Scott Baytosh, Head of School at Alexandria Country Day School in Virginia, has been using a standing desk for 10 years.
The phrase, credited to James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, refers to numerous studies that have shown the deleterious effects of simply sitting too much: higher incidences of chronic diseases and increased risk of death.
And one place where a lot of sitting is bound to occur? Schools. In fact, as standardized test scores have grown in importance with the wide adoption of Common Core standards, more and more schools have cut back on recess time, resulting in even more sitting for students as they work to acquire the expected skills, according to an online article in Forbes. In one Florida county, the school board had to formally recommend that all its elementary schools offer 20 minutes of recess per day after 23 of its 123 elementary campuses severely restricted or eliminated the break altogether, igniting a firestorm of protest from parents unhappy that their children were being asked to spend entire days indoors working at their desks.
With the sometimes competing demands of student health and academic achievement in need of balance, some administrators have struck upon a novel means of keeping students active while learning. They have brought standing desks, which have exploded in popularity in business settings, into the classroom.
Students on their Feet Give More Focus to Class
Vallecito Elementary School, a public K–5 school in the suburbs of San Francisco, also has adopted standing desks as part of its classroom design.
Principal Tracy Smith was approached by parents in the community, many of whom work in health and fitness, about trying standing desks for the students. She agreed enthusiastically. After piloting standing desks in one classroom, Smith was convinced; all 22 classrooms at Vallecito now have standing desks.
“We’ve added a lot more choice into the day,” she says. “We might say to the students, ‘We’re going to have you work in pairs, but you can choose to work on the floor, go to the bench outside, sit over here, or stand.’
“They’re so happy to be given choices about how and where they complete their work,” she explains.
The desk, made by Safco, includes a fidget bar — essentially, a swinging footrest — that allows the children to keep moving throughout the day. Students love it.
“We can focus better. We used to sit down and rest, and you almost fall asleep,” says Jackson Wright, a second grader at Vallecito. While there are a few stools the children can use if necessary, he says that they aren’t usually needed.
“We never get tired,” Jackson says.
At Vallecito, the district has just passed a bond to fund a study of classroom design. After the enthusiastic response of students and teachers to the introduction of standing desks, Smith is excited to see where the study will lead.
‘Visual Clutter Inhibits Learning’
Even if new equipment or a major redesign is not in the budget, Fisher says there are small steps schools and teachers can make to maximize the learning experience through design principles within a standard four-wall classroom.
“One of the key things that a teacher can do is to try to think about the room from the point of view of eliminating as much visual clutter as possible,” she says. “Visual clutter inhibits learning.”
Schools can support teachers by simply giving them dedicated space to store the materials that they do not need that month, says Fisher. With excess materials out of the way, teachers can work to create visual order within their classrooms — a design upgrade that is virtually free.