While this new fad might seem like an annoying distraction, you can learn to view fidget spinners as useful tools for teaching STEM in the classroom.

Look around almost anywhere children are congregating and there they are — fidget spinners. In parks, the sidelines of extracurricular activities, at the mall, in front of the television, and inside classrooms, kids across the United States are mesmerized by spinning these handheld, metal or plastic, three-pronged rotating toys. The craze is so wild, one ambitious nail technician has figured out how to affix tiny fidget spinners to the fingers of her clients for whom ho-hum digits just won’t do. Many teachers have been left asking where this most recent fad has come from and, more pressingly, trying to deter children from using the toys in class.

Spinning the Claim to Fame

Fidget spinners have been around for a long time, yet were launched into the stratosphere of toy success only in 2017. According to Money, Catherine Hettinger first developed the spinner during the 1990s as a circular instrument, with an indentation in the center, which would spin around on a child’s finger.

fidget spinnersThe toy was created to calm children and generate a peaceful environment, similar to the theory behind the soothing qualities of using Boading balls. In time, Hettinger’s patent on the design expired and suddenly, in 2017, fidget spinners boasting various designs, colors, technologies, and features could be found on Amazon, at toy retailers, and almost any gas station convenience market.

Still marketed as a product to alleviate attention deficit and anxiety, some versions of 2017’s fidget spinner glow in the dark, are encased in chrome, and can cost anywhere from two dollars into the hundreds. While designs vary, the spinners are spun by holding the toy between two fingers and applying pressure to the center while pushing one of the sides, resulting in movement that resembles a spinning propeller.

Stressing the Spinners

Unfortunately, among teachers and administrators, fidget spinners are receiving a bad reputation for distracting students during lessons and occupying the free time that could be spent reading, studying, or simply being more active. As for the claims regarding health benefits that sooth children who have attention disorders, health professionals warn that these spinners are not the solution. During an interview with NPR, Duke University professor and clinical psychologist Scott Kollins rebuked claims that fidget spinners can help children.

“I know there’s lots of similar toys, just like there’s lots of other games and products marketed toward individuals who have ADHD, and there’s basically no scientific evidence that those things work across the board.”

Though the benefits for alleviating health issues can’t be proven, working with fidget spinners might benefit students who have teachers that are willing to compromise and use this toy as a teaching tool.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Build ‘Em

fidget spinnersLuckily, there are ways to include fidget spinners in lessons, especially during STEM instruction. Plenty of do-it-yourself tutorials exist online, instructing viewers regarding how to make their own cheap and cheerful fidget spinners from materials such as crayons, poster board and pennies, or bicycle chains and zip ties. Through using this current fad to their advantage, teachers can sneak STEM lessons covering subjects including physics, geometry, engineering, and algebra into a fun activity. Students will stop fidgeting with store-bought spinners in class in favor of attentively participating in lessons that promote another hot topic — working within a makerspace.

After they create their own fidget spinners in class, be certain to emphasize to students that these creations will be necessary to use during lessons in the coming days and weeks, which will lead children to view these toys as learning tools. Once students recognize these fidget spinners as tools for school, monitoring their use in class will be easier for teachers.

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