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How to Keep Fidgets from Overtaking Your Classroom

This fidget would do more to distract me than to help me focus. How to Keep Fidgets from Overtaking Your Classroom First, I need t...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

How to Keep Fidgets from Overtaking Your Classroom

This fidget would do more to distract me
than to help me focus.
How to Keep Fidgets from Overtaking Your Classroom

First, I need to make one thing clear before the hate mail starts. I am not anti-fidget (noun) or anti-fidget (verb).  As a matter of fact, most people who meet me recognize pretty quickly that I fidget with pens or something in my hands a lot.  I however, rarely recognize that I'm doing it.  Why, because I'm focused on the conversation or task, rather than the item I'm fidgeting.  

Secondly, fidgets have been around in various forms for a long time. Students with sensory processing issues have long used swings, bouncy seats, weighted vest, and the like to help curb "stimming." 

  • The term "stimming" is short for self-stimulatory behavior and is sometimes also called "stereotypic" behavior. In a person with autism, stimming usually refers to specific behaviors that include hand- flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases. 

https://www.verywell.com/what-is-stimming-in-autism-260034, May 14, 2017

Fidgets are used to provide an alternative to dangerous, self-harmful, or disruptive stimming in students with various disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Disorders and others.

Third, treatment guidelines for many disorders include the following recommendations.

  • Remove nuisance items. Teachers often find that certain objects (such as rubber bands and toys) distract the attention of students with ADHD in the classroom. The removal of nuisance items is generally most effective after the student has been given the choice of putting it away immediately and then fails to do so. 
  • Provide calming manipulatives. While some toys and other objects can be distracting for both the students with ADHD and peers in the classroom, some children with ADHD can benefit from having access to objects that can be manipulated quietly. Manipulatives may help children gain some needed sensory input while still attending to the lesson
https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/adhd/adhd-teaching_pg4.html, May 14th, 2017

The difference between "nuisance items" and "calming manipulatives" above really comes down to how the items are used.

Noisy-if poor quality
often takes 2-hands
has a tendency to fly on its own
As I mentioned above, I often use calming manipulatives, "fidgets," myself.  Thus, I allow fidgets that meet the following criteria in my 6th grade elementary classroom.

Fidgets in my classroom need to be:

  1. Personal-They are not for showing off to others. Students are not to be getting others attention to show them their latest fidget trick.
  2. Quiet-Noisy fidgets can be distracting to others. If another student is annoyed by the sound a fidget makes, the student needs to switch to a less noisy fidget.
  3. One-handed-Students need to be able to operate their fidget with one hand. It is impossible for students to attend to most educational task without using their hands.  Students need to have one hand available for participating in discussions, taking notes, using their mobile device, etc.
  4. An Improvement to Their Focus-With the intent of the fidget being to improve students attention, it should do just that. It should improve a students ability to focus on the discussion, lesson, activity, and assignment that is taking place in the classroom at that moment. It should at least reduce a students need for stimming and allow students to be full participants in their classroom environment.
So, when is it time to outlaw a fidget?
  • When the student is using the fidget to distract others. "Hey, check this out!" 
  • When the student's attention and focus is on the fidget more than on the classroom learning. Or, when the student's attention and focus to the lesson decreases with the fidget in use. I had a student last week that sat staring at his fidget for several minutes without completing (even looking at) any questions. 
  • When fidgets fly. Yep, I said it. I've had fidget spinners go spinning right out of students hands and several feet across the room. That is a sure sign that it needs to be put away.
  • Please don't react by banning all fidgets when something happens. Banning all fidgets punishes all students. Though I know it is much more difficult, teachers need to deal with fidgets on a case by case basis. Having a clear set of expectations, and a clear, communicated policy concerning fidgets uses and misuse, will allow students that need and can use them effectively to do so.
Fidget devices have been around for a long time and thousands of adults and students use some type of fidget every day without even being aware of it.  When fidgets are used appropriately, by the right population, they can be a meaningful tool for learning.

