George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using Stand Up Tables in the Classroom

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Stand Up Project

By the Class 81 Student Documentary Committee:  Hannah, Charlotte, Zanira, Angela, Elyse, Katharine

Take a seat.  Please sit down.  As students we hear these commands countless times throughout our days at school. Having people sit down has become such a simple and ubiquitous method of maintaining organization in classroom and workplace settings---it’s become part of society in such a way that we don’t even need to think about it anymore.

But when our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Guinane, shared some of the recent statistics about health issues related to sitting for long periods, we were shocked. None of the students in our class were very surprised that long periods of inactivity would negatively impact health---our school, as a Health and Wellness Academy, encourages physical activity all the time as an aspect of healthy living---but sitting for long periods of time is exactly what we do at school every day. Our school is set up for sitting: the benches in the cafeteria, the rows of desks and “seating arrangements” in the classrooms, the chairs lined up in front of each computer in the lab, the couches in the library.  We are expected to sit for basically every class except for gym.

We started brainstorming ideas and asking questions about what we could do to make students’ experience at school a healthier one. We knew not everyone would be convinced at first---the teachers especially might be skeptical about classroom management with students standing up. So, we decided to start with our own class to see how it would go.

Stand Up Table Data
Some samples from the data about standing during class

For about a month, Mrs. Guinane gave us the choice of standing up or sitting down during lessons, discussions and work time. We each recorded data about how long we stood and how we felt physically, mentally, and emotionally, before, during and after standing.

Our immediate observations were surprising.  It was difficult to get used to standing up. Our bodies, first of all, had to adapt to these new conditions. But it wasn’t only that, because our newly gained rights also came with a set of responsibilities. We would be allowed to stand as long as we made reasonable decisions on where we stood and made sure we were not obstructing anyone’s view or being distracted by people we were standing beside.

Our experiences with standing up varied from person to person.  There were some extremely athletic students who chose to sit most of the time as a way to rest their bodies. For others, standing presented many great health benefits---one student in our class found standing up was an effective way to control her blood sugar, which she needs to monitor because she has Type One Diabetes. Many of us felt that standing up improved focus throughout long lessons, and we all appreciated having the choice to sit or stand.  It was refreshing and we made good use of the natural light by using the windowsills and counters in our classroom as work surfaces.

After a month of collecting data and comparing our results with one another, we came to a conclusion at the end of our little experiment. We felt that standing did in fact improve the states of our physical and mental health, and that it can be managed at school as long as the terms, conditions and consequences are all communicated clearly from the beginning. Being in one of Canada’s Health and Wellness Academies, we decided that we would keep working on this project to optimize standing in class and further integrate it into the other classes in our school. We felt like this was an experience that all the students at Donview could benefit from.

However, our experiment was not without its problems. We discovered many issues related to the work area available to us. We were making do with our classroom’s counters and windowsills as tables to write on while standing, and several of us brought our own clipboards to use. These options were all quite uncomfortable and inconvenient, however, as the workspaces were cramped and work surfaces were narrow and the wrong height for standing with proper posture.  What we really needed to make the project work was stand-up tables.

The next step was to invite our school principal and superintendent into our classroom to present our ideas to them and ask for some funds to purchase stand up tables. 

We got to work, organized in three different committees. The research group looked for some sustainable alternatives to our current stand-up equipment. We needed something that was sensible and affordable, and we ended up with a variety of options, ranging from music stands to store-bought options, to custom-built cardboard stand-up tables--but they were all quite expensive.  Luckily, Yasmeen Tian, a student’s parent, already had experience in making cardboard furniture and stepped in to help. Ms Tian offered to design and create tables to fit 3 or 4 standing students.  Each table would be just over waist-high, made of only cardboard, tape, paper, glue and nails: a creative, eco-friendly and locally-made initiative.

While we waited on the completion of our tables, our presentation committee planned for the big day. We managed to compress all our ideas and experiences about stand-up education into a thirty minute presentation for our superintendent and principal, which (although slightly nerve-wracking) was definitely a rewarding experience. In the end, they agreed to support our initiative and we received some great feedback.

Our tables (three in total) came in soon after, IKEA-style, in the form of several cardboard planks. We learned about Ms Tian’s creative process while we helped her with the assembly.  When we finished, we all truly felt a sense of accomplishment. Our project had blossomed from an idea to reality and it was finally taking off.

Stand Up Table Assembly
The stand up tables being assembled

A finished stand up table
A finished stand up table

Now that we have proper furniture, we continue to stand in class when we choose and enjoy the mental, emotional and physical health benefits that standing brings.  But we, the documentary committee, don’t want things to end here. We want to share our story with more students, teachers and administrators and spread the word about our project.  Some day we hope to see standing up as an option for every student in every classroom.  We have stood up against sitting down. Will you?

Teacher’s Note:  Standing during lessons and work periods is now routine for my grade 8 class.  They monitor themselves constantly throughout the day and make responsible choices about when and where they stand.  Encouraged by the success of the project, I opened up the option to stand to my two rotary classes.  So far their feedback has been very positive!  Other teachers, both at my school and at other schools, have expressed an interest in including stand up options in their teaching spaces.  I am happy to answer any questions or support you if you plan on embarking on a similar project of your own.  If you already use stand up tables in your classroom, I’d love to hear about your experience too!  

