IDEAL: Innovative Design for Engaged Attention and Learning

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Presented by:  
Virco Inc., a CASBO Premier Partner
Dr. Zoe Mailloux, , OTD OTR/L FAOTA
Brenda Farmer, Principal, Sunset Elementary School Cody, Wyoming
Randal Smith, Vice President, Marketing & Corporate Stewardship, Virco Inc.
The speakers are two distinguished guests that come from two different disciplines impacting education.  Dr. Zoe Mailloux, Occupational Therapist, has done significant work in the field of sensory integration in general.  But more specifically, over the past few years she has focused on evaluating how the room environment, down to aspects of color, sound, clutter, and even the furniture in classrooms may impact learning.  Brenda Farmer, Elementary School Principal of Sunset Elementary School in Cody, Wyoming, whose years of professional and practical experience have led her to specific findings on how to improve attention and learning in the classroom. Together they cover some of the major components of I.D.E.A.L., which stands for Innovative Design for Engaged Attention and Learning! They bring new light to some old topics and introduce some new concepts that can help parents with their children, but also educators in regards to their building environments, color, noise, smell, and even furniture. 
They emphasize the need to find ways to collaborate and share knowledge across disciplines, to be able to make the classrooms of the 21st century ones that will support engaged attention and learning for all children. It is essential that I.D.E.A.L., Innovative Design for Engaged Attention and Learning become a part of the discussion for students, buildings and classroom environments within your district and community. 
Discussion points:
Sitting Still Does Not Equal Paying Attention
Although we have all heard the admonition, "Sit still and pay attention” most of us, children included, do not actually pay attention best when sitting still.   Our brains and bodies are designed to be active when we are awake so when we are motionless our brain gets a signal that it is probably time to rest or sleep. Observations of children in classrooms sitting on traditional static furniture reveals that students tend to instinctively seek motion while sitting, most likely as a means to keep themselves alert and engaged.  Appropriate dynamic furniture provides support for the subtle, yet important types of movement that adults have demanded in their office furniture for decades.      
Posture and Position
Children spend much of their day at school sitting in chairs at tables or desks, where they are not only being asked to sit still, but often they are in furniture that is the wrong size. It is important to consider posture and position for comfort, efficiency and safety in seating.  Appropriate posture and position for listening to classroom instructions, copying assignments, reading from books and computer screens and managing written tasks not only increases efficiency of work, but also helps to prevent muscle cramping, joint pain and potential injuries.     
Attention Pathways
While our educational professionals seem more and more aware of the role of attention in learning, we all can probably do more to support the ability of all students to attend more fully at school. There are many things that affect whether or not we pay attention to things. Everyday elements of our environments - helpful visual cues or cluttered distractions, meaningful sounds versus annoying noises, pleasant smells or noxious odors, focused light versus dim of flickering bulbs - the list is endless.  We all can help students to pay attention in ways that will support their learning by developing productive attention pathways in their classrooms that fit their individual needs.  
Technology and Collaboration
One of the most rapidly changing aspects of the school environment involves the availability and options that new and ever changing technology tools provide.  Ensuring that technology can be used effectively and appropriately requires planning with an eye to future developments as well as flexibility in the ways classrooms and schools are arranged to optimize these resources. The ways in which technology will afford collaborative learning is also a crucial consideration in planning and managing classrooms.  
Learning by Doing
Children enter life and learn skills such as social interaction and language "hands first".   It is by watching, listening and perhaps most importantly by DOING that learning and development occur.  Long before children learn the words and understand the concepts for things such as big and little, up and down or rough and smooth, they have experienced these things through their own senses and their own movements through the world around them. The important processes of problem solving, sequencing, prioritizing and decision making that form the foundation of many key elements of the academic curriculum. Students can continue to benefit from experiential learning throughout their school years so it is useful to consider ways in which we can provide options for learning through doing in all schools and classrooms.  
Everything Speaks
U.S. public education is responsible for educating every child at high levels.  Students come to school with varied experiences. Everything Speaks is a belief system centered on every view, word, and choice being significant. It is about creating an optimal learning environment for every child. 
For more information about some of the concepts discussed in the video please visit healthymovement.
Contact Randal Smith