Middle school math students are getting comfortable
A transformation has taken place in math classrooms throughout Port Chester Middle School all for the comfort of students.
In many math classrooms gone are the traditional heavy desks with the seats attached. They have been replaced with rocking chairs, bean bags, stools and tables.
Eighth-grade math teacher Kevin Hanlon is not a fan of the traditional desks with the seat and table attached.
“It is a very difficult subject for them, if they can be comfortable at their desks, they do better,” he said.
Students are not the only ones who benefit from flexible seating.
Mr. Hanlon, whose classroom has a mix of desks, tables and stools, said he can walk more freely around his classroom with this new configuration and better see all of his students.
“The two tables and the standing desk are the first to go when the students come in,” Mr. Hanlon said.
Joe Capalbo co-teaches seventh-grade math with Stephanie Sumcizk. Their classroom presently has a cluster of traditional desks and a group of bean bag chairs, three tables, stools to sit on and a high table for standing. There is no front or back of the room either, with a whiteboard on one side and a smartboard on the other.
Mr. Capalbo has noticed the furniture and room arrangement helps students to work together in small groups.
“For a student, it’s less daunting to be in a group of 10 and participate rather than a class of 20,” he said. “It increases participation,” especially among those students who struggle.
He noticed last year when the untraditional furniture concept was introduced at the beginning of a unit, the students’ work improved.
“There was a noticeable difference in the lower-level students,” he said.
Ms. Sumcizk has also noticed that students who may be nervous about speaking up in class feel more comfortable asking the person sitting next to them for help.
Additionally, Ms. Sumcizk said, some of the furniture helps those students who have trouble sitting still through an entire class. The desks impair the impulse to rock, while other styles of seating help them focus more as they are able to be more physical than when they are sitting at a desk.
Studies have shown flexible seating to be effective in improving student performance and active engagement.
“Our classroom environments should be conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. This simply cannot be done when kids are sitting in rows of desks all day,” wrote Kayla Delzer, a second-grade teacher and education consultant in North Dakota. Ms. Delzer is also a columnist for Edsurge.com.
“I've found that some of the immediate benefits of flexible seating include burning more calories, using up excess energy, improving metabolism, increased motivation and engagement, creating a better oxygen flow to the brain, and improving core strength and overall posture,” she wrote in a 2016 column “Flexible Seating and Student-Centered Classroom Redesign.”
Students in the math classrooms at PCMS are not assigned seats. Rather, they can select whatever seating suits them.
Seventh-grade teacher Danielle Scicutella has a classroom with no desks in it. Instead, there is an area with two rocking chairs, a couple of tables with chairs, one table with soft covered stools, an area with red bean bags and another tall table with stools.
Some of the furniture is new, one table was her grandmother’s dining room table and other pieces she found for sale on Facebook or at tag sales.
“They love my room,” Ms. Scicutella said. “My kids from last year come in and comment, ‘You love these kids more,’” she said with a laugh.
The homey atmosphere has also inspired some students to stop in her room after school before their afternoon activity starts just to sit in the rocking chairs for a few minutes.
“It’s a love/hate subject,” Ms. Scicutella said of math. “The more we can make them comfortable in the room, it eases their anxiety.”
Mr. Hanlon said when he sees a student come in, find a seat that is comfortable for them and they have a smile on their face, that is an indication students are willing to hear what he has to say.
“That’s a buy-in,” he said.
When students began their school year in September Mr. Capalbo said there was a sense of “surprise and shock” when students first got a look at their math classrooms.
In one of his classes, there was not enough traditional desks for everyone in the class. He found bean bag chairs and placed them around the room. He initially thought students would be upset they didn’t have a seat, but he has no complaints from those who end up in a bean bag chairs.
“If anything, kids have asked if they can sit in them,” he said.
When it comes time to take a test, Ms. Scicutella said she has blockers that students can use so they are not able to see one another’s work and they know what they should be doing.
Mr. Hanlon said that early on the teachers set ground rules with their classes about the behavior they expected from their students as everyone got used to the new arrangement.
As more furniture has been added, the teachers all said they are inspired by what their colleagues have done. They have also found ideas they want to incorporate online or on sites like Pinterest.
They have taken looks at furniture in the district that is in storage to see if there is anything they can use. And they post on DonorsChoose.org and in some instances will accept district-approved pieces from the community.
The new look of their classrooms has also inspired teachers in of other subjects to want to give flexible seating a try.
Ms. Scicutella said one of the goals is to add flexible seating in science and social study classrooms. She said there is a push to make the initiative school-wide.