Get up, stand up, Stand up for…maths?

26 Oct

This article about standing desks for the classroom has given me something to think about recently.  Standing desks are not uncommon in the business world.  For a number of years the tide has been shifting towards the standing revolution as a way to tackle some of the health concerns associated with sitting all day, as well as boosting concentration levels. (I type this from a sedentary seated position by the way).

Of course desks are utilised less and less during the early years of a child’s education in Wales.  Under the innovative Foundation Phase we have adopted there is a learning through play approach.  Children are encouraged to express themselves through active learning, through interaction and exploration.  Freeing pupils from their desks and removing the static learning of the past has created the physical representation of the Foundation Phase’s ethos of developing creative and inquisitive learners.  This is one reason why the ‘sit at a desk and be tested’ approach of the standardised literacy and numeracy tests is so flawed.  But that’s a debate for another day.

So what benefits could there be to a standing desk approach in school?  Firstly, having this approach can help tackle the growing obesity issue we face. The BBC reported last year that more than a quarter of four and five-year olds in school were overweight with one in ten classed as obese. Despite obesity being a concern for the whole of the UK, and indeed Western culture, in Wales this is an issue for our children more than across the border in England.  Putting in place measures to ensure children have a generally more active day is undoubtedly a smart move to building an habitual approach to dealing with this issue.  As someone who has recently become fixated with my daily step count due to acquiring a FitBit I know exactly how much extra calories can be burned simply by increasing low-level effort exercise.

The long-term impact this could have on NHS savings will be far from insignificant.  Something we shouldn’t overlook at times crisis in public service funding.  Educationally, I am a firm believer in the healthy body – healthy mind adage.  Having more physically fit pupils will no doubt help create more motivated and engaged learners.

There is also a case, although not evidence based as far as I can see, that having children burn more energy over a school day in this way will help tackle behaviour issues cased by restlessness.  That would be an interesting subject to gather evidence on but I would think it is a view based on a sound theoretical notion.  There would also be a case to argue, although again without current evidence, that the standing position would naturally lend itself to more engaged learners due to the reduction in slouching and an inability to mentally slip out of the lesson.

There is growing evidence that from a physical and public health related point of view standing desks in school could be something to consider.  This research from Loughborough university is one such study.  As yet I am unaware of any research into educational attainment factors but certainly I would think it would be of interest to running a pilot scheme.

Of course you must have a balance.  There will be some physical implications to long periods of standing.  That is why there must be a rotation approach and options to take into account the ability of all individuals to study and learn in this way, including adjustable desks.  Equally there is a start-up cost associated with any change of this nature.  While it would be an invest to save scheme should it work you would still need to find the initial investment.  This is why I am not advocating this be rolled out.

However, all that said, there is enough in the idea to make it something worth considering for the future.  We need innovation in our approach to health and education.  That doesn’t always have to be system wide changes but simple and subtle creative thinking about how we do the things we already do.

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