C.J. Cain is a physical education teacher, not an architect or interior designer. Still, he has big plans for a classroom makeover at Denver’s Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment.
He wants to create the state’s first “kinesthetic classroom” there. The term may be a mouthful, but it’s really just another way of saying that the room would feature desks and tables with built-in bicycles, elliptical machines and other exercise equipment. The idea, which has been piloted at a handful of schools around the country, draws on neuroscience research showing how exercise facilitates learning and memory.
It’s the same research that’s behind trends such as brain breaks and school-wide movement sessions. The biggest difference is that students would be doing academic work in the kinesthetic classroom—reading while they pedal or taking notes while they swivel at a “kneel and spin” desk.
“[It’s] a creative way we can look at closing the achievement gap and overall greater achievement for all students,” said Cain.
Besides helping students stay focused in class and better retain what they learn, he believes a kinesthetic approach can improve mood and help kids get along better. While that remains to be seen at Montclair, students have shown lots of interest in the blue pedal desk on loan from the South Carolina company KidsFit.
“The feedback has been great,” said Cain. “They love it.”
As is often the case, lofty ambitions come with hefty price tags. It will take about $27,000 to outfit a classroom with enough equipment for 32 students. So far, Cain’s raised just $25 through a ColoradoGives donation page. He said there’s no specific time frame for raising the full amount.
“We’re reaching out certainly to the community and asking for their help in this,” he said. “I’m very patient.”
While Cain hopes to eventually raise enough money to buy a full classroom set of kinesthetic equipment, he said a stripped-down version of the model could make it cheaper and easier to scale down the road. For example, instead of a full kinesthetic classroom, several classrooms could have a two or three kinesthetic stations.
Parent Kelly Dwyer, a member of Montclair’s school wellness team, expects fund-raising to be the toughest part of implementing the kinesthetic classroom, but likes the concept.
“We’ve seen so much research about how movement stimulates the brain and focus…I think this could really help in that regard,” she said.
“Our biggest challenge as a health team is to really help our school get to a point where we look at the research and say more time in the seat is not necessarily translating to performance.”
Montclair, an innovation school, enrolls about 480 students. Two-thirds of them are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
Along with academic benefits, Dwyer believes the kinesthetic classroom may provide fitness benefits too.
“Today, we have so much that teachers need to cover…that specials of all sorts, from art and music to PE, have gotten squeezed…and I’m very concerned most students are lacking in exercise.”
Dwyer, who has two sons at Montclair, believes the kinesthetic classroom could be especially helpful for her energetic second-grader “because he is one of those guys who is constantly moving his body.”
Eric Larson, physical education coordinator for Denver Public Schools, said Cain’s kinesthetic classroom vision could eventually serve as a model for other district schools if it has an effect on things like behavior and attendance.
“I think everything is data-driven,” he said. “I think it would be something the district would look at if there’s data there.”