The idea of fidget spinners in class set off a firestorm on my Facebook page when I asked my educator friends across the country to share their thoughts.
Amanda, who teaches middle school, didn't hold back: "NO NO NO NO NO! Unless it is written into a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 accommodation, fidget spinners should not be allowed in the classroom." Logan agreed. "I've found for most of my students, fidget spinners tend to be a distraction—especially since they spin them inside their desks, which makes noise. It doesn't really seem to help students focus on what's going on."
Fidget spinners have gone worldwide. My friend Souad teaches in Tangier, Morocco, and she told me she banned them. "They were becoming a huge distraction. Some students were trying to do tricks and others were watching. If students need to use them, they should have to bring in a medical certificate." She went on to say that there was a heated debate at her school. Elementary teachers were for spinners, and middle and high school teachers were against them. So what's best for your classroom? Here's what you should know.
What's a Fidget Spinner?
I'm sure I don't need to tell any educator who's currently in the classroom what a fidget spinner is, but for those of you who may have been on sabbatical on the tundra, fidget spinners are small, ball-bearing toys that can be rotated between the fingers, providing an enjoyable sensory experience for the user. A quick search on YouTube reveals hundreds of instructional videos (many made by users under the age of 12, I might add) on how to toss, throw, catch, twirl, or switch the fidget spinner.
The "sell" behind fidget spinners is that the little device is supposed to provide relief from stress, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even post-traumatic stress disorder. But how accurate are these claims? Is there any science behind these marketing assertions?
The Facts about Spinning
I thought for sure that there was strong scientific evidence to back up the use of fidget spinners in class, but I was wrong. In fact, the lack of conclusive scientific research suddenly made me very fidgety.
A recent article in Scientific American pointed out that fidget spinners "draw the eyes of the user away from the teacher, and likely also the eyes of nearby students." It goes on to say, "By contrast, putty, stress balls, and other therapeutic fidget items don't have this visual attention problem. They can serve the same purpose as the spinners, but are more classroom-ready and less distracting."
My friend Jayne, who teaches 4th grade, agrees. "I told my students without a note from a doctor, IEP, or 504 accommodation, fidget spinners could only be out during snack or recess." She thinks "the appeal of other 'fidgets,' like stress balls and elastics around the chairs, is that they are nondisruptive."
Andy, who teaches life skills, also agrees. "Even before this craze happened, we've always used something like a fidget spinner or similar device that provided stimulation if it allowed the simultaneous ability for a student to participate in learning. That was the key: the device could not be the sole focus; rather, the device could allow students a break or spark in learning."
So What Really Works?
A study revealed that the attention spans of kinesthetic learners actually increased when they used stress balls, and student achievement on writing paragraphs improved. In fact, all types of learners "thought that their attitude, attention, writing abilities, and peer interaction improved due to stress ball use."
Bouncy Bands, thick rubber bands that attach to the legs of a desk, are marketed to increase students' time on task and help "high energy workers fidget without distracting others." The website claims these bands are a discreet way to "soothe student anxiety, frustration, and hyperactivity." While I could find no scientific studies to back up the Bouncy Band manufacturer's claim, as a teacher, their assertions made sense to me.
Fidget Spinners Aren't All Bad
While it certainly appears that fidget spinners are more of a distraction than anything else, my friend Mariah has found a way for students to benefit from them. "I actually have my students writing persuasive essays on this," she told me. "We had a debate as well!"
My colleague Erin's son, Neilie, has been conducting science experiments with fidget spinners. "He likes to time the length and number of times the spinner spins, and he and his friends videotape and study the results," Erin said. Obviously, anything that engages youngsters in scientific experimentation makes this educator happy!
Rachel, a guidance counselor, has the final say on fidget spinners. "A lot of them have flashing lights or make a whizzing noise, and that's distracting," she said. "They seem to be dying down a bit here, though. They were everywhere after spring break, and now you only see one or two kids with them."
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And that's the way it goes with most fads. Once everyone has one, they're no longer cool. I remember back in the '70s, we had our equivalent to the fidget spinner. It was called the yo-yo, and the same thing happened. I don't anticipate continued problems with fidget spinners in class because they've lost their kid appeal. As educators, we'll just have to wait and see what the next viral toy to take over our classrooms will be.