Brain Research and Balance Balls

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Brain Research and Balance Balls Brain Research and Balance Balls The fourth grade math and science class has implemented the use of balance balls in place of chairs. The…
Brain Research and Balance Balls Brain Research and Balance Balls The fourth grade math and science class has implemented the use of balance balls in place of chairs. The purpose of this project is to apply brain-based research anddetermine if students would benefit from a more natural, comfortable seat that allows for slight movements and better posture. The following discussion will lead you through:
  • Testing the concept
  • Implementing the concept
  • The future
  • TESTING THE CONCEPT How the use of the balance balls came about
  • A strong desire to acknowledge the potential of the students in my classes and respect their learning styles and natural tendencies led me to request two balls through the Wishing Well.
  • By equipping the students with the most appropriate learning environment and tools, each child has the best chance to realize and maximize his or her potential.
  • The belief that children need to be active, and that many are kinesthetic learners, resulted in the implementation of the two balls.
  • TESTING THE CONCEPT How we tested the balls
  • Students began rotating use of the two balls.
  • I encouraged them to provide input, and I recorded my observations.
  • Through anecdotal evidence, I saw that their behaviors and responses correlated with the findings in my research.
  • TESTING THE CONCEPT After conducting our own research, and without being influenced by the research of others,St. John’s fourth graders said:
  • I like them. They’re fun and better than chairs.
  • They’re a creative idea and allow you to express yourself.
  • They help us learn and concentrate.
  • They’re fun, help me concentrate and balance.
  • They help me have better posture.
  • They’re fun and my hair doesn’t get caught in the nails on the chairs.
  • I won’t tip back in my chair and get the legs caught on my friend’s chair.
  • They help me do my work faster.
  • The rolling around on the ball helps me relax and focus better.
  • The balls remind me of my “fidget focuser” that I use at home to help me do my homework.
  • They feel much more natural.
  • They just “fit” and are more comfortable.
  • They help me put my mind at peace and think better.
  • IMPLEMENTING THE CONCEPT How we used our findings
  • I took this idea to my peer focus group on Brain-based Research.
  • The focus group is part of a schoolwide initiative to bring the most current and relevant trends in education into light and practice at St. John’s.
  • After discussing my findings with my group (Trigger Butler, Jeri Case and Thor Herrin), I was encouraged to expand the experiment.
  • Ann Binford and I discussed this project. We shared interest in implementing a naturally integrated classroom tool that would support the needs of students to have gross-motor movement as part of their learning environment. Mrs. Binford supported my request (and the students’ overwhelming request) to implement the balls for the whole class.
  • The administration funded the project and enabled us to put this idea into practice. Mr. Bridges and Mr. Rodriguez have taken time to adjust the desks to make each child comfortable at his or her workspace.
  • IMPLEMENTING THE CONCEPT How we are tracking the project
  • Since the implementation of balls for each student this week, I have been taking copious notes.
  • The most dramatic findings are those that support the research of increased focus and energy. Students are happy, report that class seems shorter, and are undaunted by the presence of the balls. There is less need for me to re-direct students as well. The balls have been a natural fit to our learning environment.
  • Some students tire out on the balls, which points to evidence that core strength is being required and will increase.
  • Some children (one or two per class) choose to trade their ball for a chair. This is done without any judgment from me or their peers.
  • I have noted increased movement on the balls during assessments, possibly pointing to increased adrenaline and need for movement.
  • I have witnessed the students enjoying the process of problem-solving and testing issues related to this “experiment” such as how to contain the balls between classes, how to store the balls at the end of the day, how to set rules and boundaries for their use.
  • IMPLEMENTING THE CONCEPT Balance Ball Rules Two feet must be on the floor at all times in order to balance the balls. (Try to maintain good posture!) 2. Balls are chairs and are never to be thrown, kicked, or played with. Doing this will result in the immediate replacement of your ball with a chair for at least the remainder of class. 3. When lessons are taught, rolling and other small movements on the balls are allowed. You may not bounce in a way that will distract your classmates. 4. If you leave your desk for any reason, you must “capture” your ball in its holder. 5. Have fun sitting on the balls! (You may trade yours for a chair whenever you like.) THE FUTURE How we will we use these findings
  • I will share the results with my focus group.
