Twisting, Leaning and Rocking to Learn

I am a big believer in needing to move to concentrate (referred to previously here). I am a doodler, I listen best while doodling. Some students in my classes need to rock and swivel or create some kind of rhythmic movement to concentrate. Here is what I have been learning about the need to move to concentrate.

The Hypothesis

Students will have an increased concentration and greater learning effect if allowed to twist, roll, and rock while seated.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.47.22 AM

The Science

Activating neurotrophin hormones:

“If someone is getting bored and you ask him to stand up and do an exercise where his vestibular system, the balance system, is challenged – for example, standing on one foot – after 5-10 seconds he will be able to concentrate afterward. When you relate this to a child who starts to rock on a chair, that rocking stimulates the vestibular system too. We have found that stimulating the balance system activates special hormones, such as neurotrophin, that have a tremendous effect on brain activity.”

-Dr. Dieter Breithecker, expert on the relationship between ergonomic design in school furniture and the physical development of school children

Oxygen to the brain:

Dynamic seating (furniture that lets students twist, lean and rock) allows for more movement which creates greater blood circulation. This means more oxygen is arriving at the brain, making concentration easier.

Gymnastic balls

A Case Study (Dordel/Breithecker 2003)

Three groups of classes were equipped in the following way:

  1. non-adjustable, non-dynamic furniture
  2. non-adjustable chair-desk combinations, free swinging chairs, non-inclinable desk tops
  3. height-adjustable chair-desk combinations, inclinable tabletops, rolling/swivel chairs with rocking mechanisms

The Results

The third group (the rocking, swiveling and rolling group) triggered far-above average levels of concentration. Concentration actually increased as the day progressed. While in the first group concentration decreased.

Click on the Figure below to see the full study

Concentration-performance value

The Final Word from Maria Montessori:

“The task of an educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.”

What We Already Know

Play is the answer to how anything new comes about. – Jean Piaget

Where do we get our ideas? Jonathan Drori (TED Talk “What We Think We Know“) says:

Children get their ideas not from teachers, as teachers often think, but actually from common sense, from experience of the world around them, from all the things that go on between them and their peers, and their carers, and their parents, and all of that. Experience.

Our Grade 3 students are inquiring into forces. As they experiment with inclined planes and friction, gravity and inertia, pushes and pulls, I realize that the students already inherently ‘know’ all about Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion because, for the last 9 years of their lives, they have being playing with cars, balls, buckets of water, and engaging in running games with each other.

We don’t need to teach them these laws.   They are already applying and proving these laws daily. They are experts. So, what is it that we want to get into the students’ heads about the laws of motion? I am not a physics teacher. I am learning with the students as we experiment and play with the laws. So, I need to be careful what I plan to ‘get into their heads.’

Drori warns us, paraphrased from Cardinal Wolsey,:

Be very careful what you get into people’s heads because it’s virtually impossible to shift it afterwards.

Maybe we don’t need to teach them. Maybe we can, instead,  provide them the opportunity to consider what they already know and provoke them with the question:

What cool things can you do using Newton’s Laws of Motion?

Show me.

And let them fly.

May 2013 update: During Grade 3 unit on forces we introduced Rube Goldberg machines to the students. My colleague, John Rinker, blogged about the success of allowing kids to create ‘cool things’ like Rube Goldberg machines here.