Grant funds classroom stability balls at Strawberry Park Elementary
Steamboat Springs — When Alexandra Bigras-Masse started teaching at Strawberry Park Elementary earlier this school year, she was looking for a way to bring some movement into a class of energetic first-graders.
In addition to taking breaks during class for movement exercises, Bigras-Masse had another, more innovative, idea to get the students moving.
She applied for an Education Fund Board innovation grant to replace the class set of chairs with child-sized stability balls.
“It’s first grade, and they can’t stop moving,” Bigras-Masse said. “So I was trying to think of ways to direct that energy.”
Bigras-Masse received $1,660 from the Education Fund Board and used the money to purchase enough stability balls for her classroom and one other first-grade class at Strawberry Park.
In her grant application, Bigras-Masse detailed the difficulty of keeping her students focused in traditional classroom chairs.
“We are constantly reminding our students to sit up, display whole body listening, stop moving, stay still, be engaged and stay focused. The poor posture on chairs, which is often caused by lack of core strength, brings upon a lack of engagement and difficulty for students to process new information,” she wrote. “In addition, these long periods of sitting are causing students to seek movement in other ways, which often leads to misbehaving and lack of engagement.”
Moving while learning can help students stay focused and better retain information, in part because of connections happening inside a student’s brain when his or her body is moving, Bigras-Masse said.
Studies suggest a person’s prefrontal cortex, responsible for cognitive functions, and the cerebellum, responsible for motor skills, are linked so that cognitive function is enhanced when motor functions are stimulated, Bigras-Masse said.
“The act of balancing causes these separate parts of the brain to be engaged simultaneously, which allows the brain to process information more easily,” she said.
The balls can also help with posture.
Chairs are still sometimes used in Bigras-Masse’s classroom, and students are always free to choose a chair instead of the stability balls.
“Most of them choose to have a ball,” she said.
Students are asked to keep their feet on the floor and not excessively bounce or play with the balls in a way that becomes distracting, and students are pretty good about following the rules, Bigras-Masse said.
Bigras-Masse said that the stability balls are a good way to incorporate more movement into the learning process, and she is considering adding another seating option next year — one-legged stools.
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