About the Author
Allen Hancock is a sixth-grade teacher at Centennial Elementary School in Lewiston, Idaho.  Allen has degrees in Elementary Education and Psychology.  With over 22 years of teaching experience including 3rd, 5th, and 6th grades, as well as, previous experience as a behavior intervention specialist, he writes various blog post for http://heartofed.blogspot.com/ and presents at local, state, and national conferences. Find out more about Allen at http://heartofed.blogspot.com/2017/05/the-professional-me.html

Follow the Author
@ahancock516 on twitter

Sunday, May 7, 2017

5 Reasons Why ClassDojo's New Mindfulness Series Will Improve Your Classroom

As a parent, a classroom teacher, and a presenter I was overjoyed to hear of ClassDojo's latest "Big Idea." ClassDojo, and the lovable Mojo, that brought classrooms and families video series on social-emotional learning that include: "Growth Mindset, "Perseverance," and "Empathy," announced their newest series on May 7th, 2017. In collaboration with Yale's Center for Emotional Intelligence, ClassDojo is bringing MINDFULNESS to students around the world.

Read the press release here.

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Now, for the "5 Reasons Why ClassDojo's New Mindfulness Series Will Improve Your Classroom."

1. Focusing on Mindfulness will help students become self aware.
Most students today are no more aware of their own body language, emotions, words, or their effect on themselves, their environment, and others than my black lab. It's true. My Labrador Retriever doesn't realize that her waggedy tail is hitting me in the face while she turns to my wife to see what goodies she might have, just like a student doesn't realize that he or she just interrupted an important conversation. Teaching mindfulness will train students how and when to stop and consider what they are doing, how they are doing it, why they are doing it, and most importantly, the effects of what they are doing on themselves and others. This awareness will help students and adults make better choices in the future.
6th grade student showing the
Anti-Bullying video game
she created.

2. Mindfulness will include Metacognition strategies.
Metacognition is thinking about thinking. In the constantly swirling world we all live in, it is difficult to stop and consider what we think and more importantly "Why" we think and believe what we do. As a young boy growing up in tree-forts and floating on homemade rafts on a pond, I had a lot of what we would now call down-time. Time with just my own thoughts. There was little outside "noises" from electronic devices or super organized extra-curricular activities. Today, most students either have every minute so scheduled for them with school and non-school structured activities, or they have very little outside activities and adult support, that they fill their days with interactive media and games. Students are never allowed to be bored enough that they delve into their own thoughts, and often when they do, they feel alone or afraid. A person that cannot stand being alone with their own thoughts will have a difficult time being with others.

3. Mindfulness will improve students' Executive Functions.
Executive Functions include:
Image result for impulse control

  • Impulse Control
  • Emotional Control
  • Flexible Thinking
  • Working Memory
  • Self-Monitoring
  • Planning & Prioritizing
  • Initiating Task
  • Organization
There are other "Executive Functions" and subsets of each of these, but if you have students that struggle with any of the items listed above, ClassDojo's Mindfulness videos and activities will be a benefit to you and your classroom. In my 6th grade elementary classroom, there are few students that don't have difficulty in one or more of these areas.

One activity that can show potential executive functioning deficits is related to students' ability to judge time. Several times a year, I have students just quietly lay their heads down, close their eyes, relax, and try to clear their minds. Then, when 3 minutes have passed, I'll very softly ask them to raise their hand if they think "5" minutes have passed. The next time, I may tell them that we will relax with our eyes closed for 10 minutes. Then, about 4 minutes in, I'll ask them to raise their hand if they think there is more than 3 minutes left. Students that struggle with judging time often struggle with other executive functioning issues. Practicing mindfulness,  a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment can certainly help build executive functions.


4. ClassDojo's new series and activities will help students deal with Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Since ClassDojo classrooms have already taught Growth Mindset, Empathy, and Perseverance, students will be prepared to deal with any adverse experiences that have taken place in their lives. As they become mindfully aware of themselves, their thoughts, their emotions, their words, their actions, their reactions and the reasons behind them, students will be able to use their growth mindset training to realize that their negative life experiences do not need to define who they are today or what they do.

In addition, as students overcome and persevere over their Adverse Childhood Experiences, their classmates will be prepared to empathize with them. In my 6th grade classroom, we read Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen. After students vicariously travel through the transformation that Cole Matthews undergoes through they story, they not only increase their own mindfulness, they develop an amazing amount of empathy. It is not uncommon for students to feel safe to share life's challenges. They understand that what happens in you life may be beyond your control, but you always get to choose how you deal with it.

