- Associated Press - Monday, November 10, 2014

ALCONA, Mich. (AP) - For the past month, students in two Alcona Community Schools’ classrooms have moved away from the traditional classroom and into a dynamic, active classroom.

Mathematics teacher Tammy Nelson and history, geography and physical education teacher Ashlie O’Connor took the opportunity offered by the middle/high school principal to bring yoga balls, bean bag chairs and standing tables into their classrooms.

“Students are really responding,” Principal Dan O’Connor said.

Funding for the yoga balls and bean bag chairs came from miscellaneous funds that were available, while high top tables were available in other classrooms, The Alpena News (https://bit.ly/1DTW2dm ) reported.

“The teachers were bargain shoppers. What we can do for a classroom for a few hundred dollars and make that sort of impact is very well spent,” Principal O’Connor said.

Students, even the most skeptical, seem to be on board with the transition.

“I had my doubts about this set up at first. There was no way a bunch of kids could focus while bouncing on yoga balls, but I like it so far. It’s a relief from sitting in desks all morning,” algebra II student Claire Feldhiser said.

Other math students, including Hunter Clissold, said the active classrooms are less stressful.

“The new learning environment has helped me relax and focus more on what we are learning. I enjoy sitting on the yoga balls because I think I am learning better. This is a great idea for all classrooms,” Clissold said.

Several students continue to use traditional chairs. Senior Hannah Riggs said she prefers the standing tables.

“The yoga balls allow students to expend some energy and move which in some ways allows them to focus better and provides for a more comfortable class environment,” Riggs said.

Parent reactions have also been positive.

“I had a parent email me last night who said how wonderful their child’s experience has been this year and that they appreciate how we have changed the room to meet the students’ needs,” Nelson said.

Ashlie O’Connor originally began researching dynamic classrooms because she wanted to bring something different to the school. She found that active classrooms were being used throughout the U.S. in elementary schools but wanted to bring the active rooms to a high school classroom.

Nelson was slightly more tentative about having an active classroom.

“I was very traditional. Everything (in my classroom) is pretty quiet, structured. The kids were shocked that I came on board,” she said.

Nelson’s main concern was in bringing substitute teachers to the room.

“I had a sub and there was no change. The kids were great. They all clean up at the end and (the substitute) was shocked by that. She told me she was worried when she walked in and saw yoga balls, but she said the kids were on task and working,” Nelson said.

O’Connor confronted her concerns with her younger students by talking to them.

“I told them that I believe you’re the first in Northeast Michigan to do this, it’s on you to make it or break it. There will be rules. They said they wanted to take on the challenge and they have. I think they have done amazingly well,” O’Connor said.

Both teachers have seen positive results in their classrooms, ranging from greater focus to no longer having students late to class.

“We’ve had kids racing to class to get their favorite yoga ball or bean bag. I don’t have a tardy issue at all,” Nelson said.

One of the challenges they faced was in the original design of the spaces. O’Connor started with no tables in her room while Nelson had desks attached to chairs.

Other teachers have expressed an interest in the active classrooms and offered tables in order for Nelson and O’Connor to continue developing the active classrooms.

“We’ve leaned on each other and bounced ideas off of one another. We sat for a couple of hours moving desks and planning and I think it has brought us closer together as a unit and a bonding with our kids because it is something they share,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor and Nelson share the vision and philosophy of creating a more comfortable environment in order to help students learn.

“We just wanted to create the most comfortable atmosphere. Comfort is focus and it makes instruction more successful and I think we have seen that. It’s been great,” O’Connor said.

While the active classrooms are new, O’Connor said she does not see the room as a fad that will fade but instead the rooms are the new normal.

“It hasn’t become something cool, it has become the norm for our classes. The buzz has gone away and I like that because now this is the standard in our rooms. I really like that it’s now a normal thing,” she said.


Information from: The Alpena News, https://www.thealpenanews.com

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