Classroom Design

Standing Desks Keep Kids Better Tuned In

Children who stand at their desks instead of sitting stay on task better, according to a new research project by a team at Texas A&M University. The preliminary results suggest that students improve their ability to stay on task by 12 percent. That's the equivalent of gaining an extra seven minutes per hour of instruction time. The research was led by members of the Department of Educational Psychology from the Texas institution as well as a member of the School of Public Health & Information Sciences from the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

Standing desks are taller than the standard ones; in this research project the students had stools nearby so that they could choose to sit or stand at their discretion.

The research looked at the results of an experiment in which 282 participants in grades 2-4 were observed in the fall and spring during one school year. Student engagement was monitored by actions such as answering a question, raising a hand, or participating in discussion, while off-task behaviors included talking out of turn.

Engagement of the "treatment" classrooms was compared with the engagement of "control" classrooms. The researchers noted that both groups showed "general increases in their academic engagement over time," but the difference was greater with the students working at standing desks.

One of the team members, Mark Benden, is a Texas A&M associate professor in the Health Science Center School of Public Health, an ergonomic engineer, and co-founder of a start-up, Stand2Learn, which sells various sizes of stand-up desks and stools. He first became interested in the standing desks as a way to reduce childhood obesity and relieve stress on spinal structures.

He found in previous studies that students who are standing burn 15 percent more calories than those sitting, a count that went up depending on the weight of the child.

He said he wasn't surprised by the latest results, given that previous research had already shown that physical activity, even at low levels, may have beneficial effects on cognitive ability. "Standing workstations reduce disruptive behavior problems and increase students' attention or academic behavioral engagement by providing students with a different method for completing academic tasks (like standing) that breaks up the monotony of seated work," he said in a statement. "Considerable research indicates that academic behavioral engagement is the most important contributor to student achievement. Simply put, we think better on our feet than in our seat."

Benden added that a key takeaway from the research is that schools that put in the standing desks can tackle two problems at the same time: engaging students and childhood obesity.

The latest study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. A report on the experiment was recently published in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.