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Keeping Students on the Ball
By: Sixth Grade Teachers Debbie Brummit and Jim Holmes
As we look out across the sea of faces in sixth grade these days, something seems a little different. Everyone is smiling, swaying and moving gently up and down to his or her own rhythm, like blades of sea grass, bobbing gently in a warm blue sea. Then, the topic of discussion changes and the students’ excitement becomes palpable. The once quiet, gentle movements shift and bodies begin to bounce a little higher, introducing more randomness into the group rhythm. The quiet sea turns more turbulent.
“Ok guys, turn it down a notch. You’re making us seasick up here!” we say with a smile.
It’s that time of year again — the blue stability chairs have made their annual appearance in the sixth grade classroom.
Six years ago, the sixth grade teachers were granted Rossman’s Helen Schwaner Faculty Professional Development Award to purchase the class a set of blue rubber stability balls, like one might use at the gym. However, these balls would not serve as work out equipment, but as chairs. These balls are specially designed for desk use and have five 3-inch feet (or “udders” as the students call them) on the bottom to prevent the balls (and the children) from rolling over. Each sixth grade student enjoys the option of sitting on one of the balls as their chair full time, off and on during the day, or not at all.
While this all might sound odd, using stability balls as seats in the classroom helps the children focus better on instruction and become more physically fit. Brain research suggests that there is a link between movement and academic performance. The stability ball program satisfies a child’s need for movement by allowing "active sitting" with little to no disturbance in the classroom. Additionally, sitting on the balls makes one sit up straighter, not only increasing blood flow to the brain and all parts of the body but strengthening core muscles as well. Combining movement and increased blood flow results in increased classroom learning. The use of ball seating is also motivational and fun for the children in our classroom!
Method to Our “Madness”
Numerous studies indicate a strong, direct link between exercise and movement and learning.
For example, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. is known as one of the top medical centers in the world. Mayo Clinic is always looking for ways to decrease obesity in school children. Bob Nellis of the clinic conducted a study on the benefits of chairless classrooms. "Kids move around. They’re supposed to be active," he said.
The study showed that students with attention problems could focus better using the exercise balls for chairs. The balls allowed movement without making noise and disturbing others. The children that require extra movement get the opportunity to do so silently. (Source: Heron Marquez Estrada, Star Tribune, startribune.com, Oct. 27, 2007)
Our stability balls come from WittFitt, a leader in the promotion and integration of movement into the classroom and school environment.
Increased Student Responsibility
Students are responsible for the care and well-being of their own stability balls. The balls must remain at their desks during the school day. Every afternoon, each student places the ball on top of their desk in order to help the cleaning staff sweep the floors. Needless to say, sharp objects must be kept far away from the rubber balls at all times. Students are reminded that should their ball pop, they will be required to buy a replacement with their own money – no asking mom and dad to help out. (In six years we have had two balls lose their lives. It’s a surprising and loud affair, but the balls lower the student slowly to the floor as they deflate.)
Should a student forget to place their stability ball on the top of their desk at the end of the day, bounce too high or otherwise violate the rules, they will find their seat in “ball jail” for the following 24 hours.
Bouncing, Learning and Loving School
Younger students gaze longingly through our classroom door every day, dreaming of the time when they are in the sixth grade and get a bouncy chair of their own.