Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Worst Thing About Fidget Spinners

A post shared by Doug Robertson (@theweirdteacher) on
Ah yes, fidget spinners. The scourge of classrooms across the nation. From their bearings have spun dozens of thinkpieces proclaiming them the devil in spinnate.*

You know what the worst part of fidget spinners is?

That they are just one more thing that exposes how ill-equipped teachers can be to deal with things that are a little bit irritating, and how we love to burn down the house to kill a few bugs.

Let's get the basics out of the way for the four people who haven't noticed these things in the hands of their children- a fidget spinner is the cheaper cousin of the fidget cube. It's normally a triangular shape with one bearing in the center and one on each edge. The person fidgeting with it grips the center between two fingers and, ideally, uses the other fingers on the same hand to spin the spinner. Thus keeping busy hands busy, but minds on the task at hand.

The main complaint about these harbingers of classroom disaster is that they are becoming toys. "Yes, some, a few, a couple of students need them, sure. But most of my kids are just using them as toys." The secondary complaints are that they are causing fights and theft. And a tertiary complaint is that the soft hum the spinners make becomes nails-on-chalkboard irritating at some point.

So it's good for one kid, but a toy for another. Sounds like an iPad to me. Or a mechanical pencil. You know, one of those things that all the kids can use, but most need to be trained to use properly? Don't scoff about the mechanical pencil getting lumped in here either. I was a student. I know exactly how much time can be wasted by being completely absorbed in being sure the lead is in the pencil just exactly right. With no breaks. If there's a break- start over. Gotta get that eraser on just right too. Did you know that if you unscrew the pointy end there's a spring to play with? Total distraction, I can't believe parents are sending them with their kids. Why can't the kid just use a normal pencil?

Oh, the parent reason, which give rise to the parent complaint. I do like that one. I've heard it too. "My mom said it'll help me focus." I've got two choices here. I could go straight Trunchbull on the child, like so-
Different kind of spinner, this.
OR, I could nod and smile and repeat what I said about the proper way to use the tool- One hand, on or near your desk, eyes on your work, not on the spinner.

If I really wanted to get snarky, I'd respond to the complaints that the spinners are distracting toys by asking why the work the students are being given is so disengaging that they're being distracted by a three dollar piece of plastic. But that would require me to think about the fact that I've seen my own students, on occasion, be distracted from my incredibly engaging assignments by the same three dollar piece of plastic. So I won't bring that up at all. If I wanted to reflect I'd buy a mirror.

Or I'd notice it in my own classroom, realize that's a thing kids do, and redirect them. Then wonder what's up with the assignment I thought was so cool. That's also an option.

As for the theft and fights- this seems like a much bigger problem. It assumes that prior to the fidget spinners being delivered straight from Hades' workshop to the classroom door there was no theft, no fights. The classroom was Eden and the spinners are the apple. Or the serpent? But to carry this metaphor forward that would make the dress code...hrm. Anyway, the point is if it were my class, I'd wonder what else was being stolen, what else was causing fights, and where the roots of these much bigger problems were. Where's the breakdown in my class community, because it's probably not the Hot New Thing. That's just what's bringing it to the surface.

The point in all of this is- aren't they supplying teachable moments left and right? If they are an issue, that's a chance for me as the teacher and us as my class and I to think about why. To talk about tools and choices. I have also used these conversations to connect with my students. I constantly have something in my hands. I have a yard stick I've never measured anything with and I keep empty tape rolls in my pocket. At the very least I've got a pen/drum stick in my hand. My kids see that. But most of them never noticed it until I pointed it out. Because I was still getting the work done. See kids, it can be done! Modelling, it turns out, is a viable instructional strategy.

It's not like any of this is new, either. Sure, this particular fad is being marketed as an instructional aid, but it kinda is for more kids than we might admit. Still not a new thing. I was in school for The Great Snap Bracelet Plague of the late '80s. I remember The Pog Boom of the mid 90s. The Tamagotchi Migration of the late 90s? I survived that too (though my tamagotchi never did). For those readers who were in school in the BeforeTimes it was what- Jacks? Hoop and stick? Whitewashing fences? Imagine being a teacher during those times. Some of you don't have to. I can just picture the grinding of teeth and rending of shirts about snap bracelets. Did your school ban them? I think mine might have.

