Why standing desks may be the next big thing in classroom seating
Are you sitting down for this? You shouldn’t be, according to the latest research on humans and sitting. The cognitive and physical benefits of standing (and, yes, treadmilling) while working have been embraced in the business world. Could K-12 classrooms be next to stand-up for learning?
Interest is on the Rise
Studies are showing that standing desks help students pay attention, feel more energetic, and fight obesity. Indeed, it’s a convincing case for making these desks more commonplace in the classroom. But will this trend take hold? Interest is growing, according to Nancy Johnson, sales manager with Smith System, a K-12 classroom furniture manufacturer. She’s on the front lines of following research and relaying it to potential buyers of new classroom furniture – school principals, superintendents and architects.
“When I first started talking about standing desks two years ago, people were shocked. But when I describe the benefits of using these desks to boost classroom performance and combat kids’ sedentary lifestyles, school administrators say, ‘It makes sense. Let’s do that.’” Johnson now designs a classroom with a minimum of three desks capable of reaching standing height. She expects to see that number grow.
“I’m seeing more schools who want the option. Standing desks aren’t taking over classrooms yet, but the administration knows they should be thinking about them. I encourage a mixture of sit-down and stand-up desks to get those students moving.”
Johnson recommends placing standing desks and café-height tables with stools throughout school spaces – in classrooms and common areas. She’s a big believer that every inch of a school should be a learning space. “I like to place stand-up height tables and stools anywhere that has potential. At the end of empty hallways, outside multi-purpose areas and school offices, and empty spaces near stairwells. Adding a power source makes those areas perfect spots to collaborate, study, or charge a device.”
What Students Want
Mark Brendan, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Texas A&M University, started a study in 2011 on standing desks. In the pilot study, researchers equipped four first-grade classrooms with standing desks that came with a stool. The teachers and students were told about the desks and given no specific instructions. After six weeks, 70 percent of the students never used their stools, and the other 30 percent stood the majority of the time. Monica Wedel, co-author of the study, reported on the findings.
“What we found was that most students want to be standing. They don’t want to sit still. It’s against their nature. We [adults] are the ones who teach them to be sedentary.”
Younger students aren’t the only ones eager to stand up for learning. Teens also respond to standing (although they may not admit it.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded a study this past January on standing desks. It offered Bryan Collegiate High School in Bryan, Texas, the choice to replace traditional desks with standing desks. Thirteen classrooms accepted, with noticeable results in students’ ability to pay more attention. The school’s principal, Christina Richardson, witnessed the difference.
“The kids who would normally be slouched down, half-asleep or fidgeting in their chair, were now standing up and paying attention.” Other sources confirm that teachers, too, are noticing students pay more attention, are more alert, and behave better with the higher desks. It seems to be a win-win.
Benefits Of Standing Desks For Students
The Cognitive Benefits
Standing throughout the day increases blood circulation and, thus, alertness. It provides a sense of urgency to focus and gets thing done. Adults in the workplace report increased productivity when standing. Likewise, children, no matter their age, pay more attention when they aren’t sitting for long periods of time.
The Ohio Education Association reports that research by the Mayo Clinic and at the University of Minnesota indicates that, by allowing students to move and channel their energy during class, standing desks may help students stay more alert and feel more energetic. Burning off energy by standing up and moving around may also reduce behavior problems. Other potential benefits associated with stand-up learning include improved behavior and learning for ADHD students.
The Physical Benefits
It’s a given that students (and teachers) who stand burn more calories than those who primarily sit. That’s a big deal, considering the current state of childhood obesity. The CDC-funded study in Texas reported that students in standing-desk classrooms who chose to stand for most of the class period expended 11 more calories per hour and 300 more per week than their sitting peers. More important was that heavier children – those in the 85th percentile for weight based on age and gender – burned 32 more calories than when sitting. Plus, better metabolic health leads to more alertness and engagement.
Alice Park, in a recent article in TIME magazine, reported on how all-day sitting hurts our bodies. She interviewed Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative (inventor of the first treadmill desk). He says, “In the same way that standing up is an oddity, sitting down should be.” Why? The article explains how the human body is designed to move, and a moving body is a needy body, siphoning off the calories we consume. Sitting slows the whole process. A body gets “bored with not being called into duty.” Standing desks also promote better posture and core muscle strength.
The advancing chatter on standing desks in K-12 education has made classroom furniture manufacturers take notice. For years, many have offered traditional desks that manually adjust (with tools or manual push buttons on each leg) to accommodate height ranges in students. Now, those heights have grown.
Smith System offers highly durable desks that can adjust from 22 inches for young learners, up to 45 inches for older students and teachers. In their Lift Desk series, a removable hand crank allows easy height adjustment, meaning the desk can fit to the individual or be used in multiple situations that would benefit from sitting or standing desk heights. The manual crank helps keep costs and maintenance low versus the electric or pneumatic versions. The company also offers desks with simple push buttons on desk legs that students can easily manage. In a collaborative classroom environment, Johnson suggests pairing a 24” stool with a fixed-height 34” desk, giving students the choice to sit or stand while not interrupting classroom site-lines (which can happen when some students are sitting and others are standing).
Optional add-ons can include casters for mobility, power sources, storage bins, backpack hooks and foot rests. Smith opts not to include the latter (foot rests), to prevent entanglement and make classroom maintenance easier for custodians.
According to Johnson, multimedia tables are now moving to stand-up height, as are presentation tables with built-in flat screens. Combining the benefits of standing with connectivity is a big nod toward 21st Century learning. Students need to experience how to research, solve a problem and present to a larger group. Their furniture needs to accommodate these learning milestones.
With all of that at your fingertips, who’d want to take a seat?
SELECTED SOURCES“NeoCon Wrap Up” Interior Design, August 2014. “Standing Desks Fighting Obesity, Boosting Attention Spans in More US Classrooms” by Benjamin Fearnow, CBS Houston, August 28, 2014. “Standing desks: The classroom of the future?” by Julie Deardorff, www.chicagotribune.com/news, August 7, 2012. “Stand Up for Learning,” Ohio Education Association, www.ohea.org/stand-up-for-learning. “Stand Up for Yourself” by Alice Park, TIME, Sept. 8 – 15, 2014.