CLAREMORE, Okla. - After more than 20 years of teaching, Deanna Smith of Roosa Elementary is still trying to figure out how to keep a class of third graders focused.
She claims, rignt now, the key is to keep her students moving.
"Movement is such a key point of being able to learn," said Smith, who uses different activities as a big part of her class.
"I'll do jumping jacks to spelling words," she said. "I have a letter mat that they type their spelling words by stepping their spelling words. We do vocabulary through an agility ladder. We have hopscotch for mathematics. We do a clock on the floor for time. I've found a lot of ways to incorporate movement into the classroom just because it helps their brain."
While these activities may seem like untraditional teaching methods, Smith said they're paying off in big ways for her students.
"Doing the jumping jacks with the spelling words," she said, "I haven't had a spelling test lower than a 70 all year."
Smith recently asked her friend Marsha Kendrick, a paraprofessional who teaches art at Roosa, to help her come up with another way to keep students alert and active even when they have to stay seated.
"She jokes that she can see it, but she doesn't know how to make it," Kendrick said. "But I can't see what's in her brain. I make it."
"She kind of sees inside my brain, which is a scary thought," Smith added, laughing.
The two initially thought about getting their students desks with bicycles or treadmills attached to them, but the cost would be way too expensive for their cash-strapped school. Inspiration, however, came when someone sent them a video on Facebook about a month ago.
Kendrick said the video showed "just rows and rows of children just gently, quietly swinging their feet" on footrests attached to their desks. Immediately, she said an idea jumped out at her.
"I saw it in my brain," Kendrick said, snapping her fingers. "I saw how to build it."
The product she ended up making can now be found attached to about 50 desks throughout the school. They are swinging footrests, made mostly from PVC pipe, that the teachers are calling "busy bars."
"It's just a really good way to allow kids to move in a confined place and still accomplish the curriculum that we have to accomplish," Smith said.
Two of Smith's third grade students said they wish they would have had a busy bar on their desks sooner.
"Because I struggle on my work and it's hard for me, this just helps me relax," nine-year-old Addyson Kelley said while swinging her feet on the busy bar now attached to the front of her desk.
Her classmate, eight-year-old Kaiden Sohl, added, "I thought it was really cool. It helps me focus on my work, and I'm focusing on my feet yet I can still concentrate on my work."
A fifth grade class in the school got five busy bars installed about a month ago, and the teacher said she can already see a difference in her students.
"The sway of the bar as it moves helps sooth them and calm them," fifth grade teacher Glenda Bacon said, "where before they couldn't even sit, let alone get organized to do anything."
Each busy bar only costs about $5 to make. The local Lowe's store donated some supplies to help the teachers build their first few, but now other schools within the Claremore School District are placing orders. "We had one teacher," Kendrick said, "who asked for two and then she asked for five, and now she wants another five."
A teacher from the Justus-Tiawah School District has now expressed interest in buying a few busy bars, but Smith said she is unsure if the busy bars will become a business venture.
"Maybe down the road," she said.
For now Smith wants the busy bars to solely benefit the students in her school, but the invention may very well create an upswing in more than just academic performance.
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