Benefits of Chewing Gum
In a 2013 study done by researchers, Andrew Johnson, Mohammed Muneem and Christopher Miles, participants completed an extended version of the sustained attention response task (SART) while chewing gum or while not chewing gum. Before and after the SART, participants were asked to rate their levels of alertness, contentedness and calmness.
In this expanded version of the SART, participants were shown a rapid succession of numbers on a computer screen and were told to press the spacebar key whenever a new number appeared, except for when the number was 3. In addition to scoring better results on the test, the gum chewers also reported higher levels of feeling alert, content and calm. The facilitators of the study, Johnson, Muneem & Miles, write “…the data show that this finding does not reflect an artefact of general task disengagement while chewing gum” (2013, p. 157). In other words, chewing gum does not have a negative impact on our ability to focus. Conversely, chewing gum may help us to stay alert and ready to take on tasks wholeheartedly. The authors write, “chewing gum increases cerebral blood flow to frontotemporal regions and increase cerebral activity” and “flavour acts to influence self-rated mood. For example, exposure to mint odour has been shown to both attenuate the rise in physiological markers of sleepiness and improve performance on a behavioral vigilance task” (Johnson et al., 2013, p. 153).
Johnson, A. J., Muneem, M., & Miles, C. (2013). Chewing gum benefits sustained attention in the absence of task degradation. Nutritional Neuroscience, 16(4), 153-159. doi:10.1179/1476830512Y.0000000041
Benefits of Peppermint Oil
In a similar study designed to measure the effects of peppermint essential oil, participants tested while unknowingly being exposed to either peppermint, ylang-ylang (similar to lavender), or no odor. Similar to the SART test from the chewing gum study, participants in this study were tested on their speed of attention, accuracy of attention, quality of memory (secondary and working), and speed of memory. Researchers were careful to disregard any participants’ mention of an odor at the start of the testing so as not to reveal the true purpose of the study. As a result, researchers found that those participants exposed to peppermint oil scored significantly better in areas of working memory, speed of attention, and level of alertness.
Benefits of Movement in the Classroom
One of the biggest classroom management related issues that teachers of all grade levels face is students’ inability to sit still, focus, and pay attention. This fidgety behavior isn’t exclusive to elementary age children. Rather, the urge to fidget impacts learning and productivity even for adolescents and adults. Instead of encouraging students to stop engaging in this generally disruptive behavior, we should instead change the conversation about fidgeting in the classroom.
For many students, movement is a requirement for productivity and meaningful learning outcomes. These students may be classified as kinesthetic learners; they require physical activity in order for a lesson to stick. For these students, the brain is better able to focus on the task at hand while the body is in motion. In other words, an active body equals an active mind and a still body equals a still mind (Pariser, 2017). Adapting this fidget-forward frame of mind may seem overwhelming at first, but finding ways to effectively incorporate movement in the classroom, even on a micro level, can have a substantial positive impact on students’ ability to focus and take away valuable learning outcomes. In fact, a 2010 study on movement in the classroom states:
Evidence from multiple studies and research reviews suggests that physical activity improves many academic outcomes, including overall academic success, cognitive performance, read and math skills, increased on-task classroom behavior, creation of positive learning experiences for students, and improved levels of concentration. (Benes, Finn, Sullivan, Yan, 2016, p. 112)
Teachers who participated in this study stated that they noticed positive outcomes on students’ ability to focus and stay engaged when movement was incorporated into the classroom. In fact, engagement was a keyword used by teachers when discussing movement integration. One teacher states, “I would say the biggest thing is engagement, because the kids can’t just sit there and disengage if their main goal is to move around and engage with each other and the content.” While another teacher stated, “I think of kids being engaged in what they are doing…And I see them, basically engaged would be the word that comes to mind” (Benes et al, 2016, p. 122). In addition to teachers’ ever-expanding lists of expectations, incorporating movement into the classroom can seem like a chore, especially when it comes to subjects like reading and writing that require students to physically sit still. This is where fidgeting comes in.
In 2009, a sixth grade teacher in Minnesota , Abby Brown, received grant funding to work with an ergonomic furniture design company to create adjustable desks for her classroom. The desks allow students to comfortably stand, sit, lean and/ or rest their feet on a moveable footrest. Brown affirmed “It’s a comforting kind of fidget that helps them stay focused” and “