“If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was doing, you would probably design something like a cubicle. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over” 

John Medina, Brain Rules


During the second half of the last school year, I was lucky enough to collaborate with our Middle School science team on redesigning their teaching space. Our initial prototype involved removing all chairs from the science rooms for a four week period. Our plan was to collect data and use observation to determine the success of the prototype, with a particular focus on standings affect on cognitive function, and proceed accordingly.

The initial four week prototype of a standing classroom revealed:

  • Students adjust to standing. Over 70% of students said that they found it much easier to work at a standing desk in week 4 when compared to week one.
  • Increased concentration and focus. Just over 50% of students said they found it easier to concentrate while working at a standing desk. Teachers also noted that many students, particularly boys, were able to focus for longer while standing to work.
  • So much more space. Removing chairs from the teaching spaces opened up a lot more space. which the science teachers thought was particularly handy when conducting experiments.
  • A standing only classroom wasn’t feasible. Although the science teachers loved the increased focus of students and extra space, they found there were times when students needed to be able to sit.

Moving forward, it was decided that the chairs would not be returning to the classroom, but that the space would be redesigned to incorporate standing, sitting and floor based options. This would give the teachers the flexibility to use their space in a variety of ways and adapt to the type of lesson and type of work the students are doing.

Standing, sitting and floor based options each have advantages that and can be used by the teacher in specific teaching scenarios, for example:

  • Standing desks. Mostly used when giving instructions or when the students are completed a practical lab. Some students are beginning to choose to stand even when they have the choice to sit.
  • Bench seating. Bench seats were installed along the walls of the room. This is primarily used when students are working independently or in small groups. Also used when watching material of the TV in class.
  • Floor seating. Mats were placed on the floor to help make sitting on the floor a more comfortable option. Some students choose to work on the floor vs sitting on a bench or standing at a desk. Floor option is often used by teacher for group discussions.

Along with collecting data and keeping students informed throughout the process, we also worked to help students understand some of the cognitive benefits of standing while working. This helped to develop student ‘buy in’ and create an environment where standing in science class is a part of the culture and fabric of our school.

The original standing desk prototype article can be found here: Future Forwards vol 6

John Medina’s Brain Rules

For more information on standing desks: standupkids.org

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