Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sit Still and Stop Learning?

I attended a presentation by Dr. Dieter Breithecker at Fanning/Howey Inc. on October 22, 2010. Dr. Breithecker studies the complexity of movement and its relationship to learning. The focus of the presentation was on Ergonomics in the School Environment. I think as educators we are aware of the difficulty students have remaining seated for long periods of time. Specifically, the research states the elementary students can only remain seated for 5-10 minutes, adolescents for 20 minutes and adults for only about 30 minutes. I believed this to be true in the context of attention span. However, the length of time a person sits and the particular way they are sitting, directly impacts the ability to learn and retain knowledge.

When posture is discussed, sitting upright with the knees pointed slightly outward provides the best lower back support and opportunity for the diaphragm to expand easily. The human body cannot remain in that position for long and will eventually slouch, thereby creating discomfort in the lower back and compromise the abdomen and the performance of the internal organs. This same experience can be recreated when students are sitting in static chairs and are asked to work at a table. The optimum seating when at a table would provide for movement in the pelvic area so when you lean forward the angle that is created between the upper body and lower body is the same as when seated upright.

Studies have shown that when the body is receiving messages via multiple sensors (eyes, ears, touch, smell, and sound) the more learning is taking place. Not a new concept. However, Dr. Breithecker stated that there is yet one more sensor that increases the ability to learn more than the others listed above, and that is activating the muscles and joints in the body. It is the body’s natural instinct to move. Our ancestors were always moving. We teach our babies to crawl, walk and then run and then we teach them to “sit still” when they get to school. There are physical and biochemical reasons why people cannot sit still. How can we incorporate movement in the learning process? Can educators be OK with students standing, sitting, lying, and walking around the classroom at various points during a lesson? Can we create lessons that provide for such movement? If we know that movement creates stronger synapses in the brain, why do we want our kids to sit still in class?