Fidget Spinners Aren’t The Problem

But Perhaps You Are!

Now before you get all huffy puffy with the title of this post, please hear me out before you get to bashing me with comments in anger. I have been reading all the blog posts, media outlets, and social media posts and felt I needed to chime in.

First, a few disclaimers.

  1. I am not a stereotypical classroom teacher. I am an instructional coach. I operate a makerspace for project based learning. I know that many of the haters of this article will quickly point out that if I were indeed a classroom teacher my thoughts would be different. I would disagree as I believe that it is all about the culture and respect you build with students. This won’t solve everything, but it will take care of 97%(fake news as I have no solid proof of this percentage, it is an estimation) of the problems.
  2. I love making fidget spinners. It has been a great learning challenge for me and I have worked with kids I have never had the chance to before. I have been working with them to understand CAD and how to create ideas on a computer to bring to life.
    1. Tinkercad Tutorial Ruler and Dimensions 
    2. Fidget Spinner Tutorial 2 Using Tinkercad
    3. Fidget Spinner Tutorial Using Tinkercad!

The distraction is not the kids with fidget spinners. The distraction is that they have become a scapegoat to blame a cheap little device on the reasons kids are not paying attention instead of possible rethinking the lesson being taught. We take our anger out on the spinning device rather than study why classrooms still operate like they did 100 years ago where kids are bored and sitting in rooms operating in DOK level 1 material.Or using it as an excuse to not challenge the bigger issues in education right now at both the national level and state level(I live in Iowa). Or using it as an excuse that we have completely forgotten what it is like to be a kid and deleted all memory of the fidget devices of decades ago i.e.

  • Pogs(I still have mine somewhere!)
  • Gum wrapper chains
  • Snap bracelets(I have a solid collection in my room!)
  • Folding paper in squares(I was never smart enough to figure out how to make one)
  • Pagers – anyone remember this fad? your pager would go off and then you would have to scramble to a payphone to decipher the messages entered in numbers?
  • Paper football
  • Pencil wars
  • Pokemon Go

Don’t let us forget that distractions don’t need to be a fad in order to be effective. These distractions happen all the time and everyone just accepts them:

  • Farts
  • Overhead PA announcement right in that moment your lesson was going to WOW! them
  • Fire or Storm Drill
  • Air conditioning not working and the aromas of middle school bodies

I bring these up only to remind ourselves that we cannot lose our minds over these things. As schools are moving to banning policies and giving out punishments I once again think about how close schools are starting to feel like prisons. The students are treated more like prisoners rather than students as rule books and punishments lurk around every single corner. There is so much stress in education right now that I am surprised that teachers are not using fidget spinners. The pressure to meet goals. The pressure for all kids to be proficient on standardized testing. The pressure of national politics on education. The continual growth of student and family needs.

And this is just pressure for the adults. We have not even talked about the pressure that trickles down to the students.

What if we started looking for the good instead? Maybe we are creating a bigger distraction by the way we are operating with these devices.

A typical day for a student requires hours of sitting in uncomfortable desks listening to adults.

Are we going to ban pencils when kids tap them on the desk? Are we going to ban cell phones when teachers all discretely check them during PD? Are we going to ban air when a kid burps(a bit dramatic, but you get my point). Can these devices be a tool instead of a reward? This is perhaps a topic for another post, but how many times do we introduce a tool to education and quickly create a system where it becomes a reward and not a tool?

I get it. I really do. It is the end of the year. Kids are ready to be done. Teachers are ready to be done probably even more. But we can’t lose our mind on the bigger issues at stake here.

As schools are pressured to score high on tests, recess is being cut, electives don’t exist, and drill and kill become the norm. No wonder kids are stressed and fidgety.

So what if kids use them as a toy? Every single time I get a new phone or a new thing to build I feel like it is my birthday. I become obsessed(like I am with Clash Royale right now). It consumes my life and despite knowing my life won’t radically change I enjoy it. The same is true with the spinners.

Before I dive into some ideas on how to use them for good, let me say one more thing. Kids needing to fidget in classrooms is nothing new. There is a reason why I continue to this day to have no fingernails because I chewed them all the time when bored or nervous. Or how many kids twirl their hair, chew gum, pick junk off their shoes, write on their binders, ask to go to the bathroom, etc.

This is nothing new!

Or even better – we celebrate the classrooms that have created flexible seating to help with this very problem, yet here is a little device working the same way and it is consider a device of complete evil.

Now, how do we use this nasty device plaguing classrooms with a spinning fury for good?

