Mayo Clinic researchers have designed a chairless classroom that they say may cut down on childhood obesity even as it helps children focus on learning and being happier in school.
“We know that a major culprit behind obesity is a lack of physical activity,” says Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic obesity researcher who has studied the connection between everyday movement and weight.
Levine wondered if a different type of classroom could encourage movement, and ultimately, reduce the risk of obesity. Earlier this year, Levine and Mayo Clinic colleagues put the notion to the test. They designed what they believe is the first classroom without chairs using a range of creative and mobile tools. Each student had a “standing desk” on wheels that could easily move around the classroom. Apple loaned wireless notebook computers and iPods, which students used in regular learning activities.
My high school chemistry class had high tables and stools for students to sit at. The experiments were done at these tables or at the high counters along the walls. Each student had a table and lab partner — except for me. I sat alone at the front of the class at a low table about a yard from the chalk board.
When we had experiments, I joined some duo, peering at what they worked on with the project at my eye level. There was no way I could participate hands-on, particularly when volatile chemicals were used. A few experiments I could do at my low table. Alone. Where I didn’t have the camaraderie of teamwork that the other students all enjoyed.
Similar to my chemistry classroom furniture, many restaurants now feature tall tables and stools for guests. Some busy lunchtime cafes even have wall-hugging counters with no chairs at all so workers can stand and eat — part of the hurried lunch break of American work culture. By law, these establishments have to provide accessible wheelchair seating. I don’t know what the exact occupancy ratio is, but frequently this means one or two normal-height tables in a corner somewhere for the likes of me — if the place is ADA-compliant. A similar problem exists in bars, and restaurants that have lots of booths.
When an environment is apportioned out so that, by furniture design, wheelchair users are excluded from most of the space and all that space creates a social environment as high or higher than the wheelchair user’s eye-level, the exclusion can be keenly felt. It’s spatial discrimination, really. There’s a place for you, but you can only stay in your place since the rest of the environment is designed in a way that is not usable.
It’s fundamentally different from seating at, say, a stadium or theater where wheelchair access seating must be integrated into the whole floor plan. It may not be optimum seating — in fact, it rarely is, since building owners can make more money keeping the premium seats wheelchair inaccessible — but there’s the potential for everyone present to be seated, more or less equally. (Nondisabled people standing at concerts and giving wheelchair users only butts to look at from their equally-expensive seats is another topic for another day.)
I like the idea of classrooms where the furniture is all mobile and teaching allows for movement and more dynamic and varied gatherings of students, but if classroom furniture begins to be designed for the standing student, the sitting ones will be even more excluded spatially. The mobile part would be excellent — more room for wheelchairs to get around. But furniture for standing students raises the plane of classroom conversation over the wheelchair user’s head.
The ADA doesn’t account for perceptual/conceptual discrimination of this kind so there would be no legal recourse, as far as I know. I’m all for making classroom learning a more comfortably physical experience. Perhaps there’s some way to copy what I’m told is a West Point custom: students who feel in danger of falling asleep during lectures are encouraged to get up and stand in the back of the classroom, promoting activity to focus attention. At least that’s voluntary.
Article via Amy Tenderich at Diabetes Mine
Crossposted at The Gimp Parade