My Dissertation Journey of Prolonged Sitting and Standing Desks in Primary Schools

by: Phil Hoy

Dissertation projects can be a stressful and worrying time for some third year students. However, for me it was an exciting prospect to delve and explore into something upcoming and exciting that could flip how we see and teach primary school classrooms. 

It was when I watched (in my second year of university) a handful of YouTube videos by Kelly Starrett such as “Deskbound – Talks at Google” (well worth a watch) until it really hit me that even primary school students are not being active enough during their school day. It seemed obvious that children should have the opportunity and be encouraged to be active during school. Unfortunately, through my own experience of observing classrooms and what research suggests, children are in sedentary positions (i.e. sitting) for the majority of the school day.

Therefore, I focused my dissertation around the negative impacts sitting is having on primary school students and to find possible solutions to combat this (in this case the standing desk). Through numerous emails I was privileged enough to interview two important people within the standing desk driving force. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me with both interviews being completed over the Internet (as I live across the pond in England). Both interviewees provided a wealth of knowledge with deep and rich information/research results that was perfect towards my study aims. Without going into much detail my study stated:

  1. Some of the common negative impacts primary school students are presenting when being sedentary (orthopaedic health, neurocognitive development and academic attainment).
  2. The benefits of standing desks in primary schools for both students and teachers (increased movement leading to weight loss, improved academic attainment, improved and correct body positions and posture and improved classroom behaviour)
  3. The current barriers towards implementing standing desks in primary schools (funding, the ‘not have’ effect and the initial adjustment period).

An interesting point that I unfortunately could not fit into my study was how classrooms can be active without the use of standing desks. Due to the major factor of money, many schools cannot provide standing desks to every student at this point in time. However, one interviewee presented ideas of how this can be combated by adding more movement into the classroom (even during core subjects such as English, Science and Math). They provided tried and tested examples such as:

  1. Getting students to walk around the classroom and corridor whilst reciting readings of books/poems.
  2. A movement jar where students after completing ‘x’ amount of questions in math, randomly picking a piece of paper out of the jar and having to complete the movement (e.g. 20 star jumps) written on the paper before moving onto the next set of questions.
  3. The teacher uses a parachute and waves it up and down with all the students holding a bit of it, with children in the middle answering a question before they escape out of the parachute.

Similarly StandUpKids.org have their own movement curriculum, which is a simple, yet effective way to get students active during school, helping to combat the negative impacts of prolonged sedentary behaviours.

There are endless possibilities to create a movement classroom as suggested, and as research suggests, a 2 minute movement breaks every 30 minutes can help towards preventing the negative impacts of prolonged sitting. Realistically, 2 minutes every 30 minutes is not going to hinder the learning of primary school students and if anything (from research) could improve test scores, focus etc. So even if you’re classroom do not have the future of school furniture, there are still simple and countless ways of implementing movement into the classroom during the school day.

I’m now excited to say I am starting my PGCE Primary with Physical Education Specialism at St Marys University Twickenham with the vision of taking these ideas and concepts and putting them into my own practice as a teacher.

Lastly, if you would like to read my final dissertation project it will be attached to read. It is not published however I feel it provides some good insight into children sitting at school and what the next steps are to combat this. Feel free to contact me about anything in particular about my dissertation project.

Phil Hoy
phillip.hoy@btinternet.com