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Put a spin on it — can fidget spinners be used as a teaching tool?

Here's how fidget spinners be used in the classroom to increase student engagement and motivation.

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Classroom trends come and go — Pokemon Go, loombands, tamagotchis — today it’s fidget spinners. When a craze hits the classroom, teachers might find themselves frustrated by the distraction they cause. But can classroom trends actually provide educators with an opportunity to incorporate popular gadgets into their pedagogy and increase engagement through their teaching methods?

A more controversial topic than simply a toy — fidget gadgets are considered a tool for calming students with anxiety, ADHD or autism. They are said to focus pupils’ minds, or replace a bad habit like nail biting. Numerous studies discuss the benefits that fidgeting has on the body, how it boosts memory, focus and creativity. However, like any trend, overuse can be a considerable pain point for teachers.

Any tricks to energise pupil motivation, however, and increase learning buy in is a win, so forward-thinking teachers will capitalise on these trends rather than banning them. What’s more, tapping a student craze like fidget spinners can build a sense of community in the classroom, engage students in learning, and help teach specific concepts in physics or biology. Below are some examples of how teachers can use fidget spinners as a teaching tool in the classroom:

Beat the spinner

For younger pupils, the fidget spinner can be used to encourage students to work through a set of problems or exercises.

In a ‘beat the clock’ style, pupils can start their spinners and see how many questions on a worksheet they can complete before it stops. By noting their score and starting again, they can compete with themselves to improve their completion speed.

Teaching physics: Newton’s Law of Motion

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that objects with balanced forces acting on them will stay at rest or stay in constant motion. The spinner is the perfect tool to illustrate this law. It minimises friction through the use of ball bearings to touch the inner and outer parts of the spinner.

When you hit the spinner to start it, you can explain to pupils that Newton’s first law takes hold. It keeps the spinner rotating until the unbalanced force of friction ultimately stops it. If there were no unbalanced forces (resistance or friction), it would spin forever.

Newton’s second law explains how unbalanced forces will impact acceleration, so by using different sized or weighted spinners, students can see how varying force and mass will change the acceleration. According to the the third law, the bearings experience a force in the other direction and eventually slow down as a result.

Have students record the length of spin times, develop spin techniques, take a slow-motion recordings of the spins, and graph the results.

Measuring sounds: The Doppler effect

The Doppler effect is the concept that explains why the pitch of a sound changes when objects move. One example of the Doppler effect in action is listening to the change of pitch from a vehicle with a siren as it approaches, passes and recedes. The sound is loudest when it’s closer and changes pitch as it moves away.

The humming noise emitted by the spinner can be used to explain this effect. Students can be paired up and while one assesses where a spinner is with their eyes closed, the other changes the spinner location.

Explaining biology: demonstrating muscle memory

Students often toss and catch their spinners, but will never give a second thought to how or why it is possible to complete such complex actions.

The answer is muscle memory. The human brain remembers the experience of throwing and catching and notes the force, distance, speed and weight of the object. All these elements are recorded and deployed to improve the accuracy as you practice.

Ask your students to practice throwing and catching their spinners. Through this method of kinesthetic learning, explain how their improved reaction is their body teaching their brain to make more accurate predictions.

Create your own spinner

After discussing the physical concept behind the spinners and how their reduced friction allows for an extended motion, students can be tasked with creating their own spinners. With some simple materials like paper, washers and bearings, this exercise demonstrates to pupils the importance of shapes and the centre of mass when recreating the spinner.

The same concept can be applied to computer science and making the spinner model virtual. Have pupils use coding skills on apps like Hopscotch to recreate the motion and actions of real fidget spinners.

By using modern edtech tools like ActivPanels, or free cloud-based software like ClassFlow in their teaching methods, teachers can engage pupils twofold. Capitalising on the both latest classroom trends and their pupils’ natural affinity with digital experiences, teachers can inspire and motivate their students. Request a free ActivPanel demo here.

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