Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Teacher's Thoughts on Fidget Spinners by Dr. Michael Flanagan


You’re teaching a class. You hear this little “twip, twip, twip, twip”, but you are not sure where it’s coming from. You look around, and notice the kids are spinning...something...in their hands, on their desks. They are riveted, utterly fixated on this whirling wonder. They’re even blowing on them to keep them twirling. Lesson over.


The Fidget Spinner is the latest fad spreading throughout America’s classrooms. It is a plastic pinwheel constructed with ball bearings that can spin between the thumb and forefinger, or on top of a desk. The difference between this craze and past ones such as Tamagotchis, Silly String, or Pokemon Go is that this one is billed as the panacea for distracted students. Fidget Spinners are touted-- mostly by the producers of the product-- as being able to alleviate anxiety, stress, and ADHD. They keep students focused, alright, but not on what you are trying to teach them.


Think back, over the years. What are some of the most distracting things that can happen in a classroom? Those phenomena that, when they occur, can destroy even the best of lessons. You know the scene: you’re cruising through a lesson. It’s going great. “Wow,” you’re thinking, “I’m a great teacher! I didn’t make a mistake going into this profession after all! I’m making a difference!” In my experience, there are two occurrences above all others that can completely derail a lesson regardless of subject, or grade level.


Bees and farts.


First: All teachers know that when a kid farts in class, the lesson is pretty much done. Kids start laughing; holding their noses; moving their seats; going into the hallway, or running to the windows. Half the time, so do we. Even the kid who actually farted is trying to get away. A teacher might be tempted to turn this disruption into a learning opportunity about manners or etiquette, but he or she would be a goner before even starting. I’ve just learned to keep some air freshener in my desk drawer for such an occasion. Worth its weight in gold. It appeases the kids, and maybe...maybe...you can finish the lesson. Is there a domain on the Danielson Rubric to rate this management technique? I rate it as “Highly Effective”.


Second: There’s a bee in the classroom!! Once again, chaos. The students scatter in all directions, diving on the floor as if a terrorist attack was underway. The room erupts into a high-pitched squeal of young girls. You know the sound-- not even the most talented mezzo soprano singer can hit that pitch. Kids panic. At least one starts crying. And of course, there’s always the one kid that decides he’s the second coming of Mariano Rivera and hurls the biggest textbook in the room at this little, helpless bee.


Now as the teacher, you of course attempt to maintain control of the room, but this is usually futile. It doesn’t help when security, or even the principal, come running to see what all the commotion is about, but when you tell them, “It’s a bee”,  flee from the room themselves.


“Okay students, I’ll wait till you are finished,” we sometimes try. Yeah, as if. I usually try to point out, “Hey. Y’all are so tough. You’re afraid of a little bee?” Sometimes that actually works. Sometimes.


Yes, I know there are kids who are legitimately allergic to bee stings. But really, how many? I’ve met only a handful in my many years in the profession. And I am not a big believer in killing bees so I always try to open up the windows and shoo them back out. But it’s too late. The class is officially over. Because even when the bee is gone, there’s the inevitable debriefing about who did what when they saw it flying in, how far this one or that one dove out of the way, who threw the book the closest, and just what a horrible drama it all was.


We can’t control bees, or farts, or the fact that most students carry the biggest distraction of all in their pockets: the cell phone. But do we need to add Fidget Spinners into the equation? Yes, school kids sit in classrooms six or seven hours a day, and many schools are cutting recess in favor of test prep. Students have restless energy that needs to be channeled, especially after lunch. And yes, Fidget Spinners have the potential to do this. But, of course, it’s distracting to the student, and frustrating to the teacher who is trying to teach. Many schools are trying to remedy this by banning them. Remember, we have standardized exams and pop-in observations to worry about! Where do Fidget Spinners work into the Danielson Rubric??

Here’s an idea: let’s see if we can improve attention and address hyperactivity the old fashioned way. Bring back recess.

37 comments:

  1. I have been telling my students to put them away or give them to me. They are indeed focused - on the spinners. All different colors, a few different sizes, passing them around the world as they do a new toy - pulling away from whatever it was I imagined I would teach today...

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    1. And I've seen ads for light up spinners too.

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    2. Oh my gosh-the light up spinners just made their way into my classroom today. As if the regular ones weren't distracting enough the light is obnoxious!!!

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    3. Collect them in and when they finish their work reward them with 5 mins spinner time. Distraction turned into motivation.

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  2. Making "fidget rules" clear before they're allowed in my class seems to help, because as soon as they're distracting they are put away. They're immensely helpful for my students, but we've had other fidgets in our room for so long, theyre not as novel. Thats usually the key for my students: as soon as the novelty has worn off, we are back at it.

