If you have been within 100 yards of an elementary or middle school in the last week… in the United States, the United Kingdom, or pretty much any other developed country, you’ve surely seen a Fidget Spinner, the small gadget on ball bearings that spin crazy fast. They have invaded the field at t-ball practice, the mall, and… my latest sighting: The hostess who recently seated our family while eating out this past weekend. These “educational toys” are the latest fad to hit schools and to break our students’ piggy banks. If, however, you’ve been living under a rock, here’s what a Fidget Spinner is:
Every year it’s something new; from “dabbing” to rainbow loom weaving, slamming POGs to Silly Bandz, Pokémon cards to… whatever comes next! It’s been this way for as long as we can remember, and most likely will stay that way as long as children attend schools. Usually, these fads are a nightmare for teachers and they get banned within a week. We’ve seen on social media that a lot of teachers are currently being driven crazy by the newest craze, but we’re here to put a positive spin on them.
What’s All the Fuss?
Here are five reasons why this fad isn’t the worst one we’ve seen in our classrooms, and a couple suggestions on how to embrace it:
#1 They Have an Intended Purpose and Audience.
Let us be clear… we’re not saying that fidgeting or the need for fidgets is a new fad. We’re well aware that there are individuals who have a neurological need to fidget. Banning fidget spinners across the board takes away a tool from those who have a hard time functioning or focusing without it. This is Zach writing, and I am a natural fidgeter. Sitting next to my computer right now as I type this is a container of silly putty that I play with in between sentences while I’m pondering. If you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant with me, you’ve surely watched me tie knots with my straw wrapper waiting for my food (yes, mom, I know not to do this on a date). I can’t help it! It’s just how I’ve always been. So for me, I loved the Fidget Spinner as soon as I saw it, I’ve been picking them up off of my students’ desks and playing with them all week. I can definitely see why they’re so popular. At times, kids just need something to tinker with. For some kids, it is a distraction. But if it’s not a Fidget Spinner they’re being distracted by, it’s something else: the ticking of the clock, the sharpening of a pencil, the talking of a neighbor, the family deer outside on the playground (this happens more often than you would guess in Troy, MI)… so in my eyes, these aren’t the worst thing in the world.
#2 They Really Haven’t Been a Problem (yet??)
With most fads, the problems come with tears when someone makes a trade they want on which they renege and an argument erupts. After a week of fidget spinners I am happy to report there have been no tears and no arguments. In fact, there’s been nothing but enthusiasm when students come in every morning showing off their latest acquisition from Walmart, 7-Eleven, or Amazon Prime. First, there were the solid colors. The next day, we saw versions that had multi-colored bearings. After that, there were the patterned prints and glow-in the dark. Most recently, a boy came in with one made from a golden alloy and only two points, and kids welcomed the innovative design! They called it the Lamborghini of spinners, and I’m sure it made that boy’s day.
How did we get so lucky to have students who could handle themselves when introduced to something new? How were they not consumed by envy when their classmates brought in a new model? We set them up for success through the classroom culture we promote. Part of our daily routine involves paying each other compliments. We end our day with a simple activity of sharing the positive experiences that happened to us throughout the day. It’s amazing to pass the microphone to a student, who a few hours earlier was ready to lose it over a soccer foul, and hear them compliment their teammates and opponents on a fair game at recess. Kids notice when other kids are working hard and staying focused, and they encourage each other through our complimentary end to the day. Promoting this simple habit has created a classroom community of students that can be happy for each other, and selflessly give kudos.
#3 Maker + Hacker + Modifier = Innovator
Why do we spend hours planning engaging science lessons, days researching the best technologies to integrate, weeks digging into Next Generation Science Standards to understand the new engineering practices our students need to know, and months trying to get students to learn mathematics against their will? Because STEM skills are important… they pervade every part of our lives. Science is everywhere in the world around us. Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives. Engineering is the basic designs of roads and bridges, but also tackles the challenges of changing global weather and environmentally-friendly changes to our home. Mathematics is in every occupation, every activity we do in our lives. By exposing students to STEM and giving them opportunities to explore STEM-related concepts, they will develop a passion for it and hopefully pursue a job in a STEM field (engineeringforkids.com). We spend all our energy trying to get kids excited about these areas, but when they come to school already geeked about something so… geeky, we should crush their enthusiasm? No!
This is one of those moments, nay, a movement, when we can commandeer a fad and create into something meaningful that they will remember and find meaningful. When you stop and think about the implications, you realize that these can be a natural avenue for innovation… and there’s not even a screen involved! As George Couros says, “innovation is a way of thinking, not simply the way we use technology.” We need to open ourselves to thinking about fidget spinners in terms of what learning could take place around them.
Update: Here’s a great quick tutorial for using TinkerCAD to design a simple spinner.
#4 Mindfulness in Classroom Management
This week amidst a hectic afternoon of packing up, cleaning the room and trying to corral students to the carpet for our end of the day routines and announcements I had an idea. I challenged the class to pack up, have the room completely cleaned up and have everyone sitting on carpet by the time my Fidget Spinner stopped spinning. I HAVE never seen a classroom get cleaned faster. Students were so excited, the room was spotless and everyone was on the carpet watching as the slowly moving Fidget Spinner crept to a halt. We got to our end of the day announcements (doesn’t always happen!) and kids left the room feeling like they accomplished a mission… I’m going to chalk that up as a win!
#5 Just Because Kids Like Things…
Doesn’t Mean We Have to Hate Them
There was a time when schools were seeking a balance for technology such as cell phones, iPads, and laptops in class. Teachers struggled with the question of whether they were more of a teaching tool or a distraction to students. Substitute the words fidget spinner for cell phone and you find yourself in today’s debate.
As with any learning tool, it has the potential to be useful with help and guidance from a teacher, and this doesn’t mean banning them out-of-hand.
I want to include a paragraph from a recent post by George Couros here: http://georgecouros.ca/blog/ that was written in the wake of the United Airlines public relations debacle as one passenger was dragged off of an overbooked flight, due to the company’s rules and regulations. He makes the point that while adhering to a student code of conduct is important in most cases, common sense must override policy if your politics dumb. Every interaction with students matters, and we cannot afford to miss out on the chance to make connections with kids by showing an interest in their interests.
Policies are not the way we build relationships in education; having wisdom is the way forward. The ability to use common sense when it is called upon. I have always said that if a policy trumps common sense, the policy is stupid. People at all levels of an organization need to be put into situations where they can do the right thing for those that they are serving, as they are the closest ones to the situation.
So Now What?
Suggestions for Parameters…
- Have designated times for full use, limited use, and no use. As with a noise chart, there are times when it’s okay to have productive noise, but other times when it needs to be close to silent.
- Insist on a “zero trading” policy. Even if kids think they’re getting the best deal, the parents who paid for it may think otherwise. Save yourself the headache and the child the tears and shut down trading.
- Build in times for “making” and “modifying”. If you have an indoor recess, allow kids to disassemble and reassemble their fidget spinners and try to make them even faster.
- Use them as a classroom reward for participating in discussions or staying on task. 5 minute spinner break!
- Who can spin the longest from one flick?
- For kids that don’t have their own, show them how they might design and build a spinner out of easily accessible materials such as index cards, brass brads, pennies, and rivets.
- Plan lessons on spinner-related topics such as the Newtonian physics of centrifugal force, symmetry, simple machines, acceleration, friction, momentum, etc…
- If you have a 3D printer available, let kids earn the chance to design and print their own unique designs.
We aren’t the only ones who think this way either!
Just Keep Spinning!