Q&A: Student Standing Desks for SPED

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During the recent live Standing Desks: How and Why Educators Are Using Them webinar, listeners had an opportunity to pose questions about how standing desks can help create a healthy, flexible, and personalized learning environment. (If you missed the webinar, access it online at edWeb and earn a CE credit!)

Here, co-presenter Bob Hill addresses an important question that a number of educators have on their minds.

Q: DO STANDING DESKS WORK FOR SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS?

A: Research at the ATTAIN Tech Lab in New Hope, MN, suggests it does. SPED students were encouraged to stand for at least five minutes every half hour. Simple movement may increase focus, concentration, work quality, and overall behavior for students with cerebral palsy, autism spectrum, developmental coordination, emotional and behavioral disorders. Watch a video of an interview with an ATTAIN educator or read the scientific journal article: Sit, Stand, Learn.

While Ergotron desks are not officially ADA-certified, educators find that both the LearnFit and TeachWell® mobile adjustable workstations help level the playing field for many students with physical challenges. For example, students in wheelchairs can wheel right up to the desk and engage more easily with peers while participating in group projects.

You can also access last year’s  School Moves! webinar on-demand – it focuses mainly on the metabolic health and engagement aspects of an active classroom. (CE credit is available.)

Bob Hill,
Education Manager at Ergotron
@LearnFit_Bob#schoolsthatmove

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Q&A: Can school children stand for hours?

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Q: Is it difficult for students to stand for hours, such as in a lab doing typing exercises? – “School Moves” webinar chat question

A: Studies show that introducing low-level activity into the classroom has a positive impact on student health, focus, and performance. So we know movement like standing during lab time can be a positive experience. We also know that kids like to move. However, since all kids are not created equal, it is unlikely that they could stand for very long periods without some distraction and discomfort creeping in if their legs started to fatigue.

Should we ask them to stand for hours? No. While individual tolerance for standing longevity may vary, giving kids options to rest periodically as needed is a wiser solution overall. Creating an environment where they can make the decision themselves to sit or stand would be ideal, as long as it wasn’t disruptive to sight lines or the overall flow of the lesson. Otherwise, directed sit or stand changes could be woven into the lesson plan, or offered from the teacher at regular intervals, i.e., every 30 minutes.

One of the benefits of the self-moderated sit or stand actions by students is that they get to gauge their energy levels in a more personal way. One student from a school we spoke with said when math class rolls around, she stands since she knows she might be tired after lunch and she wants to ensure she has increased concentration during a complex subject.

Depending on how the lab is structured, considering tall stools paired with standing height tables or an adjustable standing solution might be appropriate. Or, using height-adjustable sit-stand workstations with a standard chair. Other factors like creating workstations for variable height users may impact length of standing comfort as well. If a tall child has to use a shorter table, or a shorter student has to use a too tall table, comfort erodes.

Good or bad ergonomics can also play a part in overall comfort. If students are in a dedicated computer or typing lab for an entire class period, there are a different set of ergonomic guidelines that should be followed. Because of prolonged repetitive motion, you will need to be particularly attentive to wrist angles, elbow angles, and monitor height.

To find out more about the benefits of a sit-stand classroom, check out our “School Moves!” webinar at edWeb, a resource for educators.

 

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Bob Hill
Education Manager at Ergotron
@LearnFit_Bob
#schoolsthatmove

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Scientific concept: learning and movement linked

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This is the first in our new series on scientific concepts that explain why standing and moving leads to greater health and mental focus, in the classroom and the workplace.

The part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning. Peter Strick and his staff at the Veterans Affairs in Syracuse, NY have traced a pathway from the cerebellum back to parts of the brain involved in memory, attention, and spatial perception. Our brain predicts – or thinks about – our movements before we execute them so that we control them better. Motor activity is preceded by a quick thought process that sets goals, analyzes variables, predicts outcomes and executes movements. This requires widespread connections to all sensory areas of the brain.

Ordinary, non-disruptive activity – such as standing and shifting weight slightly – plays a major role in maintaining body weight, caloric intake, overall health. In addition, low-level movement also ensures better brain function.

For more information about movement and thinking, check out research on the science of sitting and standing.

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Mismatch of furniture and students leads to back pain

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It’s one thing to hear that a large percentage of adults experience back pain on the job at a cost of billions of dollars in medical fees, drugs and lost time at work each year. We’ve come to expect back pain that stems from improper lifting techniques, engaging in “weekend warrior” activities and the simple act of growing older. But did you know that children suffer from back pain, and that the reports of this issue have been rising for at least a decade?

So what’s driving the rate of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among our children?

While the many of the factors that contribute to back pain among adults also apply to young people, who face specific risks that should concern parents, schools and the medical community.

Children and adolescents spend a great part of their day at school sitting on chairs at desks that are the wrong size for their bodies. In addition, it is not uncommon to see a classroom filled with furniture that is mismatched. Chair seats are often too high or too low for the desk heights that they have been paired with. This isn’t to say that instructors are not sensitive to the dimensional differences of their students. But there is a noted lack of ergonomic guidance for educational institutions to depend on.

To complicate the matter further, children are more sedentary and less physically active than health professionals and government agencies recommend. The combination of too much sitting and poorly designed or misfitting furniture is a recipe for disaster in the form of MSDs. Case in point: deformation due to increased stress on spinal structures, as reported by multiple researchers.

In a recent ergonomics study by scientists at the University of Lisbon, 58% of children surveyed reported back pain at least one day during a three month period. (The cross-section of nearly 140 students ranged in age from 12 to 14.) Assessments of the furniture used by the children found that they were sitting on chairs and working at desks that were too high for them. The data also reflected that a large difference between desk height and elbow height was significantly associated with the occurrence of upper back pain. The discomfort lasted after the school day was over.

