Wriggle While You Work
by Colleen Blaine
Elementary school children are busybodies and staying still is a challenge. They move their legs, turn in their seats and put their head on their desks when they are bored. Their teachers have the challenge of developing strategies to combat and control these distractions in the classroom. The Activity in School-Aged Children Creative Inquiry project does just that by examining how physical activity affects behavior and performance in children.
Drs. Jennifer Bisson, June Pilcher and Sarah Sanborn in the Department of Psychology are collaborating with a team of students as they define and code observational data to help understand classroom behaviors. Their main goal is to observe how Bouncybands®, an innovative classroom tool that doubles as a toy, might allow for discreet student movement and increased focus throughout the day. These thick tension bands attach to the bottom of a school chair or desk legs, allowing the students to stretch their legs and release excess energy.
To test their hypothesis that Bouncybands® affect classroom behavior, the team analyzed the attentiveness of third and fourth graders attending an afterschool program. These students were given a written comprehension assignment as well as a Bouncyband® and were videorecorded. The Creative Inquiry students monitored these 20-minute video recordings, checking every 15 seconds for off-task behavior.
Many elementary school students who struggle to stay focused typically engage in three types of off-task behaviors: passive (not looking at the assignment); verbal (talking to others); and motor (playing with something on the desk). Hanna Wagner Kent, a junior psychology major, originally thought she wanted to be a teacher, but this project has pushed her more towards occupational therapy and working with special needs children. “There needs to be more ways for kids to learn and wiggle while they work. They have so much energy, and figuring out how to deal with that when they’re little is important,” Kent said. Her work within this project is specifically related to body orientation (the direction the child is facing while sitting), classified as a passive behavior.“Some of them are just all over the place,” Kent said, “It can be pretty entertaining [to watch them]!”
Each researcher must be detail-oriented, as not to miss any focus gaps in the student’s actions. Creative Inquiry team members must double check the original coder’s work. This is called reliability coding, and it helps eliminate any unconscious bias. Overall, the team’s findings show that students who exhibit more passive off-task behaviors at the beginning of the study benefit most from the Bouncybands®.
This Creative Inquiry team’s findings suggest that Bouncybands® are more than just a fun activity for kids. “Everything can be a tool or a toy, especially when it comes to the classroom setting,” Bisson said. Often, staying focused can be difficult for elementary school students, but in the Activity in School-Aged Children Creative Inquiry project, kids can feel free to wriggle while they work.
Barbara J. Speziale