New Educational Model Decreases Sedentary Time of Adolescents at School

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Today’s post comes from Emi Vargatoth, a medical student at the University of Ottawa and a research student at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity research group (HALO).

Most modern classrooms are designed with rows of desks where students sit for prolonged periods of the day. Schools around the world, however, are beginning to adopt new models of teaching for the purpose of attaining educational benefits for their students. Evidence is emerging that these novel educational models may have additional benefits for children and adolescents such as reducing sedentary time accrued in classrooms. These new classroom designs are called “flexible learning spaces” and involve a classroom model that is based on a transition from a teacher-led approach to a student-led approach as well as a shift away from uniform desks to a variety of seating and standing furniture.

A recent Australian study measured the sedentary time of students in traditional classrooms and flexible learning space classrooms to determine if there was a significant difference in students’ sedentary time. The participants were recruited from nine schools and were students in grades 7-9, with an average age of approximately 13 years old. The schools the students attended were already implementing the flexible learning space classroom model for educational purposes. In order to measure the sitting and standing time of students, they were given accelerometers to wear for the duration of the class time in both the flexible learning space and traditional classroom models. The subject of the lessons and the teacher were kept the same in both classroom models.

The results were promising as significant differences in both the total and prolonged sitting times were observed. Additionally, the students in the flexible classroom model spent more time standing and stepping. In the flexible learning space classroom, the students spent 18% less time sitting, 15% time more standing, and 3% more time stepping. Also, they had more shorter periods of sitting (under 9 minutes) and fewer long periods of sitting (over 30 minutes). It was therefore predicted that if students transitioned into spending 4-5 hours in the flexible learning space classrooms instead of traditional classrooms, their sitting time would be reduced by 45-55 minutes per day. Interestingly, differences in sitting time were larger for females compared to males.

It was hypothesized that these results reflected that the flexible learning space model provided both more space and independence for students to move around during their classes. The layout of the flexible learning space classrooms involved a larger classroom size and a range of different types of furniture which allowed for more opportunity for movement. As well, the student led approach of teaching encouraged the students to be more active in leading the learning process, which gave them more chances to move around during the lessons.

This study found that there may be added benefits to the flexible learning space teaching model by decreasing sedentary behaviour of adolescents during class time. This study highlighted how this change of educational model has been introduced into schools primarily to improve academic outcomes and so decreasing sedentary behaviour among students comes as an unintended but beneficial outcome. Consequently, this model may be an ideal intervention to consider for reducing sedentary time since it is already being implemented by schools and teachers for other purposes. This study shows how new measures to reduce sedentary behaviour can be implemented at the institutional level and may coincide with other positive outcomes.


About the author: Emi Vargatoth is currently pursuing her studies at the University of Ottawa, where she is in her second year of medical school. Emi is also a research student at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity research group (HALO).


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