Teaching Profession

Teachers Turn Craze Over Fidget Spinners Into Academic Lessons

By Brenda Iasevoli — May 24, 2017 2 min read
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Are fidget spinners helping antsy students to sit still and concentrate on their lessons, or are they just driving kids (and teachers) to distraction? Education Week‘s Kristine Kim explores the controversy over the toy’s classroom takeover in this Teaching Now blog.

Some schools have outright banned the twirling gadgets, or allow kids to operate them only if they follow strict rules. Yet some teachers have leveraged the craze as a way to teach writing, science, technology, and math, among other subjects.

Amy Garay, a 3rd grade teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary in Tallahassee, Fla., uses fidget spinners as a jumping off point for all manner of lessons, reports the Tallahassee Democrat. In a science lesson, she guides her students to make hypotheses about how the spinners work.

“We’re having them compare and asking things like, are the weights different and as a result, do some spin faster than others? Does the circumference and the size make a difference?” Garay told the Tallahassee Democrat.

Her students test out their hypotheses and record the data in charts and graphs. And they don’t stop at scientific experiments. Garay’s students write opinion pieces arguing for or against the use of fidget spinners in the classroom. They even dabble in their own design mock-ups and write up marketing strategies.

Some teachers are taking lessons beyond the design stage. Their students are creating fidget spinners using 3-D printers. Nolan Wrage, an engineering tech teacher at McKinley Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, leveraged his students’ interest in the toy into lessons on the engineering-design process, reports the Gazette. Students noticed, for instance, that spinners that are too thin broke too easily, while those that are too large don’t fit on the palm of the hand to spin.

Wrage turned a potentially distracting toy into a lesson where students tackled the engineering-design process—making mistakes and finding solutions for them—with particular investment because they were creating something they really wanted. “This project fit seamlessly into our study of design and modeling, and the best part was that every single student was on task,” he told the Gazette. “They were dialed in and ready to go. I almost had to slow them down at times.”

For teachers who want to take on the science behind how the spinners work, the Teaching Channel lays out the particulars, answering questions like “What’s in the middle that makes it spin?” or “How can it stay upright?” Also available are tips on how to spin the gadget into all kinds of extension activities, including maker lessons using Lego bricks, K’nex or other materials.

Do you think it’s a good idea to use fidget spinners in academic lessons? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.