The 2016-2017 school year is officially over for me! I am so beyond ready for summer. I have a girls kayaking trip coming up, a visit back to Nebraska to see family, and another school year to prepare for.
For weeks we’ve been fighting the “fidget spinner battle” and that combined with trying to keep students engaged during the last week of school got our wheels turning. As teachers we tend to understand the last week of school is often something the students aren't going to put much time or effort into, they're "checked-out" and so are we. We were both undecided going into the last full week of school (That's the beauty of teaching for a combined total of 21 years, we could pull something together over the weekend!), then LaDonna, said, "Wanna do a project about Spinners?" Of course the answer was “yes!”
Our Eastern Hemisphere teacher also got in on the action. So, we started creating it on a Thursday, and continued adding pieces over the weekend. However, we’re really proud of what we came up with:
You can find the Math piece here and the ELA piece FREE here. The projects were actually pretty great! The students loved working together for the four days, and even though we only had four school days left in the year, a lot of the students really worked hard to create a solid presentation for our last full day. They took ownership of their learning and their projects.
For ELA, I wanted the students to focus on one last argument piece. Articles were chosen to outline positives and negatives of spinners as a useful fidget. The students also needed to create a survey to track their argument. Some of the groups were surprised. They thought everyone would vote yes in favor of spinners in the classroom, however about half of the students they surveyed were against them. After gathering all the data and creating displays, students were expected to present their math data and their argument showing evidence to support their stance on spinners.
For math, Mrs. Welch wanted to focus on applying useful math skills in a meaningful way. I also wanted students to apply skills that they had learned this school year. I not only wanted students to take ownership, I wanted them to answer that age old question, “When am I ever going to use this?” Students were given opportunities of choice and were able to share their opinion of this hot topic. Although the ELA focused on the debate of the topic, students had to take a stance and develop a survey question for their position of “To spin or Not to spin?” with statistics in mind. The math of this project focused on collecting and analyzing data to back up their argument and test the quality of these overnight sensations. The price of these little gadgets range from $5 to $40 and are made from a plethora of materials. After gathering all the data and creating displays, students were expected to analyze their data in such a way to decide if price and materials plays a role in how well a fidget spinner spins.
This brought us to this blog post today. I thought of how we embraced this item that has become the bane of teacher's existence. We took something that challenged us and turned it around on the students. As many say, “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
What we as teachers need to do is help our students take ownership of their learning. We need to help them make that shift. I think Ownership is the biggest shift in education. Ownership is by definition the “fact of being an owner.” This may not be true for all but when you own something, you have a sense of pride about it. You want to show everyone and you sometimes brag about it. When you think about all of the buzzwords and phrases that have been around for the past 10 years: project-based learning, one-to-one, flipped learning, blended learning, flexible seating, flexible spaces, genius hour, makerspace, growth mindset... What do they all have in common? We're trying to put the student in charge of the learning. All of these things were also created with the student in mind and tend to promote a student centered environment.
Why do we get so frustrated over small objects spinning in our peripheral vision? It's because we feel like they are distractions from the learning. They usually are, but that's because the students are taking ownership of everything in front of them instead of their own learning. It is also frustrating to see the way fidget spinners are being marketed. Let’s face the fact that they are indeed toys.
If you want to continue teaching the way you were taught and the way your parents were taught, stop reading NOW. If you want to embrace this shift: Try, and really do it, don't just say it, but try to focus on one of those phrases from above. If you already do one, add in another! All of these practices are meant to help students take ownership of their learning. Which should be the ultimate goal, to get the students to care equally or even more than you, as an educator, do about their learning or education.
I had a principal a few years back who constantly said, "Focus on only what you can control." This means if you are the only teacher embracing student ownership, so be it. You can't control the others in your building or on your grade level team. You can also say over and over that you wish the parents would instill this concept themselves, but you can't control that either. You can only control your classroom.
So, when the next annoying fad comes in, embrace it. Your students will love you for it and will learn so much from it. Show your students how they take ownership of that fad, and they can take ownership of their learning too. Enjoy the end of the school year if you are finishing up. Rest, Relax, and Rejuvenate over the next few weeks.
Thanks for reading!
Update! This was posted on the @EdTechTeam blog!