Students using stand up table
Students using a finished stand up table

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Alana Guinane's picture

Sorry all, it's true--the school year flashed by and we never got around to making the video we hoped to create. I will write a follow-up at some point next year to let you know how the standing is going with my new group. In the meantime, I encourage everyone interested to try out standing in your classrooms. Start by using clipboards and countertops, and consider a Science lesson on structures as a way to designing and building your own tables. Let me know how it goes!

Alana Guinane's picture

Sorry to hear that you didn't get the grant but glad to hear that you aren't giving up! It is so worth it. Good luck. Your kids are lucky to have you in their corner!

Alana Guinane's picture

Sorry--we ran out of time and the video didn't happen. Please read my response to Samer for more...

Joanne K's picture
Joanne K
Grade 8 teacher in Oakville, Ontario

I've also been considering stand up tables. I never thought of making them from cardboard! What a great idea. I also love the idea of including it as part of a structures unit in Science.

Ashley Gomez's picture
Ashley Gomez
Former Community Engagement & Social Media Marketing Intern

We shared this post with our community on Facebook, and the result was overwhelming. Educators from across the country responded with how they implemented standing tables in their classrooms. I tried to capture some of the comments that I figured would be the most helpful. Here are some of them:

Julita Zoe Brown-Dun:
This is a part of my classroom update this year.... Purchased 3 stand-up cocktail tables on Visit and search for standing cocktail tables... I got the round ones but they also have sofa tables that can be used as stand up tables.

Marilyn Hamot Ryan:
In my 21st Century teaching skills graduate course, many of my students include cafe tables, genius bars, and the like in their classroom redesigns. Great ideas for all of us who NEED to stand!

Lisa Patsch:
IKEA has tables that can be put together with different sizes of tabletops and adjustable legs. Just picked up one for $48 in their "as is" section. With adjustable legs it can work for a variety of ages.

Lisa Marie:
In my classroom, we experimented with stand up tables using bed riser-like those you might buy for a dorm room. Students could rotate into a place at one of our stand up tables - which became quite popular!

Jeanette Vargo:
In my first grade classroom, students have a choice of standing at tall desks, sitting at individual desks, sitting at group tables, or being on the floor with a clipboard... I teach at an inner city public school, so creativity has to be used to give students choices without spending money.

I had a large rug in front of the Smart board that students could use anytime. In the middle of the room, there were 3 student tables with chairs. My kidney shaped table was set up on the side of the room. Students could sit together, and I used this table to run my small group. This last year, I have 6 standers, so I placed 6 desks, raised up to standing height, where they wouldn't block sight lines to the Smart board. I also used a rolling easel a lot that could be moved for student viewing. No, I didn't make a seating chart because I allow the children to choose. On days there were more standers than desks that they had to ask to partner with another stander. After guiding the procedures for choosing a place, all I would say was "Go to your work location." Like anything else, teaching this takes time.

Doris Riddle:
I vote for the mobile classroom. Move to the floor, to the desk, to stand or sit at a table. Once again, Maria Montessori was way ahead of her time.

Katherine Hernandez:
We were innovative about standing up throughout the day in my classroom; we used windowsills and bookshelves when the kids were writing and we used no surface when standing to read. The kids LOVED it, because it really woke up their brains and made their bodies feel better! We also walked and danced around the room for 2-minute brain breaks, but that's another story

Kristi Cornhusker:
I got a grant from my school's education foundation. I ordered the desks from WB Mason. I got 8 standing desks that are rather triangular-shaped. They fit together neatly into quads for group work or can be left separate in a row at the back. They are also height adjustable, very sturdy, and safe for laptops! I can't remember that actual brand name of the maker. Starts with H? I didn't get stools because the first rule of standing desk is you have to stand! I kept my old desks too, so kids can move back to seats if they wish. So the standing desks are not assigned, just used when desired or needed for group work.

Betty Jo Hurst Arbogast:
My second graders stand at their desks all the time! They also like to lie on the floor!

Dana Schmit Curren:
I will have 28 standing desks in my HS English class this fall. I will have stools available for students who prefer to sit. I love the idea of those falling asleep needing to stand for a while.

If you'd like to see the whole conversation, you can find it here:

Bodker's picture

I am interested in duplicating your design. Where can I find information?

Michelle Avila's picture

After reading this article I did a bit more research on this topic. I then asked my husband a woodworker to build me a standing table. I teach 4th grade so he built it the height of my kitchen counters, with 4 drawers. It has a bar across the bottom for a foot rest and we are adding bungee cords to both sides, adjusted to tight but moveable for the foot wiggle re. I am excited to use this in my classroom. A new building is being constructed and I will be moving into it, so if the table works out well, he will build me a couple more for the new room.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Michelle, my wife is a teacher, and your story is inspiring me to think about taking up woodworking as a hobby. :-)

Luonna Adkins's picture

I have heard of using ironing boards for standing up desks was thinking about doing plywood over the ironing boards for a better surface

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

@Luonna, back in my photography days, we used sandbags to weigh down our light stands and make them more stable. You could probably do the same thing with ironing boards.

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