W.Va. students having a ball

January 15, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Most of Dorothy "Dottie" Pownall's fifth-grade students at Orchard View Intermediate School were on the ball Wednesday morning.


Traditional chairs in her classroom have all but been replaced with exercise balls that are being used as a tool to stimulate learning.

"They need movement, and I have several with attention deficit and ... it helps," Pownall said. "And they're more comfortable, they're not flopping all over the chairs, they're not laying on the desks, they can just quietly move without disturbing anybody else."

Purchased last month for $5 each with a $400 grant from the Berkeley County Board of Education, the balls are optional seating, but are preferred by nearly all of the 27 students Pownall said she sees each day.


Rachael Simmerman, 10, of Martinsburg, said her mother has a ball at home for exercise, but Rachael doesn't sit on it.

"We're actually able to bounce if we're having trouble holding still," Rachael said of the classroom ball rules adopted after the items arrived Dec. 15.

"It's a lot better I think," Rachael said of the added comfort and flexibility. "It's pretty cool."

"If I have a hard time paying attention, it helps me a little bit," said Joseph Brand, 11, who didn't appear to bobble on his ball as much as some of the other boys in the class. Most of the girls sat relatively still and most of them sat on purple and pink balls. Most of boys chose blue or yellow balls.

"They're really fun and they keep us on track," said 10-year-old Matthew Mackey. "(Unlike a chair), you can't lean back or you'll fall off. If you fall off, you get your ball taken away."

Bouncing the ball like a basketball versus "light bouncing" will result in suspension of the seating privilege, and students are supposed to keep their feet flat on the floor, Pownall said.

Pownall said she has noticed a positive difference in her students' motivation, focus and posture - all findings of a study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit group medical practice in Rochester, Minn.

"It's not really a new idea," Pownall said of the study, which was announced in 2006 as an anti-obesity project.

The prevalence of obesity among children between the ages of 6 and 11 has more than doubled in the past 20 years, increasing from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 17 percent in 2006, according to the National Center for Chronic Prevention and Health Promotion.

"A lot of people are using them in the workplace, too," Pownall said.

The idea to have ball seating in her class was sparked by a science fair project on how students learn and the subsequent discovery of multiple studies posted on the Internet about them used in schools elsewhere, Pownall said.

The balls are new to Berkeley County Schools, according to county school officials.

Melissa Crowley, Orchard View Intermediate's communication leader, said other students at the school are pushing to have the multicolored balls for their classrooms.

"We like to be the (school staff) that is up on the latest," said Crowley, crediting Pownall for being an innovative teacher. "I can't wait 'til my kids have her."

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