Fidget spinners are the latest trend to take over American schools. Like anything, they have their fans and their opponents, and in my mind it’s another go-round of a pretty consistent cycle of mini-trends of toys captivating kids that adults don’t understand or take issue with on a way too personal level.
A few years ago Tech Decks made a comeback, and in our school Rubik’s Cubes were the thing for a while. Water bottle flipping was the thing a few months ago. When I was in middle school, the cycle went through pogs, and Giga Pet/Tamagotchis (mine always died), then Yomega Brain yo-yos. Members of my Twitter PLN are noticing the same thing. With any trend, it’s time to cue members of the education profession calling for a ban of the most recent distraction…because surely it is ONLY a fidget spinner, or a Tech Deck, or a water bottle, a computer, a cell phone, the sky outside the window…surely only THOSE things are why students are bored and distracted in our classrooms, right?! Are we going to get fed up with…pen clicking? Finger tapping? Looking out the window? Let’s ban all clicky pens! No fingers for you! Block all windows!
All sarcasm aside, earlier this week I talking to a colleague who made the following observation: these spinny things captivate students and hold their attention. We recently saw the same thing happen with water bottle flipping.
So, we found ourselves asking questions. How can we harness this in our classrooms? How can we captivate students like these inanimate objects? If a small plastic device with a few ball bearings can hold their attention for that long, what can we do to do the same in our classrooms? My Twitter PLN is full of educators meeting students where they are, particularly PE teachers who are using them as fitness timers. They did the same when the Bottle Flipping Movement took over our cafeterias, by developing similar games using cones in PE, and our engineering teacher used that as an opportunity to teach about concepts related to physics. As educators we constantly have to find ways to make our subject areas meaningful and interesting to our students, especially in a world filled with distractions.
“But kids are already so distracted these days! They already don’t pay attention in MY class, and MY subject area is SO IMPORTANT that they NEED to pay attention ALL the time!”
Say what!? I don’t even pay attention all the time and I’m an adult. Of COURSE your students are distracted: they’re kids!! I don’t want to go into the science of brain development, particularly during adolescence, but as we know (or you SHOULD know) we can’t expect kids to pay attention for long periods of time without a break. Many teachers forget this or choose to ignore it. Brain boosts and movement breaks are used for this specific reason by educators who understand that kids can’t learn with a “numb bum” (thanks for that term, Andy!) after sitting down all day. Perhaps something similar can be accomplished by allowing students to use their spinners every x amount of minutes.
When I see fidget spinners, I’m also reminded to keep things simple. We live in a time where the world is literally at our fingertips and accessed through phones or computers 24/7. Virtual reality is a legitimate thing now. Sometimes, going low-tech is the better way to go, and it’s actually nice to see students so absorbed by something not on a screen, no matter how silly or simple or time-wasting it seems to us as adults.
I understand the purpose of fidget cubes, but based on how my students are using the fidget spinners, I’ll admit the spinners are a distraction for most (but not all) kids. That doesn’t mean I would advocate for banning them. For me, a simple request to keep them away is all it takes. As educators, we can find ways to incorporate them into our teaching, and they’ve given me another opportunity to connect with my students. Students have shown me modifications they’ve made to their own fidget spinners in order to try to make them spin longer, and students trade different color bearings with each other. They even make their own! Students have asked me how long I could make them spin for and have me take one of theirs for a spin (sorry, couldn’t resist!).
Sample Ways to Incorporate Fidget Spinners in Classrooms
- As fitness timers in PE class or during movement breaks
- As Creative Writing Prompt Devices for ELA classes
- As devices to “hack” (try to improve) during an engineering class
- As a model for art class (okay, I’ll admit that’s a stretch)
I’m not saying we have to adapt what we do to fit every.single.micro.trend that students are into, or that we even need to incorporate them into our classes. But if we can find something to engage students, how is that a bad thing? Set parameters for your classroom that are based on common sense, take a deep breath, and realize it’s not that big of a deal.
For the record, I handle the Fidget Spinner Situation by actually doing one aspect of my job as an educator. I talk with the student and determine what needs to be done on a case by case basis. Most students are understanding and respond to a polite prompt to put it away. It’s not that difficult. If it’s particularly distracting to a student, then I may take the spinner for the block and let them have it at the end of class. To me, all of this is common sense and it takes approximately fifteen seconds out of my class. I have too many more important things to worry about during the course of a school day to get all fired up about a toy. This might even speak to a larger issue of educators making decisions that benefit them and not the students, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole I don’t want to go down in this post.
I’ll end with a Hot Take: one student has told me that the Moondrop is going to be the next “it” thing. If so…you heard it here first!
Now, about that grading…