Right away, teacher Kirsten Morgan noticed a change in her students’ behavior when their standard desk chairs were swapped with exercise ball chairs and balance boards.

 

Instead of chatting or becoming distracted, the 25 seventh graders bounced, balanced and rocked while calmly doing their work. In three weeks with the new equipment, which she calls “learning tools,” her English class hasn’t had one behavior problem, Morgan said.

“That was kind of an eye-opener for me,” said Morgan, who teaches at St. Michael Catholic School in Prior Lake. “I think it’s that excess energy that they have to get out.”

Morgan has her students complete a learning style inventory when school begins. This year, more than 40 percent of students said they were kinesthetic, or physical, learners -- the highest number she’d seen in 20 years of teaching, she said.

After seeing a video online of kids using treadmills and elliptical machines during classes, she learned that research shows students who use their muscles while learning have better outcomes, she said.

A grant from the Laker Educational Foundation allowed Morgan to buy a variety of new furniture and equipment, including stools, Bosu trainers, ball chairs, balance disks and balance boards, which look like skateboards on top of a cylinder. Now, when kids show up to class, they scurry in to pick which “learning tool” they'll use.

Morgan is surveying her students to see how well the tools work, she said, and responses are positive. Next, she wants to look at test scores to see if they’ve gotten a boost, she said.

She believes what her class is doing will catch on more broadly in schools.

“I’ve been in education for 20 years and things ebb and flow,” she said. “I do think this is the next big thing.”