  1. Talk to the kids – Have you sat down with the students and developed rules? Has there been a conversation or did schools go straight to a ban policy? Sometimes treating them like people solves many of the problems. Not all, but more than we give them credit for.
  2. Study the bearings – why are some better than others? What causes a good spin vs. a bad spin? How do we know and how can we prove it? Try this little blog to get started.
  3. Science – study how inertia, centrifugal force, rpm, and more all account for a quality spinner
  4. Science Idea #2 – use them to teach about magnets
  5. Copyright and Patents – Teachers love to stamp the mandates of copyright and citing sources for everything. Why not take the case of this poor lady who invented the idea, let the patent expire, and now not earn a single penny because she gave up ownership of the idea. Use this story as a way to not only support why we provide credit to where it is due, but when we have a great idea why we should protect ourselves.
  6. History lesson – what goes around, comes around. The favorite mindset of any educator who has spent more than 8 years in education. We see the same things come and go with a new name on it time and time again. The same when we study history and look for patterns. The same thing with the fidget spinner. It was developed in the 80’s – yes, 30+ years ago. It is coming back like stonewashed jeans and Crocs. Why does this happen? Use Google Trends and see if you find data correlation. Take boring old history that most kids don’t care about and connect it with something they do care about.
  7. Class Structure – tell students they can use them during a brain break. What? You don’t have these built into your class so kids sit the entire time? Sounds like the perfect time to bring out a fidget spinner.
  8. Class debate – Students do research to discover whether or not these are helpful. There is so much online right now that it would lead to great discussions on credible sites, facts, and research. Heck, have the students wage a debate against you the teacher. Turn it into a mock trial….wait a minute……
  9. Mock Trial – Run a mock trial where the fidget spinner is on trial for ruining education across America.
  10. Math – What is the spinning time of each spinner in the room? What is the class average? How do we display our findings? Is there a correlation with cost and spin time? Materials vs. spin time?

We survived bottle flipping earlier this year(barely). We survived the slime phase and nobody was injured during that fad. This too shall pass so why not tap into the moment and use it as an entry point for solid learning?

These fads are just like water. We cannot stop the power of the fads just like we cannot control the tides of water. However, we can build channels to funnel where water goes and we can create channels to funnel how student energy and devices like fidget spinners are being used. I know it is the end of the year and kids are going crazy just like the teachers. Remember to hold on tight and keep your sanity. There are many great lessons to be taught. All great lessons are never easy.

All I am saying is that the world will not come to an end because of fidget spinners.

So, my challenge to you is how can you take this moment and make it something positive? We cannot afford to make a sweeping generalization about fidget spinners. We don’t like it when it is done to us as educators so why would we turn around and do the same. It might be helping more kids than you realize.

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11 thoughts on “Fidget Spinners Aren’t The Problem

  1. This is the post I was waiting for. Kids don’t need fidgets when the schoolwork is active and interesting.
    I’d also add: we complain about kids and electronics. Now here we are with analogue. Can we never be happy? Like, of all the things kids are into, THIS is what we’re up in arms about? For real? Pick and choose REAL battles with fighting. Please!

    • We are never happy are we Ginger? Sometimes I feel like we create the issues to avoid the real work that needs to be done. This happens in all aspects of life, not just education.

  2. Perhaps the issue is more about ‘active ‘ boredom rather than ‘passive’ boredom…Ss are less inclined to disguise their opinion, just seeking alternative expression to blankly staring off into space. Of course the misleading term multitasking would have us believe these same Ss can divide their attentions without ill effect. Other examples come to mind, texting while driving, walking and watching video, hand on phone at the dinner table..spinners just the latest for those out of charge.

    • Oh man, you have so many topics worth diving in and discussing. You are right with the active boredom piece. This is exactly what is going on. I have a hard time now as an adult to hide my boredom. It has taken me years to learn how to channel it.

  3. Fidgets are capturing minds and attention of students, of diverse ages, around the world. Teachers can either turn a blind-eye and ban/shun them, or take learning to the next level by giving students relevant, and engaging reasons to talk about what they find interesting. Teachers who don’t give in to complacency find their classrooms are fun where students have much fewer behavior issues. Heck, if I were younger I’d be fascinated by the spinners and probably have 3!

    • Heck, I have more than 3 now as an adult so I could only imagine my collection if I were a kid. You nailed it that fidgets capture the minds and attention of the students, so what are we doing to do the same?

  4. I am a classroom teacher and completely agree. The spinners aren’t a problem in my 8th grade math classroom. Focus on relationship with your students and try to make your content as real and purposeful as you can!

    • Amen! It is as simple as that. Sometimes we overcomplicate the process of what works. Thanks for sharing.

  5. This is good and I think it would really help the kids. I have thought for many years that there has to be a better way.

  6. I totally agree that you can turn this fad into an interesting history lesson, a research topic, a math lesson, etc.. Let the children feel comfortable and let them relax and enjoy the educational journey. Everyone wins in the end!