Blog: The Educated Reporter

Ergonomic Chairs vs. Standing Desks: Which Is Better For Students?

New York Times’ reporter Al Baker’s piece on the evolving design of classroom chairs includes this gem of a quote about the seemingly eternal “super stackers” that are the most common model nationally:

“They don’t die,” said Ali Salehi, the senior vice president for engineering and operations for Columbia Manufacturing, a 135-year-old company in Westfield, Mass., that makes the super stacker. “They just don’t die.”

Ergonomics are an increasingly important element of campus climate and the conversations about how to improve the overall learning environment for students.  But is it possible those futuristic chairs are actually behind the curve, rather than ahead of it? Given the scary studies we’re seeing about the negative effects of sitting for hours on end, I wonder if standing desks are headed for the fast track for schools as well as workplaces. 

Some campuses are already experimenting with alternative seating and work stations that give students more options to move at will in open-classroom settings. We might not yet be seeing students on treadmills, trotting along with a computer monitor suspended in front of them — one of the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations for a healthier work environment. But based on the latest research and growing trends, it might not be that far-fetched a scenario for the near future.

In a recent pilot study published in the American Journal of Public Health last year, first graders at a Texas elementary school were given the option of using chairs or standing at workstations. Six weeks in, 70 percent of the students had given up their chairs entirely, while the remaining 30 percent spent the majority of their time using the standing desks. Students in the class who were in the upper percentile for weight also burned 30 percent more calories standing than their similarly heavier peers did while sitting. 

“What we found was that most students want to be standing, to be moving,” the study’s author Monica Wendel told the Chicago Tribune. “They don’t want to sit still — it’s against their nature. We are the ones who teach them to be sedentary.”

I do wonder what the results of a similar study would be if it were conducted at the high school level. Would students still prefer standing? How tough might it be to convince teenagers to reverse a less-healthy habit that’s likely been a hallmark — and requirement — of their public school experience thus far?

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