By Jennifer Wohlleb
Call it an educational hat trick: one tool that can improve physical health, increase classroom focus and decrease discipline problems.
McLean County’s Livermore Elementary School became the first school in the state to use desk cycles in some of its classes this year, with promising early results. The mini-pedalers fit under student desks and have been used in the reading classes of the fourth/fifth grade during the first grading period and now are in the second grade.
PHOTO: Second-graders in Jan Holbrook’s reading class stay focused on their reading, thanks in part to the use of the mini-cycles under their desks.
“It’s always a big issue over how much break time students get, how much PE they get,” said Livermore Principal Carrie Ellis. “Kids are active – I hate to sit still, kids hate to sit still.”
Livermore also is home to the district’s behavior unit, so in addition to seeking out a tool for students’ health, Ellis also wanted something that could help students who have trouble focusing or behaving in the classroom.
“Those children need activity, a lot of time,” she said. “So I was thinking, we have those students, and we have a lot of children who are struggling with sitting still, just busy, busy kids.”
So, she bought a set of 30 desk cycles and put them in the fourth- and fifth-grade reading class. Teacher Tawna Belk said what she observed during the first nine weeks of the school year was positive.
“I saw an increase in being on task, I saw better behavior from the students who are so fidgety,” she said.
The desk cycles have been in Jan Holbrook’s second-grade reading class since fall break. She said research indicates students who move while learning retain information longer, something she hopes will show up in test scores at the end of the year.
“It really helps with the students who cannot sit still, who want to move around a lot,” she said. “It’s something for them to focus on with their feet. Like a student told me the other day, she really likes the desk cycles because, ‘I’m not fiddling with my shoe strings, or playing with my feet or tapping my feet around. It’s something for me to do so I can focus on my reading.’”
Another second-grader, Jayln Freels, said she likes reading more now and remembers more of what she does read. “I think it’s really fun because it helps me focus on my reading so I’m not looking around the room,” she said.
Holbrook said discipline problems have decreased.
“It’s a way that they can work out their frustration, and even stress,” she said, pointing out a student who was pedaling furiously but was completely intent on the book he was reading. “He’s one who, when we have group (as they move around the room to different activities), he’s rolling on the floor. So this has made a tremendous difference with him because when he was on the floor reading, he was rolling around everywhere. This has really helped him stay focused and stay in one spot. He says that he really loves it, that it helps him. And that’s the biggest clue, when you ask the kids, ‘Do you like them?’ And you ask why, they’ll tell you: they’re making the connection between it and their learning.”
Ellis said it not only keeps students focused on their own tasks, but keeps them from being distractions to others in the class.
“The easiest time to distract a child is when it’s quiet and when they’re trying to read and nothing is going on,” said Ellis, who described herself as hyperactive as a child. “You needed something to keep you busy, and you would be looking for something else to do to keep you busy, or distract everyone else in the process, and that’s a biggie.”
These desk cycles have odometers that track speed, distance and estimated calories burned.
“We’re actually going to take it and tie it to all the different core content classes,” Ellis said. “You can write about it, it’s easy to use it for math, figuring your calories and mileage, distance and time; how far you would go if you were on a real bike, just all kinds of things. It’s easy to tie it to other content areas.”
The McLean County school board also got a taste of the cycles, when it held a board luncheon at Livermore and Ellis placed them under the table where they sat.
Board member Kelly Baird was so struck by them that he called Ellis later to get more information about the project.
“I told her that I was glad to see that she was doing something like this and that I was impressed with what I saw,” he said. “I know it’s providing a health benefit, I hope it’s also translating into a point of focus in helping them with their reading. The proof’s in the pudding. We’ll find out at the end of the year (if it made an impact) … if it’s working that well in that elementary school, then we will want to pursue it in our other elementaries, as well.”
The pedalers will move to the third grade reading class after Christmas break for a complete grading period. There are no plans to move the pedalers in classes below second grade because those students have more movement built into their day, Ellis said. In the meantime, teachers have been documenting the effects the desk cycles are having on their students.
“My hope is, if the documentation is what we think it will be, then we can start putting out some information and maybe do some lesson plans that match up with our bikes and we can maybe get more sent to us, because the first set ran us around $4,500 for about 30 of them,” Ellis said. “We didn’t have any funds available for that, so we had to use ADA money.”