MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) Dottie Pownall's classroom has been christened the "ball room" ever since she purchased fitness balls for her 27 students last month to be used in place of traditional desk chairs.

Pownall's class at Orchard View Intermediate was conducting a class science fair project on ways to help students learn when they came across an article about a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, which indicated that the use of fitness balls improves students' concentration, creates less classroom noise and helps students become more fit.

Pownall applied for a $400 instructional improvement grant from Berkeley County Schools and started using the balls Dec. 15.

Pownall, who has been with Berkeley County Schools for seven years, said using the balls helps strengthen stomach muscles, improves posture and helps keep kids focused.

She gives students a choice of using a regular desk chair or the fitness ball.

Melissa Crowley, key communicator at the school, said students choose whether or not to use them each day based on what they're wearing or if they aren't feeling well and don't feel like bouncing.

"They choose to sit on it," Crowley said. "Having the option is really cool to them."

Pownall said there are rules for the balls. Students must keep their feet flat on the floor and they can't kick or throw the balls.

"They're excited to sit on the balls," Pownall said. "They're more focused, pay attention better and they're happier."

Moving helps keep students from fidgeting and stimulates brain activity, she added.

Anna Slayden, 10, of Martinsburg, said that sitting on the fitness balls keeps her focused.

"It's a lot comfier than normal chairs," Slayden said.

Nia Blackman, 10, of Martinsburg, said that using the balls is fun.

"We can bounce," Blackman said. "It keeps us focused and gives us good posture. It's better than the chairs, because in the chairs you can't bounce and when you sit back it hurts your back."

The balls are fun and give kids more room, making it not as cluttered, said Zach Marshall, 10, of Martinsburg.

Crowley said some of the teachers are all for implementing the new seats in their own classrooms, while others are skeptical.

"I think it's an awesome program," Crowley said. "It gives them an opportunity to move a little and it's still legal."

Allowing students to bounce lets teachers to focus on other things in the classroom instead of constantly telling students to sit still.

"The kids love it," she said.

Crowley, who has a daughter in second grade at Rosemont Elementary, said she's excited for her daughter.

"I can't wait till she gets here," Crowley said. "I think it will help."

Pownall said that whenever she has a substitute coming in, she takes the balls out and lets another classroom use them. So far, at least one other classroom is hoping to purchase balls for their classroom.

"The principal seems pleased," Pownall said. "She's been very supportive."

Information from: The Journal,

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.