It has become an often-repeated mantra that kids need more physical movement in their school day in order to be more focused and channel their enviable energy in a positive direction. But how to achieve this? At Socrates Academy, teachers and administrators are always thinking of ways to incorporate movement, beyond the roughly 25-minute block allotted for recess.
Ashley Aragona, a fifth-grade homeroom and math teacher, always knew that she wanted to create a classroom where students could have more freedom of movement. Last year, her wish came true when the Parent-Faculty Involvement Association (PFI) granted her request for stability ball chairs and standing tables with about $1,100 in funds. Those funds came from a TUG, which stands for Teach Unique Grant, money raised by the PFI that can be used to bring truly innovative ideas into the classroom. The ball seats, along with some cube seats, made their appearance in Ms. Aragona’s classroom this fall.
Ms. Aragona could not have been happier to see her vision come to life through the grant. The PFI officers were wonderful, she said. “They loved the idea and really stood behind what I wanted to incorporate in the classroom.” As for the PFI, what caught their eye was Ms. Aragona’s “unparalleled attention to detail,” said Jessica Daniel, who has served as Co-Historian on the PFI for the past three years. It was thoroughly researched and thought out, Ms. Daniel said. “What I appreciated most was her willingness to look at "outside the box" ideas to support alternative learners. I have a child who struggles with focus so this hit home for me.”
Ms. Daniel said she has worked with many teachers in the Charlotte metropolitan area, from elementary to high school. She sees too many who are “content with the status quo,” she said. “At the end of the day, the teachers like Ms. Aragona, that put that kind of effort into challenging the status quo, are the teachers that shine.”
It isn’t a novel idea in education, but Ms. Aragona’s is the first classroom at Socrates Academy to use stability ball seating. Ms. Aragona, who has also worked as a physical education teacher, said she fell in love with the idea of ball seating when she attended a professional development conference on movement in the classroom. “As I made my switch into the classroom,” she said, “I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted that type of classroom environment.”
She said that having the ball seating as an option has created a more positive and student-directed classroom environment. “Last year,” she said, “students would come in and get right to work at their assigned desk. This year, students come in and make it their learning space in picking their "chair" or space they want to work in. They get to move where they are comfortable working during rotation work.”
Students can choose between a stability ball, stools, cube, or even a beach chair. Ms. Aragona said they also get to pick between a table counter or desk for their own working area. “Everyone's learning space looks different,” she said, “and that is what I love!” Every fifth grader gets a chance to rotate through her classroom for math class.
So does the presence of the chairs translate into improved academic performance? Ms. Aragona said that she was hoping it would help with focus and concentration to improve test scores. And indeed, she has seen more on-task behavior and fewer missing assignments. “Overall,” she said, “on the in-class quizzes and assessments, there have been a fewer number of failing grades and corrections that need to be made.”
That sounds like a win all around, but what do the kids think? Asked to describe the ball chairs in one word, students replied with great enthusiasm:
“Awesome!” (This was said numerous times).
“Stressful.” Stressful? I asked. Well, explained one young man, “the balls are kind of big, and sometimes I feel like I’m sliding off.” Sounds like a good core workout to me, and who couldn’t use a little more of that? In any case, there is enough freedom of choice in Ms. Aragona’s classroom to please everybody.