Zenergy ball

Black Hawk Middle School teacher Erin Anderson purchased "Zenergy Ball" chairs for her classroom. Anderson said flexible seating options help with student engagement. 

Erin Anderson via DonorsChoose.org

The days of students sitting in rigid rows at stationary desks may be a thing of the past as Madison area teachers raise money for treadmills, yoga ball chairs and pedal bike desks for their classrooms.

Dane County teachers are using DonorsChoose to fund “flexible seating options” that allow students to remain comfortable and mentally engaged while moving their bodies if they need to.

Out of the 48 active campaigns on DonorsChoose from Dane County teachers, 14 include requests for alternative seating options.

Research shows personalized learning, like a student choosing the type of seat that fits best, resulted in increased academic performance for students in California. Teachers in Madison are calling on the community to help them generate some of the same outcomes for their students.

Brianne Unger is a special education teacher at Sandburg Elementary School in Madison who used DonorsChoose to purchase learning games for her kids earlier this winter. She said flexible seating helps students decide how and where they learn best, which can benefit them as adults.

“A lot of classrooms in my school have a variety of seating choices,” Unger said. “Students know what they need to learn. (Flexible seating) helps them know their needs and become better learners.”

This year, “fidget spinner” was the tenth most searched term on Google, referring to the toys some kids like to absentmindedly play with while they read or do school work. The popularity of the toy gave rise to more conversations around how students can focus and reduce stress in the classroom. Some teachers, like Erin Anderson, said flexible seating options helped some of her students manage anxiety.

Anderson teaches seventh-grade geography at Black Hawk Middle School. Last year, she used DonorsChoose to raise nearly $700 to purchase four ball chairs for her students.

“It was amazing to see the difference in some of my kids,” Anderson said. “I brought in those ball chairs and, within a week, there was significant improvement ... I was just amazed by it.”

Anderson said the ball chairs were so popular with students that she started another campaign to purchase more of them and some pedal chairs.

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Unger agrees that flexible seating has contributed to improved academic outcomes for students at Sandberg.

“Students do better work when they are able to move around...It allows their whole body and energy to even out,” she said.

Marisa Nelson is a dual-language immersion teacher at Leopold Elementary School. She used DonorsChoose last year to buy books and iPads, and wants to add to the flexible seating options she currently has in her classroom.

Nelson said she saw student attitudes and attentiveness improve now that they can stand up, sit on the carpet, or use a wobble chair when they need move around a bit.

“Teachers who use this have shown that it is beneficial for kids,” she said. “I feel like all classrooms should have flexible seating options.”