Fidget Spinners, Take 3: Could “Banning” Sometimes Be The Right Thing To Do?

Fidget spinners have been a popular blogging topic for me lately. My thinking on them continues to grow, and I think was further modified today when two more students came in with them. Today, I really started to question if these spinners belong in a Kindergarten classroom.

Like with any tool, I think we have to consider “why” we’re using it. This why question is important for educators to contemplate as well as for students. I think it’s one thing when a child tells me that he/she is using the fidget spinner to “feel calm,” and it’s another thing when a child doesn’t know why he/she is using it. Then is it really a good self-regulation option?

Last week, two students used these spinners with some success. They were able to spin them on the carpet, stay focused on the speaker, and participate in the class discussion. This was not the case today.

  • Children around the “spinners,” were more focused on them than on the conversation.
  • Children that were spinning the fidget spinners were distracted by them and unable to effectively join in on the conversation. Sometimes they didn’t know what we were talking about. 

This was when we suggested that the fidget spinners go away. These students were fine with putting them in their backpack, and they did not go to bring them out again or ask to do so.

At this point though, our group meeting time was over for the day, and this would be the most logical time for students to use these spinners. So now I’m left wondering …

  • Were the spinners just not for them?
  • Can we enjoy these spinners as a toy instead of a tool, but at least realize that this is why we’re using them?
  • When any tool distracts another child’s learning, do we need to reconsider this tool or just the location for its use?
  • In a Kindergarten classroom where we only meet as a group for a short period of time (or any classroom that’s similar to this), are fidget spinners really necessary? When else might children need them?

Today I was ready to ban fidget spinners, and I feel incredibly hypocritical for saying this. I know through Stuart Shanker‘s work that what dysregulates one person may be used to self-regulate another one, but when a tool distracts to the extent that this one does, can it really be used effectively in a classroom? If so, how? I hope that somebody can give me a new perspective.


A Pinecone, A Stick, And A Little Magic!

Over these past couple of weeks, an amazing thing happened during our outdoor learning time: students invented stick baseball. And while playing baseball with a stick and a pinecone may not seem blog post-worthy, it’s the very thing that’s had my teaching partner and I continuing to discuss and question classroom materials.

It all started on May 11th, when a JK student found a baseball out in the forest. When a few SK students saw him with the baseball, they all began to play catch together. This lasted for a little while, until they decided that they wanted something more: they wanted to play baseball. But nobody had a bat outside, so these resourceful Kindergarten students thought that they could use a stick instead. They quickly realized that the ball was too big and too heavy to hit well with a stick. My teaching partner, Paula, questioned them on what they could use instead. One student thought that a burr ball might work, but another student thought that it would hurt if it got stuck in someone’s hair. This child suggested a pinecone instead, and with that, stick baseball was born.

What was truly incredible about this game is that it lasted, and evolved, over multiple days. Students continued to reflect as they played.

More students got involved in the game, and they began to offer feedback to each other.

There was problem solving, teamwork, and thinking involved in this game.

Math skills — from keeping track of the score to considering the thickness of the bat and the weight of the ball (measurement) to using directional language through play — all made its way into this stick baseball game. Not once did Paula or I suggest that the students continue playing, but each day, they ran out to the forest with the intention of doing just that. They easily spent over four hours playing stick baseball, and the thinking, discussion, problem solving, and teamwork were incredible to witness, and far exceeded even what I shared here. When I think of the finalized Kindergarten Program Document and the Four Frames model, I could say that all of the Four Frames were addressed in some way through this game.

There is so much about this stick baseball game (and experience) that I love, but one of the biggest things that has caused me to reflect the most, is that during this same time that the students ran out to the forest to play with a stick and a pinecone, there were more conventional toys (or items) available for use in our outdoor classroom. The children never once thought about staying to play there though, and almost all of our students make the same decision that these boys did. In fact, even those children that do stay in our outdoor classroom space, play the most with the wood pieces and tires. Even when they use conventional items, such as chairs, they use them in very unconventional ways.

This makes us wonder more about the materials that we use in our classroom.

  • What outdoor items could we bring indoors?
  • What materials should we reconsider in our indoor and outdoor classroom spaces?
  • Even though we’ve highly reduced the number of items in our classroom, could we reduce them even more, and how might this impact on the play and the learning?

I can’t help but think again about John Spencer and A.J. Juliani‘s book, Launch: Using Design Thinking To Boost Creativity And Bring Out The Maker In Every StudentIn it, they mention that it’s often through boredom that creativity happens. Maybe when we put out a little less, provide a long enough time for exploration, and follow-up with enough questioning and support to extend learning, we see more of the “incredible,” like stick baseball. What do you think? What could be possible in all grades? It’s after an experience like this one that we’re tempted to replace all toys with open-ended natural materials, and wait and watch for the “wonderful” to occur. 


Fidget Spinners Take Two: Living By My Words!

Last weekend, I wrote this post about fidget spinners, which Doug Peterson later reflected on in his This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. I share this here because the day after writing the post, I had an opportunity to see if I was really willing to do what I said. One of our Kindergarten students came to school with a fidget spinner. It was then that I realized that words are easy to write and harder to live by.