  • The findings will be posted on our focus group’s Wiki. (Thor Herrin has done a wonderful job managing that for our group.)
  • As a group, we will prepare a presentation of our work and findings for a full-faculty meeting.
  • We will also have the opportunity to hear what the other groups are finding and potentially implement that information as well.
  • A compelling, 12-week study, completed by graduate student, Victoria N. Bill of Marshall, Minnesota, conveys the results of her work with a special-education group of 7th-12th graders.
  • It provides both wonderful primary and secondary research results.
  • Her 76-page paper can be found at:
  • Here are some highlights:
  • “The findings of the study reveal an increase in students’ on-task behavior, plus an achievement increase in fluency, comprehension, addition fact scores, subtraction fact scores, and math probe scores. Furthermore, the study finds stability balls to be socially valid.”
  • “Physical therapists have been using stability balls since 1965 to help their students improve their mobility and to rehabilitate areas of their bodies. Stability balls are now making their way from the therapy rooms to the classrooms. Teachers are hearing anecdotal evidence and reading about studies that show stability balls are helping students focus and make gains in achievement..”
  • Teachers using the stability balls in their classrooms are stating they believe behavior has improved
  • “In Advance for Occupational Therapists, Beth Puliti quoted Jack Bennett, assistant professor of physical therapy at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri as stating that the use of stability balls “has shown that children who sit on the exercise ball have improved writing skills” He continued by saying children have a difficult time sitting for any length of time. Less restrictions and movement “influences cognition and alertness in the classroom” (2007).”
  • Mayo Clinic News (2006) reported that James Levine, professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic and child researcher Lorraine Lanningham-Foster have developed a “classroom of the future.” The key ingredient missing from the typical classroom is the chair. Students learn while kneeling on the floor, sitting on a stability ball, or leaning on a podium. The ongoing study is comparing the student in the regular classroom situation of last year to this year in the classroom of the future.”
  • Mayo Clinic study
  • The Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, is known as one of the top medical centers in the world. Bob Nellis, a member of the clinic, conducted a study on the benefits of “chairless” classrooms, or classrooms that used the balls. Here’s what he said: "Kids move around. They’re supposed to be active." [Heron Marquez Estrada, Star Tribune,, Oct. 27, 2007] Here’s what he found: The study showed that students with attention issues could focus better using the exercise balls for chairs. The balls allowed movement without making noise and disturbing others. The children that require extra movement get the opportunity to do so silently. Read more at Suite101: No More Classroom Chairs: Students Are Sitting On Exercise Balls BACKGROUND INFORMATION Reported benefits of using balance balls 1. Encourages proper spine alignment: Because the ball isn’t stable, you have to use your body’s strength and balance to align yourself. 2. Improves Circulation: Using a balance ball keeps blood flowing to all parts of your body throughout the day….especially your brain! 3. Increases Energy Level: Constantly fidgeting and frequent changes in body position provides more energy and focus. Brooks, Douglas P. “New School Sitting: Exercise Balls in Classrooms and Offices.” July 2009. PFP. BACKGROUND INFORMATION More findings Students at North Trail Elementary School in Farmington, Minnesota have been using balance balls and this is what their teacher and principal are saying: The principal said that “the balls seemed to help students lessen the number of distractions and times in and out of their seats each day.” He also said the “children seem to have much more energy later in the day than they had without them [the balance balls].” The teacher said, “We were looking for on-task time to see if that improved. It shows that there’s a constant physical response going on and having that movement with the ball, and balancing helps them focus. Research shows that, with physical activity, a person’s blood is moving and oxygen is moving and circulating to the brain, producing positive effects. I‘ve seen the benefits of on-task time.” Hildreth, Kara. “School Tests Round Exercise Balls Instead of Chairs.” This Week Online. 28, Dec. 2007.
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