add standing desks for employees who want them.

The National Education Association reports that a 2008 study at the University of Central Florida in Orlando found that children need to move to focus during a complicated mental task.

The data showed that children, particularly those with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, fidget more when a task required them to store and process information rather than just hold it.

This is why students are often restless while doing math or reading, but not while watching a movie, said the lead researcher and psychologist, Professor Mark Rapport.

A 2011 study at the University of Minnesota’s Laboratory of Integrative Human Physiology found there are physical benefits as well to alternative classroom seating.

Students using stand-up desks burned the equivalent of eating two and a half candy bars per week, or 6 pounds a year, it was reported in the study.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]