Changing the Learning Environment

Where do you work best? Do you like to stand, sit, lounge or curl up on a cushion? Students like to work in all sorts of places just like adults do. Research indicates that we all learn differently, so why not in different places and in varied environments?

In the Primary School our students are enjoying a variety of learning environments with different types of seating. Classrooms have been rearranged to incorporate a variety of seating options for students and this means that students do not always stay in the same seats for long periods of time and can vary their movement and seating positions throughout the day.

Research has been carried out based on three lines of the thought. Firstly, will it help to improve learning outcomes? Secondly, will it help or assist with behaviour management and student engagement? Finally, will it assist and/or improve the health of our children and give them an opportunity to move more throughout the day?

The results of such research is varied as it has often been carried out with only one of the three main lines of thought in mind. The common thread with the data collected has been in the increase in student engagement and reduced management of off-task behaviours.

A number of years ago standing desks were introduced to Primary classrooms with great success. Over the last few years we have added to the number of standing desks we have in our classrooms, and we have recently introduced movement stools. The theory is that when your body’s engaged, your brain’s engaged, so we are working to create a learning environment that is innovative and engaging without being distracting.

“Just how important is movement to learning? Neurophysiologist Carla Hannaford says the vestibular (inner ear) and cerebral system (motor activity) is the first sensory system to mature. In this system, the inner ear’s semicircular canals and the vestibular nuclei are an information gathering and feedback source for movement. Those impulses travel through nerve tracts back and forth from the cerebellum to the rest of the brain, including the visual system and the sensory cortex.

The vestibular nuclei are closely modulated by the cerebellum and also activate the reticular activating system, near the top of the brain stem. This area is critical to our attention system, since it regulates incoming sensory data. This interaction helps us keep our balance, turn thinking into actions, and coordinate moves. That’s why there is value in playground games that stimulate inner ear motion like swinging, rolling, and jumping. Novel movements shift focus in the brain because it has no memories to rely on for execution. Suddenly we engage the prefrontal cortex and the rear two-thirds of the frontal lobes, particularly the dorsolateral frontal lobes. This is an area of the brain often used for problem solving, planning, and sequencing new things to do and learn.

Research suggests the relationship between movement and learning continues throughout life. We know that exercise (movement) fuels the brain with oxygen, but it also feds it neurotrophins (high-nutrient food) to enhance growth and greater connections between neurons. Students who tip back on two legs of their chairs in class often are stimulating their brain with a rocking, vestibular-activating motion. “  Quote from Mrs Wanke’s teacher website 

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