The researchers found that sedentary physical activity had a significant association with the occurrence of back pain in girls. Note that, as compared to the boys, the girls in this study did not practice the recommended 60 minutes per day of moderate physical activity and had a sedentary life style. And finally, as you might expect, the frequency of back pain was shown to increase with the ages of the children being studied.

Surprisingly, the researchers said the results showed no correlation between back pain and backpack weight or body mass index.

Regardless of the causes, and the complexity of their associations, students who experience fatigue and pain while at school are challenged to achieve their primary goal: focus to learn. Unfortunately, research has shown that the poor posture and activity habits described in these youths will follow them into adulthood when they will be even harder to break.

What is the answer? First, more research, but in the meantime, efforts should be made to limit exposure by focusing on the school environment. Ergonomic principles must be considered by administrators in order to minimize musculoskeletal problems that may result from unsuitable furniture design.

At a minimum, classroom furniture must fit the needs of children and adolescents at all stages of development from late elementary school through college. Better yet, it should be universal, adjustable, mobile and designed with input from children and adults, teachers and parents.

Take a look at our LearnFit standing desk and other efforts to support healthier classrooms and more engaged students.

carrie s_a-hr

– Carrie Schmitz, Sr. Manager of Ergonomic & Wellness Research at Ergotron (@giveafig)

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The importance of pilot studies in research, part 3

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In the years since we started investigating sedentary behavior, Ergotron has supported independent research with our WorkFit or LearnFit products as the primary intervention. Breaking up sitting time with our sit-stand desks has proven to be beneficial in every one of the over 20 completed studies.

The ATTAIN pilot study of this series (see parts 1 & 2) was no exception. LearnFit adjustable standing desks improved outcomes at a Minneapolis work-experience lab where students with special needs receive training in computer skills.

In this video, I interview Bruce Holder of the ATTAIN Technology Lab about the lab’s experience with these alternative workstations.

It’s astounding that something as simple as standing could make such a notable improvement in a classroom. And we might never have known it without this small, unique pilot study. What’s the mechanism that allows a sit-stand desk to boost a student’s ability to perform and behave and what are the implications for adults?

The answer lies in the way that bones, blood, and brain function in concert. As Bruce explains in the video, all teenagers have a lot of energy and need to move around. Changing positions also helped students reduce boredom and stay engaged in routine, repetitious activities.

This is what we know so far about breaking up prolonged sitting:

1. Sitting time decreases,

2. Positive mood states elevate,

3. Back pain is either reduced or eradicated,

4. HDL (high density lipoprotein cholesterol) increases,

5. Blood sugar drops,

6. Concentration improves,

7. Triglycerides fall.

Our bodies, brain included, depend on movement. When we don’t move, our metabolism slows to a stop, with major repercussions for every other system of your body. Move it or lose it. That’s the bottom line.

carrie s_a-hr

– Carrie Schmitz, Sr. Manager of Ergonomic & Wellness Research at Ergotron (@giveafig)

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The importance of pilot studies in research, part 2

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See part 1 here

When Ergotron chose to support the ATTAIN pilot study about the impact of using LearnFit adjustable standing desks in a computer lab for special needs students, we didn’t know what to expect. Would we get clear results? Would they be transfer to other populations? And mostly, would they be dismissed because of the small sample size?

For this Sit-Stand Action Research Project, researchers randomly assigned 13 ATTAIN Technology Lab students to intervention and comparison groups or a 40-day period. The intervention group received sit‐to‐stand units which enabled them to easily alternate between sitting and standing. Students were encouraged to stand for at least five minutes every 30 minutes, but could opt to stand longer. The comparison group of two students continued to work at traditional sit-only desks.

Here’s what the research discovered:
> Students in the intervention group showed notable improvement in their quality of work over the course of the project, unlike the comparison group.
> Additionally, their behavior improved over the course of the project. (For the comparison group, behavior either remained the same or worsened.)

My primary concern was that the students’ learning challenges were far too variable to provide clear results. I was uncertain that the students, even with guidance from their instructors, would be able to maintain a sit-stand cycle sufficient to impact behavior and performance. My fears were unfounded.

I was further encouraged when the study was published in 2014 by the American College of Sports Medicine in their HEALTH & FITNESS JOURNAL, VOL. 19/ NO. 1.

In that article, Sit, Stand, Learn Using Workplace Wellness Sit-Stand Results to Improve Student Behavior and Learning the authors Nicolaas P. Pronk, PhD, and Abigail S. Katz, PhD, identified prolonged sitting time as a risk factor for various negative health outcomes including metabolic syndrome and obesity. They propose breaking up extended periods of sitting with intermittent standing as a promising solution and point to an emerging body of research suggesting that doing so improves emotional health, such as mood, as well.

This simple pilot study elegantly demonstrates that our bodies and minds are not separate entities that function independently of each other — something we’ll examine more closely in a later post.

Knowing that “sitting disease” is a growing public health issue, Ergotron has supported independent researchers around the world. They represent many disciplines, from ergonomics to epidemiology, sports medicine to psychology and all are united in a single goal: to reduce the harmful effects of sedentary behavior and by improving health, to optimize performance. In the last five years Ergotron has supported this research with donations of sit-stand desks.

In every one of those studies, breaking up sitting time has proven to be beneficial in every one of the completed sit-stand studies. How is that possible?

In part 3 of this series, I will detail how Ergotron’s research delves into sedentary living and its effect on human health and performance.

carrie s_a-hr

– Carrie Schmitz, Sr. Manager of Ergonomic & Wellness Research at Ergotron (@giveafig)

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