Students prepping
materials for a presentation on 3-D
printing, coding, and electric circuits
at the Idaho State Veterans Home

5. Mindfulness is self awareness that leads to better collaboration in the classroom and beyond.

Students who are mindful see the big picture in life. They not only understand themselves, but they are able to understand and react appropriately when others treat them badly. Life often brings us in contact with "Hurting" people, and as Dr. Phil says, "Hurt people; hurt people." Mindful students understand this concept. Thus, when someone is having a bad day and regurgitates their nastiness on them, they understand that the persons hurtful actions or comments are not their problem, but rather, a symptom of the individuals stress. These mindful students move on. They don't accept the nastiness. They don't return the nastiness. They don't have a need to "Get Even" or "Get Ahead." And amazingly, they will more often respond to the nastiness with kindness. I wish we had a lot more mindful people in the world.

ClassDojo originally revolutionized parent communication. Now, ClassDojo is revitalizing classroom and school climates around the world. The mindfulness series, available on ClassDojo's Big Ideas page, is a fabulous accompaniment to their previous series. I cannot wait to meet more self-aware students. Students that understand their own thinking. Students with improved executive functioning. Students that show empathy and can collaborate with others effectively. Now that is a Big Idea.

Allen Hancock
6th Grade Teacher
Conference Presenter
ClassDojo US Ambassador

Follow me
Twitter @Ahancock516

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Professional Me

Classroom Experience
  • Certified Standard Elementary K-8 All Subjects
  • 6th Grade Teacher at Centennial Elementary School, Lewiston, ID
  • Employed by the Lewiston School District since 1995
  • Grade levels taught-3rd, 5th, and 6th
  • Above average IRI, ISAT, DRP, and SBAC scores every year
  • Long history of positive relationships with students, parents, and staff
  • Experience using a wide variety of technology software and devices for instruction in my classroom
    • Google Apps for Education (Classroom, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Drawings, Maps)
    • YouTube, Edmodo, ClassDojo, Remind
    • iPads (classroom set of 26), Chromebooks (18 in my classroom)
    • 3 3D printers
    • 3 3D Pens
    • 48 Ozobot Robots
    • 18 Etrex GPS Units
    • 4 Makey Makeys
    • 13 Snap Circuit Extreme SC-750 sets

Standards Implementation
  • Experience implementing standards in three grade levels
  • Experience implementing standards in all subjects
  • Re-wrote the 6th grade math and language Common Core Standards into student and parent friendly language for goal setting with students
  • Participated in writing Idaho’s first computer science standards
  • Represented Idaho at the Governor’s For Computer Science Standards Advisory Group meeting in Phoenix with Scott Cook (SDE) and Amit Jain (BSU)
  • Represented the computer science standards by attending the Legislative Rule-Making Tour in the fall of 2016
  • Submitted written and visual testimony to the 2017 legislative session through IETA on the use of technology in Idaho classrooms
  • Featured by Sherri Ybarra during her speech at the IETA Legislative Luncheon for technology integration projects completed in my classroom
  • Testified on behalf of the computer science and science standards at the 2017 Post-Legislative Tour

Professional Development
  • Just In Time Trainer (Powerschool, Mileposts, AirWatch, JAMF)
  • Development of flipped PD (Screencasts) to assist staff with a variety of tasks from Powerschool comment entry to acquiring apps
  • Continuing Focus Teacher-year 4
  • Building level PD (Google Apps for Education-2015 and Technology Integration-2016)
  • Speaker at the Idaho PTA Convention 2016 (Mobile Communication)
  • Facilitator at Idaho Core Days 2015 (Mobile Communication Apps)
  • Facilitator at Idaho Core Days 2016 (Mobile Communication Apps/Dangers and MakerSpace)
  • Facilitator at IETA16 (Mobile Communication Apps)
  • Facilitator at IETA17 (Coding for All and ClassDojo)
  • NCCE17 Teacher Helper for SparkFun in the full day Maker Summit
  • Facilitator at NCCE17 (Making Room for MakerSpace workshop and Mobile Communication Apps/Dangers)

  • Long history of working well with district IT and maintenance staff on a variety of technical issues
  • Member of the Lewiston School District’s Technology Committee
  • Partnering with Idaho’s STEM Action Center for grants (This year-$2,500 project grant and a $1000 Family STEM Awareness Night)
  • Providing demonstrations of 3D printing and coding at the Idaho State Veterans’ Home
  • Partnering with the City of Lewiston Library for grant writing and to provide activities in The Makery opening June 10th
  • Developing relationships and grant ideas with Idaho Fish and Game to advance their STEM offerings