- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ROCHESTER, Minn.

The fidgety boys and girls in Phil Rynearson’s classroom get up and move around whenever they want, and that’s just fine with him.

In fact, stretching, swaying and even balancing on big wobbly exercise balls are the point of this experimental classroom. The goal is to see whether getting children to move even a little can help combat childhood obesity.

As an added perk, there is some splashy technology, too — laptop computers, a wireless network and IPods.

The data aren’t in, but Mr. Rynearson and Superintendent Jerry Williams say the fourth- and fifth-graders are more focused on the curriculum than their peers in a comparison group in an ordinary classroom. There are fewer distractions than in the traditional setup — where a lot of time is spent trying to get children to sit still.

“Sitting isn’t bad,” Mr. Rynearson said. “But I think kids need to move.”

The classroom is the idea of Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. James Levine, also the mastermind of an office of the future that encourages more movement from deskbound white-collar workers.

For schoolchildren, Dr. Levine said, “My dream was kids shooting hoops and spelling,” much like the American basketball game of H-O-R-S-E.

The classroom at Elton Hills Elementary School doesn’t go that far.

Instead, the school replaced the standard desks and chairs with adjustable podiums that allow students to stand, kneel on mats or sit on big exercise balls.

Sensors are on their legs to measure movement. Dr. Levine will calculate how many calories the students are burning in the new classroom compared with in traditional classrooms.

The concept is interesting, said Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, executive director of Action for Healthy Kids.

Although the experiment sounds “like a fun way to learn,” she says, at best it will be one of many changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle that students need.

“Will this really help with the obesity epidemic?” she said. “That’s the area that we don’t know enough about.”

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