Just as in many other schools, teachers at Estes Elementary School are finding that the traditional “sit and get” instruction model does not work for their students. Therefore, teachers and staff must find different, and sometimes unconventional, ways to keep students engaged and successful. So, at Estes, you won’t see many students sitting quietly at a traditional desk or table while completing a worksheet or solving math equations. Estes’ school mission statement is “Developing and expanding growth mindset and lifelong success for every child through grit, innovation and leadership.” And all throughout the school, the examples of innovation are evident.
In third grade teacher Lauren Coomes’ classroom, the unusual but very functional Node desks allow students to move freely about the room and easily work together in small groups. Kindergarten teacher, Krystal Williams, has purchased stability ball chairs for her classroom using school funds, her own money, and a donation from her mother-in-law. But it is the bicycle pedal desks in Faith Harralson’s kindergarten classroom that have received so much attention lately that they were the number one nationally-trending topic on Facebook one day in February!
Faith has always tackled everything in her life with fervor, enthusiasm and a passion for children. While attending college at OCTC, she earned the Larry Hager Civic award. During that same time, she also wrote and published a book, Lana’s Wonders. All proceeds from the book’s sales on Blurb.com are sent to her friend Lana Vasquez, whose organization, Life Impact International, rescues children sold into the slave industry in Thailand and Burma, and gives them a safe, loving Christian home. Additionally, she and her husband, Steve, are registered foster parents. So it makes sense that, after graduating with her Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education, Faith is attacking her first year of teaching in a public school with the same intensity.
Faith first learned of these special desks while reading about a private school in California that used them. Initially she had the idea of enlisting her husband’s handyman skills to find a way to attach pedals to her traditional desks. However, Steve was rescued from the task when Faith found a website with stationary bicycle desks. But innovation comes at a high cost in education. So after learning that the desk prices ranged from $1,045 for a single and $2,095 for a double, Faith applied for and received one of the Owensboro Public School Innovation grants, money earmarked by the district specifically for innovative teaching ideas. Because she has many kinesthetic learners who like to move around, she thought these desks might help them focus and stay engaged in classroom activities. And she was right!
According to Faith, using these desks in her classroom allows students to expend extra energy, so that the “right brain and left brain can work together and allow them to focus more.” This helps students to better understand what skills they are building, why they are building them, and how the skills will be beneficial to their lives. Her classroom houses two double and two single bicycle pedal desks, and the other two kindergarten classrooms each have two single desks to use with their students, as well. She has seen the positive effect of these desks in the few short months since she bought them. Those students whose active behavior often hindered their ability to pay attention are now on task and making progress. The extra exercise facilitated by the desks fosters positive emotional states and sustained attention levels in the students. Since Faith sometimes uses these desks as a reward, she also has students who work harder just for the opportunity to learn at one of them. This also keeps the novelty of the desks from wearing off.
Faith is quick to point out that these desks do not take the place of other physical activities for the elementary students. But they do provide exercise and fun, in addition to recess, regular physical education activities and frequent “brain breaks” that students in her classroom are allowed. Pedaling at the desks is silent, and offers no disruption to everyday classroom activities. The only rule for using the desks is that a student must pedal while at the desk, since sitting idle defeats the purpose of the desks.
Since the news of the desks reached “viral” status, Faith has been contacted by educators from all over the United States. She loves sharing the benefits the bicycle desks provide for her, her students and the school, as well as the resources necessary to obtain the desks. Faith names former Disney teacher of the year, Ron Clark, as a role model and tries to think outside the box as he always does. Also providing inspiration is a quote hanging in her classroom from the book, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess: “Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude.” I think it is safe to say that this teacher is definitely providing a very uncommon experience that her students will remember for years to come.