Ah, banning things. Because nothing keeps kids from doing something like telling them not to do it. That's why abstinence only education works so well. It's why none of my ten- and eleven-year old students have Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube pages- the age gate! It's why those classrooms where teachers take cell phones away and strictly limit what students talk about are such bright and shiny places. There's nothing like announcing, "We are banning fidget spinners!" to make yourself sound like a grown-up who is in control.

Are they a pain? Sure, they can be. I've got 36 students and probably a third to a half of them have a spinner. I've got one kid who has a spinner with LED lights in it, because why wouldn't the company do their best to turn me against them? And we've had a couple of talks now about the proper use. One hand, down low, not on your nose or your desk or in your friend's hair, keep working. Do that and we're good. Fail to do that and it becomes a toy and you can't have toys in school, so it'll be mine until the end of the day. These rules, by the way, are almost the same as my Bring Your Own Device rules. It's a tool, it's cool, it's a toy, say bye.

As for the noise thing, I've only noticed it when kids are getting those RPMs up real high. But I listen to my music too loud so my hearing might not be what yours is. In which case we revert to the basics of freedom- I'm good with you doing it until it interferes with someone else's happiness or freedom. If your neighbor says the hum is annoying, let's figure out a way to fix that.

I have seen teachers taking advantage of the fad and having their kids make spinners. Think of that, taking something the kids are naturally interested in and bringing it into the classroom. Making them Maker challenges. Using them to create design, inertia, and friction lessons. It's like the PokemonGo EDU thing except actually useful.

I know I've been pretty snarky and hard on those who are piling on about the spinners, but that's only because I feel like we've got bigger fish to fry. At least, if you're teaching a home ec class.** There are major educational issues out there for us to be bringing attention to, let's stop giving publications "Teachers Are Complaining About Small Thing X" to write about. Pay, benefits, whatever the hell DeVos thinks she's doing, racial inequality, testing, equity, trauma-informed practices, project-based learning, edtech- all of these things should be getting digital ink. But we're letting the focus get pulled because we're pulling it.

A fidget spinner isn't a distraction to learning. Getting obsessed and stressed by a fad that'll be over before the school year ends is.

*an article complaining about how terrible some thing The Kids are into is the easiest thing in the world to write (aside from a list posing as an article), and the two or three Fidget Spinner Are Evil articles I've seen are so boring and predictable. Come on. Don't give them the clicks. Make them publish good content. 

**do they fry fish in home ec? I never took it. Cliches are dumb.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.


  1. ** Family Consumer Science not Home Ec.

    If we are being snarky...

  2. As a special ed teacher, with 10 kids with behavioral issues who all have a different (size, color, sounding, lit) spinner, it IS a distraction. When they are using two hands to play with it. When they are rolling it over their classmates' arms, necks, legs, and shoes. When they ziiiiing it across the room. It may be a fad, but it's a distracting fad that impedes learning.

  3. As always, Doug hits the nail on the head with his infinite knowledge and insight. He is All-Knowing.

  4. If a child loses one minute a day because of spinners he has lost how many hours of instruction in a year? If you have 30 students , how much total lost time would that be? Do the math. I teach history.

    1. OMG, won't somebody think of the children?!?! Minutes of their precious learning time, lost forever! :-o

  5. As a brand new teacher, I am still navigating the waters of classroom management. I'm on the fence about fidget spinners. The noise irritates me, but yes, if it DOES in fact help children to focus, I'm willing to put up with it.

    However, there have been times when I've tried to be cool about small things like fidget spinners, only to have those small things turn into losing control of the whole classroom.

    That is really the crux of the matter with me. I don't mind the little things, but those little things sometimes turn into big things.

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  10. my son has one, his teacher also has one, She is using it as a tool to help learn in class. He bought it from https://focusdspinners.com

  11. And a tertiary complaint is that the soft hum the spinners make becomes nails-on-chalkboard irritating at some point.https://fidgetsguide.com/best-fidget-spinner-bearings/

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  13. Mir hat dein Blog wirklich sehr gefallen obwohl ich ein richtiger Fidget Spinner Fan bin.

    LG Marc

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