Students and teachers at Our Redeemer Lutheran School bounced into the school year, swapping their chairs for big, colorful exercise balls in a research-backed effort to incorporate movement into classroom lessons.
Principal Mary Irish said the balls provide an innocuous outlet for students' energy, helping fidgety kids pay attention to lessons.
"They're just creating movement that allows them to wiggle and giggle, and yet get some things done," she said, adding that the balls can help improve balance, posture and core muscle strength.
Movement can boost learning
Besides letting kids bounce away nervous energy, adding movement during lessons could make class time more effective. Initial findings from neuroscience researchers like John Almarode, a doctoral student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, show that movement and lesson-themed activities can help students pay better attention and remember more of what they have learned.
Almarode spoke at a summer in-service organized by Lutheran Special School and Educational Services. The program focused on incorporating movement, music and art into teaching. Staff from Our Redeemer attended the in-service, aimed at coaching teachers on how best to engage special education students.
Irish borrowed Almarode's ideas for a staff training session, giving each teacher an exercise ball to use in place of a chair. Teachers liked the idea and took the balls into their classrooms, and have been incorporating them into the school day by allowing each student to take a turn.
Kids use balls responsibly
Nan Burger, a sixth-grade teacher, said each student uses the ball in her classroom in a different way. Some bounce slightly while reading, others slowly roll from side to side.
Denise Kegley, a second-grade teacher, started using an exercise ball in her classroom last year.
"It's helped out, I think, a whole lot," she said.
So far, students have resisted the temptation to turn the ball into a distraction, Burger and Kegley said. The students wait for their turn with the exercise ball, and are careful not to lose it by misbehaving.
In addition to the exercise balls, Burger and other Our Redeemer teachers have been finding other ways to use movement, art and music in their lessons. Burger described one activity that combines movement with a lesson about peer pressure.
Irish said she hopes this type of teaching will become more common at the school.
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