This child happened to be sitting in front of me with the fidget spinner. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. He had it spinning for almost all of our meeting time. We only meet as a full class once during the day, and I never really thought that a child would want (or need) this fidget spinner during this time … but he did. I’ll admit that I constantly had to remind myself to think of my blog post and resist the urge to tell him to put it away. While it had my attention, I noticed that none of the other students even turned around to look at him. Nobody asked any questions about the fidget spinner. 

  • Maybe it was because it wasn’t loud enough to distract others.
  • Maybe it was because the student was sitting by me, and the “teacher presence” deterred others from saying anything.
  • Maybe it was because he brought this spinner outside in the morning, so many children already saw it. The “newness” was lost now.

While I had to fight my own battle to keep quiet, I managed to do so. The truth is, the spinner did help him focus. He listened to the speaker and contributed to the group discussion. Maybe the spinner wouldn’t be such a big problem after all.

Fast forward to the afternoon: a group of students cleaned off our creative table and brought out the Perler beads to do some beading. This is usually a quiet and calm activity for many students, but it seemed surprisingly loud today. Why? The fidget spinner was out at the table, the child was showing everybody how it worked, and students were passing it around to see which person could make it spin the fastest. Ummm, I was no longer loving this tool quite so much.

I walked over to the table, while trying to figure out what I wanted to say. I’ll admit that I was tempted to respond with, “Put the spinner away,” but then I thought of my last blog post again, and I decided to respond differently. I sat down at the table, and pointed out the fidget spinner to the students. I asked, “Why do we use this tool?” The child that brought it in said, “It makes me feel calm.” A great reason … So then I asked, “Is what we’re doing now with the fidget spinner, calming?” Everybody at the table agreed that it wasn’t. That’s when I asked, “So how could we solve this problem?” The owner of the spinner said that he could, “put it away,” and I suggested that he put it in his backpack so it would be safe. The fidget spinner didn’t come back out for the rest of the day. 

The next day, another student brought in a fidget spinner, and we had a similar conversation at a similar time. In both cases though, I was thrilled to see that asking some simple questions led to students solving the problem on their own. Once the students solved the problem on each day, it didn’t occur again during that day. It’s now been three school days, and no more children have brought fidget spinners into our classroom. Could more be coming soon? Likely, yes. Could we need to have some more similar discussions? Possibly … but I’m happy to do so!

The fidget spinner may not work for me, and it may distract me at times, but I’m an adult and can deal with this distraction. Students were not bothered by it on the carpet, and it really did make a difference for some children. I keep thinking about Doug‘s comment on my last post, and wondering if we need to let some things go while addressing other concerns. Do questions allow students to draw their own conclusions while still addressing the areas of need? I wonder how a “question approach” might work in older grades, where the draw of the spinners and the number of students that have them, could far exceed our Kindergarten numbers. What are other educators choosing to do? 


Is It Time To Institute A “Sleep On It” Rule?

Thanks to Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post, I read Jonathan So‘s recent post on fidget spinners. I think that Jonathan makes many wonderful points in his post, and ties these points back to self-regulation and connections with kids. As someone who continues to work on really listening to students (of all ages), I certainly appreciate what he’s saying here. I engaged with Jonathan a few times through comments on his post, and later, through Twitter, and it’s really my second comment that resulted in this post of mine. 

I continue to wonder if so many problems would be solved if we just gave students a little more time. Maybe it comes down to, is every problem really a problem?

As I implied in my comment to Jonathan, I am not going to pretend that I’m perfect at doing this. My amazing teaching partner, Paula, continues to remind me to “just wait.” It can be hard. Often I have to wait way past my level of comfort. 

  • The room is too loud. Make it stop.
  • The toys are distracting. Put them away.
  • The children are arguing. Intervene.
  • The task is too challenging. Help out.

What if we just stood back and watched? What if we gave the time for the noise, the arguments, and the silliness … and then waited to see if we got to calm? Would it happen? I bet that we’d find that we have to say and do far less than we think. I say this because I’ve had someone like Paula reminding me again and again to just let things be/give them another chance, and I continue to be pleasantly surprised with the outcome. 

This conversation kind of reminds me of what I used to say in presentations about inquiry: “if you base your decision on continuing with an inquiry approach after your first experience giving it a try, you will likely never do it again.” Why? 

  • Students are unaccustomed to the approach.
  • They are still learning how to ask good questions.
  • They are still learning how to solve problems independently.
  • They are still learning how to make use of the space and resources in the classroom.
  • They are likely meeting with more failures than successes.

Maybe the same thing can be said when bringing a new tool into the classroom: students are still experimenting to see if this tool works for them. I’m not saying that fidget spinners will work for everyone, and I do support the ideas that Stuart Shanker shares in his post about them. If we want to figure out if they do or don’t work though, we need to give them a fair shot. For those students where fidget spinners are not successful, hopefully they will recognize this on their own, but if not, we have a great opportunity to work with them, ask questions, and help students find a calmer alternative.

