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Activity-permissive classrooms: Letting students stand, fidget, and just be

KW: I have always resisted our culture’s desire to have people “sit down and shut up.” As a high school student, I wrote a poem about a school girl’s foot, making circles under her desk. As a new teacher, I seethed when I was told that the first rule in my first grade classroom must for the children to sit down and be quiet. (I had imported risers for relaxing and reading.) As an activist, I had gravitated to our peace group that runs a Coffeehouse with lots of milling about and a literature table in back for “standers.” As an organizer, I tried to reinvent our local political forums by having great amounts of audience participation.

People in the alternative school movement, and especially the democratic schools, have always been open to this understanding that children should be allowed to move around, and that in doing so, they probably learn better.

Now, some public school folks have figured out that having human beings – especially small human beings – sit in one place for many hours trying to be still is not productive, and is mildly oppressive.

I think “activity-permissive classrooms” are the best thing to happen to childhood since Mrs. Sowerby gave Mary a jump rope in The Secret Garden.

(excerpt from) The New York Times
Students Stand When Called Upon, and When Not

Swinging footrests are part of desks allowing pupils in a Minnesota class to stand while working.

By SUSAN SAULNY / February 24, 2009

MARINE ON ST. CROIX, Minn. — From the hallway, Abby Brown’s sixth-grade classroom in a little school here about an hour northeast of Minneapolis has the look of the usual one, with an American flag up front and children’s colorful artwork decorating the walls.

But inside, an experiment is going on that makes it among the more unorthodox public school classrooms in the country, and pupils are being studied as much as they are studying. Unlike children almost everywhere, those in Ms. Brown’s class do not have to sit and be still. Quite the contrary, they may stand and fidget all class long if they want.

And they do.

On one recent morning, while 11-year-old Nick Raboin had his eye on his math problems, Ms. Brown was noticing that he preferred to shift his weight from one foot to the other as he figured out his fractions. She also knew that his classmate Roxy Cotter liked to stand more than sit. And Brett Leick is inclined to lean on a high stool and swing his right foot under a desk that is near chest level. Helps with concentration, he and Ms. Brown say.

The children in Ms. Brown’s class, and in some others at Marine Elementary School and additional schools nearby, are using a type of adjustable-height school desk, allowing pupils to stand while they work, that Ms. Brown designed with the help of a local ergonomic furniture company two years ago. ..

With multiple classrooms filled with stand-up desks, Marine Elementary finds itself at the leading edge of an idea that experts say continues to gain momentum in education: that furniture should be considered as seriously as instruction, particularly given the rise in childhood obesity and the decline in physical education and recess.

Dr. James A. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, advocates what he calls “activity-permissive” classrooms, including stand-up desks…

Teachers in Minnesota and Wisconsin say they know from experience that the desks help give children the flexibility they need to expend energy and, at the same time, focus better on their work rather than focusing on how to keep still…

“As an option,” she said, “it gives students choices, and they feel empowered. It’s not anything to force on anybody. Teachers have to do what fits their comfort level. But this makes sense to me.”…

One Response

  1. […] studied as much as they are studying. Unlike children almost everywhere, those in Ms. Brown’s Read More|||Per the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dr. Bill Green, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Public […]

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