Today’s post is an interview with teacher Adam Aldred, a teacher who has incorporated standing workstations into his classroom. You can find more on Adam below. Detailed instructions on how he built his standing desks can be found here.
Who are you?
I am a grade 10-12 teacher, in a program called Options and Opportunities (O2) in a small town in rural Nova Scotia. This program is specifically designed to give kids a more experiential, hands-on approach to learning and expose them to a wide variety of post-secondary options, and other learning experiences like service-learning, co-operative education, volunteerism, etc.
I absolutely love the material, which covers everything from citizenship to job interview skills, workplace safety to changing flat tires, I love the way it shapes the kids’, and I love how close our little family becomes over the three years they are with me. On any given day you walk into my classroom you are just as likely to see impact guns or measuring spoons in my kids’ hands as you are to see pencils, and I love the pace and the constant state of change. We have a fantastic curriculum, as well as a healthy budget to support our classes, and these pieces offer a lot of flexibility in how I can teach and reinforce concepts.
What started this movement in your classroom to combat sedentary behaviour?
After stumbling onto some initial research on ‘Sitting Disease’, I texted my friend Kerry Copeland who is a youth activity coordinator for Doctor’s Nova Scotia to see if she had heard of it before. She had and directed me to some more research which I happily consumed, and which also left me feeling quite uneasy. Personally, I am a very active individual, but I knew that the same can’t be said for many of my students, and I was quickly learning that even for those who are active too much sitting time can offset any benefits that came from their movement.
At what point did you talk to your students about what you had read?
I thought about it for the weekend, and then on Monday I took the research to my grade 10s. And we talked, hypothesized, and complained about a six-hour school day that almost mandates that the kids ‘sit down and listen up’. One of the big things in our class is that complaining isn’t allowed to be the end of any discussion; you have to own it and try to take steps in the right direction. I asked the students if they would be interested in building and trying out some standing workstations.
How did the students respond to the offer?
They jumped at the opportunity!
That day just happened to be a double period so while they went to lunch I sketched out a basic plan (what I call our alpha model). Our classroom already had OSB tabletops which we had built to snap down over top of three desks to protect them from things like errant screws or hammer swings. I incorporated those tabletops into our alpha design, and when they returned from lunch we dug the 2x4s out of the shed, got out the tools and went to work. By the end of class we had three different-sized, fairly-unsteady models that we would test for the next few weeks.
Did the initial design, the alpha model, stay roughly the same for those few weeks?
Not at all: as we used them we talked about the pros and cons. Over those passing weeks we would take them all apart periodically to modify dimensions in an effort to get an ideal model. [A detailed description of Adam’s standing desks can be found here]
What did you decide for the form of the beta model?
What we came up with in the end was to build a platform underneath one part of the desk so that our shorter students could access the desktop at a height that was more suitable for them. In addition to this, we had learned that while the standing desks were great for listening, reading, and writing, they were far too tall to be used as workbenches, which is an integral part of our class. So in the design of the beta model, the OSB tabletops were left unattached so that they could be easily removed and snapped down over desks, which gives the optimal height for such tasks as sawing, routering, etc.
How much of your classroom desk space is dedicated to the standing work stations?
We have three of the standing workstations, each accommodating three or four students, and we still have seating for 12 people in the room so they have the option to sit if they choose. Many of them say they prefer the standing desk, and I think the majority enjoy that they have the option.
Any further plans with different models?
Our next task will be an attempt to make a variable-height workstation for me at the front of the class; we are just waiting for the special hinges to arrive. Looking ahead, I will also try to come up with some concrete models of two student desk-concepts that include a) a multi-tiered desk that each student could decide how to use depending on the day, and b) a standing setup with a rail to lean back against, allowing the student a number of ways to support their weight all while standing.
How long ago was it that you first began the standing desk project?
We started the standing desk project in November. The beta models have been in use for over two month now.
Have you had any interest or concern from other teachers? Are any thinking of following your lead?
I kind of do my own thing down at the end of a wing of the school that is, right now, only occupied by my classes. This tends to limit the number of other teachers that see my room as there aren’t many random passers-by. From what I can gather the few that have been in seem to think the desks are interesting and a good idea, but I can’t gauge whether they think it is a passing trend/novelty or is actually something that will stick around long-term.
Are there any specific tasks that you’ve found work particularly well when standing?
I find my kids tend to be more open to volunteering help when standing. I am not sure if this is strictly because they’re already up, or that the act of getting out of a chair is labour-intensive, but it seems that when I ask for someone to help out it is almost always a standing student. The standing desks are great for reading/writing/engaging in classroom discussion. They also seem to make the students more likely to engage with their peers in positive social behaviour, and I have wondered if this is because the act of standing naturally positions one’s body in a manner that appears more open and willing to engage. This, however, might be an instance of confounded variables, as those who choose to stand may be a more open, inviting part of the population, or other reasons.
Do you find there to be any tasks that really don’t work well when students are sitting in your classroom?
In regards to seated desks, I find them to really hinder active engagement, both physically and mentally. In the traditional-desked classroom I would often have my students stand up to complete simple 10-second tasks (a dance, a spin, a vocal call back, etc) to get the blood flowing again. It wasn’t until reading the research on sedentary behaviour that I came to fully understanding why this was happening to my students.
It sounds like you are in a somewhat unique teaching environment. Do you think that these solutions would work in a more traditional classroom setting?
I do, but I think the teachers and their students would need to figure out what works in their particular reality.
Have you found the desks to have any impact (positive or negative) on classroom management?
Do you have any thoughts or responses for teachers that might be concerned about going down this road?
I would just say that if your kids are old enough to talk about the research on sedentary behaviour to just throw it out there and see what they think. If the kids are as affected as mine were, they will have all sorts of thoughts and ideas. Also, if you have any questions, or if I can be of help to you please don’t hesitate to email me at Adam.Aldred@tcrsb.ca
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Only that I have fantastic administrators who are very diligent in their attempt to meet our public school mandate of providing a healthier school culture/environment for our students. I would encourage any other educators that are interested in standing workstations for their classroom to get their administration on board as early as possible as they often have a perspective that important and necessary.
Thank you, Adam
My pleasure, thank you for having me, Travis.