- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Mackenzie Wylie is an all-in sort of teacher.

So when she discovered the bright green stability balls stored away in the basement of Saratoga Elementary, she decided to go all-in.

“I knew they were down there,” she said. “I decided to try it out.”

Saratoga had the balls because a third-grade teacher had purchased them for her class some years ago, but when her class size grew too large, she stopped using them. Teachers have from time to time used one or two of the balls, but Wylie thought they could benefit all her kids all the time.

Plus, she likes a challenge.

“I just really like the idea,” said Wylie, who came to Saratoga from Park Middle School last year. Her class, she said, is such a good group of kids that offering them the chance to sit on the stability balls instead of chairs was a privilege she wanted to offer them.

“There’s a pretty high level of respect between me and the students in this room,” she said.

She got the OK from her principal, put aside concerns from other teachers who thought maybe she should start small, with a reading group, for example, and replaced all 17 chairs with stability balls.

They were there when students got back from winter break, along with rules, a cardboard “stoplight” and an invitation to sit. And bounce.

In the weeks since she’s had them, she’s noticed good things. Her fourth-graders, she said, are more focused on the task at hand, the Lincoln Star (https://bit.ly/2kvozIb ) reported. The balls are providing a way for students who have a hard time sitting still to work off excess energy. They get up less to sharpen pencils or get a drink or go to the restroom.

Fatima Al-Asady, who admits to having a tendency to tip her chair, said that’s no longer a problem - and she thinks the stability balls are “awesome.”

Brooke Roldan and Mustafa Al Turki both like the stability balls, too. Brooke says they help with the stress of taking tests, though occasionally she’d like to be able to lean back like she does in a chair.

Not long ago, Mustafa said, he was stuck on the answer to a question, did a little gentle bouncing - and thinking - and came up with the answer.

The new seats arrived with instructions - about a half hour up front dedicated to the rules that accompany the ability to bounce.

First, the stoplight.

When it’s on red there’s no bouncing whatsoever. Wylie said she uses that primarily when she’s giving direct instruction, because she learned that seeing 17 students moving up and down while she’s talking to them is a bit distracting.

Yellow means they can move while working, quietly.

Green is for “brain breaks,” those minutes when the purpose is to expend a little energy, move around, get the blood flowing. Though there are limits, there, too: Students must remain in control of their bodies.

There are other rules next to the stoplight, and the new furniture has become part of the popsicle sticks in the middle of each table. Each student has popsicle sticks they can use to get a drink, sharpen a pencil and two related to their stability balls. If they misuse them, they lose a stick. If they lose both sticks, they lose the ball and get a chair. That’s yet to happen, Wylie said.

She’s brought in a workout instructor who’s led exercises on the balls, and they’ve followed YouTube videos on some Fridays.

But mostly, they’re for working - and at the end of the day, those stability balls help Miss Wylie know which students are prepared to go home.

“I’ll know you’re ready when your balls are on your table, your books are in your cubby, your pencils are put away.”


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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