By Bob Hill, Ergotron
As Millennials pour into the workforce, they’re bringing a renewed sense of collaboration and flexibility. And these young professionals expect their work spaces to keep up. Simultaneously, next generation learners are walking into the classroom for the first time, and these students also desire flexibility to meet their individual needs. One-to-one device initiatives and personalized learning tools work to address these trends, but districts often overlook the physical components that facilitate the best 21st century learning experience.
The classroom sets the foundation for innovative learning, and that goes beyond the qualifications of the teacher or the breadth of the curriculum. Classroom furniture, including student desks, must keep pace with technology and students’ varied learning styles to support their overall well-being, ultimately leading to greater engagement and academic success.
An undeniable link between health, engagement and academics
Walk into an average classroom, and you’re likely to see most students just where you expect them to be — sitting. But this seemingly normal aspect of today’s school system puts students at a learning disadvantage. After just 30 minutes of sitting, students’ metabolism slows, blood circulation decreases, good cholesterol drops and blood sugar rises. Students lose focus the longer they sit, making them less likely to engage. Their desks become a barrier to learning.
Elementary school students benefit from movement-based activities already integrated into the school day, as well as physical education and recess. As they transition to middle school and high school, however, static classroom time replaces physical activity. This familiar “sit and get” model of education doesn’t serve today’s learners, physically or mentally.
This is where taking a fresh look at classroom furniture comes into discussion. One option? Replacing stationary desks with mobile sit-stand desks. Through regular sit-stand motion throughout the class day, students achieve this non-disruptive, low-level physical activity that counteracts the negatives of sitting. Students have greater metabolic health, including higher heart rate and greater oxygen and nutrient transport. They also burn more calories and maintain insulin effectiveness. This is a key step in establishing healthier habits earlier in life. With more than one-third (35.1%) of adults over the age of 20 in the United States classified as obese, educators, not employers, play a key role in combatting this trend before students even enter the workforce.
Researchers have found that integrating sit-stand furniture into the classroom leads to greater classroom engagement, on-task behavior and greater academic performance. Students regularly improve on regular assessments like quizzes and tests, as well as full-year learning evaluations that measure overall progress, and students notice the difference.
“You feel more energetic and you pay much better attention when you’re standing up,” said Jose, a ninth grader at Dr. Kirk Lewis Career & Technical High School in Houston, Texas.
Physical activity doesn’t have to just come from an elective physical education class. Instead, students can remain in class, regularly switch between sitting and standing and improve their overall well-being and academic performance. With more attentive students, teachers can build on lesson plans with supplementary course material that leads to better academic outcomes for students. And when focus wanes, students intuitively know it’s time to stand.
“All teachers pride ourselves on being able to know who our students are. If we’ve been sitting and everybody starts to get a little flat, it’s time to stand up,” said Jason Rhodes, a ninth-grade teacher at Dr. Kirk Lewis Career & Technical High School.
Flexible classroom spaces lead to greater personalization
Integrating regular movement into the classroom not only supports students’ health and academic outcomes – it promotes personalized learning. Teachers must accommodate different kinds of learners, but with out-of-the-box classroom furniture, they’re limited by time and resources to adjust.
As our digital world continues to evolve, learning spaces need to also evolve to promote collaboration and flexibility.
Many districts are already adopting new teaching methodologies to approach education in a new way for today’s learners. In flipped classrooms where students tackle detailed “homework” assignments, learning spaces need to be instantly adaptable to move from whole-class instruction to collaborative groups to individual student-teacher work sessions. Sit-stand desks help teachers meet students where they are at, addressing their individual learning styles more effectively. Raising or lowering the sit-stand desk allows students to learn in the way that feels most natural to them.
“These desks are a part of personalized learning because they give students freedom to be more comfortable, more focused and attentive,” said Alex Brahm, a World History, World Religions, Theory of Knowledge teacher at Lamar High School in Houston, TX
And with flexible classroom furniture, teachers can easily reconfigure the classroom for group collaboration, peer-to-peer work or one-on-one instruction. It no longer takes dedicated time to drag heavy desks into new formations that only work for one learning style. Teachers can easily experiment with new approaches and continuously innovate in the classroom without the constraints of traditional classroom furniture. As they move away from a lecture-style format, they take on the role of a facilitator working to meet both individual and group needs.
“There’s never a moment when the actual physical space gets in the way of learning the material,” Monica Escobar, a fifth grade teacher at Alexandria Country Day School in Alexandria, VA, said after implementing LearnFit desks.
Funding can serve as a barrier for some districts, but with a single investment facilities and operations leaders have one solution for students and staff, reducing the number of costly orders and the management of multiple kinds of classroom furniture. It’s a standardized solution that’s also flexible, encouraging teachers to broaden their teaching approach and allowing students to take control of their learning environment.
Stand up for new learning possibilities
Transforming a static, traditional classroom into a learning environment infused with movement opens doors to renewed health and academic success for students. No longer contained in an environment that has a negative impact on their bodies and well-being, students will be more engaged and ready to take on new academic challenges.
Equipped with tools like sit-stand desks, school leaders can provide the non-disruptive activity that both students and teachers need to succeed. This single investment pays off in innovative teaching strategies, assessment scores, engagement rates and overall student well-being. These desks also impact other departments in the school because with endless combinations of classroom formats available without facility involvement, facilities staff can focus on other concerns instead of directing efforts toward fulfilling individual furniture requests.
The next wave of technological advances will keep coming, bringing with it new opportunities and challenges. But the fact remains, movement matters for students, and flexible classroom furniture like sit-stand desks can convert student workspaces to be healthy and personalized for their best learning environment.
Bob Hill is the Healthcare and Education Manager for Ergotron. He works with schools and healthcare facilities around the globe to build greater awareness of the importance of active learnstyles and workstyles. He helps build ergonomic work environments that support the health and wellbeing of employees, caregivers, teachers and students in their diverse workflow and workstyle requirements.
 BBC Magazine. (2013). Calorie burner: How much better is standing up than sitting? BBC Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/ news/magazine-24532996.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Obesity and Overweight. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm.
 Benden, M., Blake, J., Dornhecker, M., Zhao, H., and Wendel, M. (2015). The Effect of Stand-biased Desks on Academic Engagement: An Exploratory Study. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14635240.2015.1029641?journalCode=rhpe20.