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  3. Have you seen the ones that light up too.... for the love of all that's holy, maybe we can program them to spout Shakespeare!

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  4. Spinner rules went up on my board last week: If you use a spinner in one hand under the desk while you focus on the lesson, fine. The moment I or anyone else see it, or anyone, including you, is looking at it, it's mine until the end of the day--or, if you argue, until a parent or guardian comes to discuss your disrupting the class.

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    1. I like that idea as a parent of an ADHD/OD child

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  5. I took 5 on Friday afternoon.

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  6. all kids need recess - including high school... too much focus on test prep these days!

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  7. I was planning on contacting the counselors first since some of my kids told me they received them from the office. Once that is confirmed, I've already told them they are going "they way of the bottle flip". That one was easy, I put a sign up in my room for all bottles to be placed on a shelf and it stopped.

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  8. As I teach HS, I gently remind the students that those are "for coping with anxiety and distractions... for those with the diagnosis." Then I add, "but if they become a distraction, which is not their intended purpose, we have to talk." That's enough said most times.

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    1. From a peer perspective -- stating those with a diagnosis is outing us as different. The related stigma leads to social cruelty in the lunchroom and playgrounds. It's a goal of the neurodiverse to protect an open future for the young ones. Let them integrate and out themselves as they choose.

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    2. Yes because God forbid anyone be seen as different. The world after school isn't going to be all balloons and smiles so putting a taboo on so-called "outing" isn't going to help these kids once they are out in it. Their peers aren't stupid and they are already going to know when someone is different. The key is to educate on the difference and not wrapped them in a social bubble wrap.

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  9. Oh my gosh, I laughed so hard reading this. It helps to ease some of the pain of seeing all those fidget show up in my classroom.

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  10. When you open the window, turn the lights out. The bee will fly to the light outside. Someone clued me in to this trick a year ago. As for the spinners, I take them away for the length of the class. I give them back when the bell rings.

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  11. I agree 100% with the disruption in class with these spinners. Can I just point out as I shared the article, it would hold more validity if the grammar in the title was correct? ��

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    1. Thank you for reading the piece, and your comment. Yes, I noticed the missing apostrophe in the title right after I published and shared the piece. I edited immediately (as you can see at the top of this blog) but once the title was imbedded in the link, It could not be changed.

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  12. From a neurodiverse perspective -- a former high school & college dropout, and not a badass teacher like y'all -- I have no idea what attention spans are like for the neurotypical mind and can't imagine teaching a group of students like you all do. Just a note for full disclosure :).


    What I wanted to share was some lived experience for those of us who do are Autistic, have adhd, bipolar, schizophrenia and other labels that might be invisible challenges or not-yet-dx for students -- For the record, I'm Autistic with anxiety and sensory sensitivities that now interfere with my ability to be in the public or outside of a controlled environment.

    As a child I could tune out the rest of the world far easier and was the quiet non-productive one in the classroom. Brilliant failure they said.

    Now that I'm older and understand myself better -- I was overloaded and shut down. I could either manage to learn in an environment that was quiet and sans social interactions of students -- or be overloaded by humans, chalk boards, talk, lights, wind and trying so hard to look focused and attentive when I was incapable of doing so to remain out of trouble -- at least until the work wasn't completed and I could be excused to a great relief to be away from a such an intense social environment.

    Fidgets are an adaptive technology for the neurodiverse who are challenged with multi-focus needs to focus/and relieve that brain overload when anxiety is high. This device doesn't' help me personally -- but I have neurodiverse children and peers that say their choices are to fidget and learn -- or focus on not fidgeting and not learn. Where do you want that focus power at for us to learn?

    Just an intersectional neurodiverse thought on this. Please keep in mind, many of your students going working with a neurodiverse brain won't know they are challenged by the education system because they think differently until they are adults.

    Children present differently when young and most are given a dx of ADD first -- before first breaks and other adult-pattern symptoms are noted for things like bipolar and schizophrenia. These kids struggle in many areas that look like bad behavior -- I've had many punishments due to unrecognized Autistic female traits. Adaptive technologies like fidgets (this spinner thing is that) can be incredible support.

    Sending a neurodiverse kid to recess might not be the solution -- for a student like myself that was the worst part of the day. Horrid.

    Not saying these spinners aren't a pain and misused -- just wanted to bring in a perspective to ponder as you seek solutions.





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    1. Fidget and learn, or focus on not fidgeting and not learn. That's it in a nutshell. Very powerful post. Thank you for sharing.

