Fidget spinners aid teaching in Newtownards school

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

image captionFidget spinners are small plastic toys which spin when flicked by the user

They are the new craze sweeping school playgrounds.

Palm-sized fidget spinners have become the latest "must-have" for children.

But while some schools have banned the toys as a distraction, Castle Gardens Primary School in Newtownards, County Down, has taken a different approach.

The toys are being used as a teaching aid in some maths and English lessons.

Primary four teacher Heather Hutchinson is behind the idea.

"These crazes come into school and you either go with them or they're a complete annoyance," she said.

image captionTeacher Heather Hutchinson has incorporated the toys into her lessons

"The children wanted to know whose spinner was going to spin the longest, so I saw an opportunity for a maths investigation."

"They timed each other's spin, recorded it on a table and then put it on to a graph."

"It was an opportunity for something a bit different with their learning."

'Sitting fidgeting'

There are strict rules on when the spinners can be used in Ms Hutchinson's class, however.

She collects them at the start of the school day and only hands them out for certain lessons.

Her pupils have also honed their English skills by holding debates on whether they should be allowed in school and writing up their opinions.

image captionChildren were asked to argue the case for or against allowing the toys in school
image captionThe pupils recorded the results of their maths investigation

Despite all of the children owning fidget spinners, they are divided on their role in school.

Eight-year-old Zach thinks they are a good idea.

"If you don't have neat writing you can spin them to help your finger muscles," he said.

But his classmate Anna disagrees.

"I don't think they should be allowed in class, as they distract the teacher and if you were asked a question you wouldn't know what to do as you'd be sitting fidgeting," she said.

Safety concerns

Fidget spinners were originally developed as a way for children with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism to relieve stress.

When it is placed between the thumb and a finger, the child can give it a quick flick to trigger a spin.

There are many different types but the most popular is a small, three-pronged one with rounded ends.

image captionSome schools have banned fidget spinners believing they are a distraction
image captionZach (right) says the toys could improve handwriting skills

There are many different types but the most popular is a small, three-pronged one with rounded ends.

There have been safety concerns, however, about ones with sharp edges or spikes.

'Common sense'

Castle Gardens principal John Gray said his staff checked which fidget spinners children are bringing into school.

"It is using a degree of common sense," he said.

image captionPrincipal John Gray said the toys were helping to keep pupils interested in their lessons

"Ones that are appropriate and safe will be used and if they're not, the children wouldn't be allowed to have them and they'll be returned to the parents at the end of the day."

But he does think the devices have their place in the classroom if used well.

"If the children are engaged and enthusiastic about something, the quality of learning will be higher," he said.

"We wouldn't use them for every lesson.

"It would be the occasional opportunity to use them in a numeracy or literacy lesson to engage the children in activities they would be doing anyway.

image captionThe toys are only permitted in certain lessons at Castle Gardens school

"For example, they would be doing graph work so we're using something to record real data they've taken themselves.

"They then plot the graphs, but because they're recording something that interests them we find the quality of what they produce is that much better.

"If you're interested in doing something, you're learning that much more."

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