Belmont Featuring Flexible Seating
November 17, 2016
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Mrs. Roberts baked a batch of bagels. She arranged the bagels in three equal rows of four each on the cooling rack. How many bagels did she bake? “How can we turn this into a multiplication problem?” Mrs. DiJoseph asks her students.
The day begins with 20 kids all gathered on the carpet as the math problems are projected onto the board from a white Hitachi projector that hangs from the ceiling. From there, the students get to sit in the seats that they chose at the end of the previous day… and their options are far from limited.
Yoga balls, giant pillows, hokki stools, bungee, butterfly, camping, and director’s chairs fill Mrs. Miller and DiJoseph’s 3rd grade classrooms at Belmont Hills Elementary School in Bensalem.
They are the two 3rd grade classes at Belmont that are taking part in an Action Research Program that is trying out a flexible seating arrangement which allows students to decide where and what they sit on. If the program is successful, it will be incorporated into the other two 3rd grade classrooms next school year.
“It help keeps the disruptive behavior at bay,” says DiJospeh.
The idea began last year when “reading workshops” were incorporated into grades 3-5, where students read independently in any way that they feel comfortable. Some kids choose to lie under their desks, while others put their feet up on top of the desk.
“I noticed when kids were more comfortable, they were able to sustain reading for longer periods of time,” says DiJoseph.
“I happened to stumble across a blog last spring,” says Miller. The blog was written by a 4th grade teacher who had incorporated flexible seating into her own classroom. “It kind of struck a chord. ‘Like, oh, can this be done?’” Miller says.
The idea of flexible seating has become ever-popular in the corporate world with conglomerates like Google and McDonald’s integrating similar ideas into their workplaces. “We’re going to pioneer it on an elementary level,” DiJoseph jokes.
There are other classes across Bensalem School District also trying this innovative program. At Struble Elementary, “A couple of the 2nd grade classrooms are piloting it,” says Miller.
Since almost all of the desks have been removed from the classrooms, the teachers have different size workstations set up around the room. “We are both starting to see kids zero in on specific spots,” Miller says.
“Even within those seating options, there’s other seating options,” says DiJoseph. Some are lower tables with pillows and yoga balls surrounding them, and other stations are standup desks encircled by stools and higher seating options.
Globally, kids sit on an average of 8.5 hours a day, according to the school district’s website. On a molecular level, the body is designed to be active and on the move throughout the day, not dormant.
Too many hours of sitting can be dangerous to kids’ health and it has been proven that getting up and moving around is the solution to this problem. There are over 10,000 studies supporting this evidence and scientists, doctors, and teachers across the United States are beginning to realize that a change has to be made.
Miller mentioned that Finland has some of the most successful education programs in the world, and that their kids get recess after every 45 minutes of instruction! “When you give them breaks, their engagement level is higher,” Miller says. The students at Belmont Hills only get about 20 minutes of recess every day.
DiJoseph believes that it is when the kids get bored that behavioral problems begin to develop. “What I am seeing is the day-to-day conflict between students is much lower,” says Miller.
The success of this program will be measured by examining test score data between the different classes and comparisons of scores in previous years. Since analyzing different groups of kids won’t be definitive evidence, the school will also evaluate individual growth and teacher progress to determine the program’s success.
Principal Marla Zeisler is highly supportive of the flexible seating initiative, “I had a personal interest in this because my grandson… needed special seating,” Zeisler says, “It’s a great way not to single out any students.”
Even after doing their research, implementing the program wasn’t as easy as either teacher had predicted. “In the beginning I was very apprehensive,” admits DiJoseph. “I got a little nervous that I had bitten off more than I can chew,” says Miller.
Since the students don’t have traditional desks to use for storage, they use cubbies and carry “browsing bags” around with them. DiJoseph says that getting used to seeing their bags on the floor next to them was one of the hardest things to get used to. “Sometimes it looks a little chaotic,” says Miller.
Another task for these teachers was filling up their classrooms with furniture options. Over the summer, Miller chose to set up a project on DonorsChoose.org, a classroom support website. Although it became a $700 project within a week, many of the costs have still come out of the teachers’ pockets.
“Thrift stores have been my best friend,” says Miller. “Thank God for Five Below, because it adds up,” DiJoseph says.
Both teachers agree that it’s all about the kids. You can see their enthusiasm in their vibrant, but diverse teaching styles.
From DiJoseph’s rock star-themed classroom to Miller’s jungle, all of the kids appear to be active and actively involved.
“They just want to be engaged,” says DiJoseph.