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    2. I'm glad you posted this. As a para, we've used these to redirect a behavior or get attention with fantastic results as well as the original idea.
      A problem in class, is it's not just the spinning, it's becoming a bit dangerous. Have you seen the children put the spinner to their opened mouth? Crack go the teeth! And whole sitting there, kids like to try to put it to a peers hair to tangle it up.
      As a teacher said last Friday, "Is it just me, or is everyone only watching (child) try to bust out his teeth? Also I know every child who technically needs or could benefit these spinners, and not a one of them have them. So from now on, if it's going to be a problem, put it in my basket when you come in the door."
      I've spoke to many teachers, and we see the benefit, hands down.
      But honestly, the *Cell Phone* is something I/we wished they'd have to keep in locker until end of day!!
      So we'll take a spinner anyday.

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  13. Just tell the kids they work by magnets which will ultimately destroy the computer in their fancy cell phones. Done deal.

    #hypotheticallyspeakingofcourse

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  14. As a special ed teacher, if a student has fidget use in the IEP,then I ask the OT to teach the student the appropriate use of any fidget. If it's not in the IEP, no fidget. These current fidgets are the same as the battle beys that were the rage last fall, a toy, not a therapeutic support.

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  15. I always use the words tools vs toys. Kids using them as a tool can keep them. Using them as a toy? Sharing them as a novelty (toy) with other classmates across the aisle or room? Put it away. They've been very cooperative and understanding of the difference. Tool to help you focus,? Or toy to entertain and distract you? You decide whether you get to keep it out in class.

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  16. Right now on my campus they have become a huge distraction in the past couple of weeks. Some kids are selling them before and after school and during lunch shifts. For one, that is prohibited by school policy. For two, some kids are stealing money from the kids bringing money to buy these things. For three, the things are totally disruptive in class, especially when your class is already a behavior unit such as my class! For four, some kids don't have money to buy from the ones selling them so other issues are created by jealousy.

    Seldom, if ever, have I seen a student use this thing to help reduce stress or as an aid to release built up energy. So, at the end of the day I do not like them at all within the school setting because the middle schoolers seem to refuse to use them at the proper time and in the proper fashion.

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  17. There are three things, actually: Bees, farts and the first snow of the year.

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  18. As a kid who had a very hard time with ADHD in a private catholic school with teachers that had no idea how to deal with it. I can say with confidence that these will be more beneficial in the long run than you may think. I use to bring bricks of Polymer clay to class to keep my hands busy, you can only imagine how messy that was. One of these would have been so much better. Sure they make a slight noise, but so does a restless child rocking in their seat because they need stimulation. Once the initial OMG I NEED THIS ITS SOOOOO COOOLLL phase wears off the kids that don't need them will forget about them, and the ones that do will be better students for it.

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  19. Between Fidget Spinners and Homemade Slime, this has been a challenging year for distractions. I talked to our principal about both and she said she was going to make an announcement to the students that anything that is not part of our learning environment, can be confiscated and should not be brought to school. I waited for that announcement, but that was over a month ago! I made my own rules about these things and so have other teachers, but what we need is consistency, so that the students understand it's not helping them learn. Kids are very savvy at convincing adults that they "need" things and these are more examples.

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  20. I haven't even seen one of these before! Is this a middle school thing? I teach high school.

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    1. It is more middle school, but I teach high school, and kids had them last week. Seems like they break easy as well, seeing lots of "pieces of spinners" this week. Popularity is already starting to fade I think. Next.

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  21. The inventor lost the patent because she could not afford the $400 renewal fee. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/may/03/fidget-spinner-inventor-patent-catherine-hettinger?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email

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  22. My granddaughters teacher put a piece of Velcro tape on the bottom of her desk,seems to help her fidgeting problem, no expensive gadgets required.

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  23. I completely agree with getting spinners out of the classroom and adding more movement and recess to the school day. I am upset with your promotion of air fresheners in the classroom though. Air fresheners are toxic and can send a student with asthma or chemical sensitivities into an adverse attack. Please stop using them to counteract a fart, which is normal for everyone. Teaching your students about empathy might work here before anyone ever farts in your room.

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  24. I think the mechanics of the spinners are pretty cool. I agree that kids shouldn't play with them during instruction time, but there are ways to make play with them more intentional and interactive. My kids and I came up with a Board Game that uses the spinners (it also uses strategy) I'm sending it in to my son's classroom as an game option for in door recess days. http://www.namesakedesign.com/2017/05/are-fidget-spinners-driving-you-crazy.html

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  25. Thanks for the post and great tips..even I also think that hard work is the most important aspect of getting success Fidget Spinner

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