In one of his tweets to me, Jonathan mentioned the problem he sees with waiting.

I wonder though if students continue to bring in and use these tools “because we said no,” or “because this is what they really need.” Either way, I can’t help but wonder if a “sleep on it” rule would help.

How many issues would become non-issues if we just waited long enough? Sleeping on it (sometimes for multiple days), isn’t always easy, but I think it may be necessary. What do you think?


Why Does Printing Matter?

After school on Thursday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I were chatting with some parents, and actually stayed outside for a little extra time talking with one mom. We were discussing some learning options for her child over the summer. This is a child that is an incredibly strong reader and writer: decoding almost anything, comprehending even more challenging texts, and sharing numerous thoughts and ideas through writing. But this child prints almost exclusively in capital letters, and usually quite large. Looking ahead to Grade 1, we suggested to mom that her child (I’m purposely avoiding the use of ‘he’ or ‘she,’ as it doesn’t matter if this child is a boy or a girl) work on some printing over the summer: writing with the use of more lowercase letters and in a smaller size. Mom mentioned that printing exercises are not something that her child enjoys doing (which we’ve also noticed at school), and we provided some suggestions that might be more enjoyable and meaningful for this child. This parent was open to the ideas, and while the conversation ended on a great note, it was one that I couldn’t stop thinking about for the rest of the day and even days later. Why did this discussion stick with me? Because I continue to ask myself, why does printing size and the use of uppercase and lowercase letters really matter?

I know how hard it is to break the habit of printing in all uppercase letters. Most students learn how to print in uppercase before starting school, and once they do, they seem to continue. Even if they can form lowercase letters, most don’t. Paula and I have been trying to change this habit throughout the year. Just this week, Paula worked with numerous students on this very thing.

On one hand, I love that these students are becoming more aware of what they’re writing and how they’re writing it, and that they are pausing to consider the use of uppercase and lowercase letters before writing. On the other hand, I worry that students will get so caught up in the printing that they’ll miss the important focus on the ideas

As a Kindergarten educator, I see value in students …

  • identifying the names and sounds of uppercase and lowercase letters. This is a skill they need to have in order to blend sounds together to read words or segment sounds in order to write words.
  • knowing how to form the letters of the alphabet. At some point in time, we all need to print something, be it a grocery list, on a label, on a test or exam, in an agenda, or on a sign-in list. 

I realize that some of these printing options require students to print in smaller spaces, but I can’t help but wonder if the size of most students’ writing would change with just repeated opportunities to write. I also wonder if some of these “places to write” could change to meet the diverse needs of students. What if there were fewer questions on a page, bigger labels, larger spaces in agendas, and bigger boxes on sign-in lists? I can’t help but think of myself. As much as I use technology for almost all of my writing, I do still print To Do lists. I always write these lists on blank pieces of paper, usually with a marker, and in large print. Does this really matter? 

In terms of capital letters, I understand the issue if students cannot recognize lowercase letters. Almost all of the printing in books is written in lowercase, and this would certainly impede on reading. I also understand why students need to use lowercase letters when composing emails or texts to people, as writing in all uppercase implies screaming. But this is not something that our students are doing: they tend to type almost exclusively in lowercase letters, and usually need reminders about capitalization. 

So I’m wondering, why do capitals matter that much when it comes to printing? If it doesn’t change the message of the text and doesn’t impact on how others interpret the text, then does it really need to be a focus for us?

I keep coming back to this question because I think about all of the writing that we do in class, almost all of which is done on paper.

  • I love how our students are eager to write during play.
  • I love how they understand the importance of communicating messages in this way.
  • I love the excitement that they experience when writing.

I worry though if correcting capitalization and size will change this eagerness. Will it negatively impact on an important “love” that we’ve seen growing all year long? I know that there’s a time and place for everything, and we will continue to model smaller print and the correct use of uppercase and lowercase letters, but thinking back to the conversation we had on Thursday, I question “why” this has to be a focus for this child … or any child. 

Then I ended the day on Friday with this great conversation with one of our students. Two children created a new form for our vet office, and after school on Friday, we photocopied the form together. While we photocopied. I spoke to one child about her printing on the form. Paula mentioned to me that this child didn’t like how part of it looked. Here is our conversation.

As I listen to this conversation, I realize how metacognitive our students have become. 

  • They reflect.
  • They solve problems.
  • They approach tasks differently in the future.

This child recognized the problem, thought about why it was one, and figured out a way to make it better without re-printing the sheet. I know that she will be even more aware of the size of her writing as she continues to write at school and at home. Maybe getting students to regularly reflect on letter-size and why uppercase and lowercase letters matter, is the best way to approach these issues. Let them own it, and then support them as they start to change. What do you think? With a new Kindergarten Program Document that does not encourage the use of worksheets (for good reason), should we even be considering them — or similar alternatives — for home use? 

I know it was my experience as a Grade 1 teacher that led me emphasizing what I did on Thursday, but knowing what I know now, I wonder if I would see things differently, even if I was teaching Grade 1.