Fidgeting and Hand Skill

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There’s a lot of outrage about fidget spinners right now. Some teachers are saying ban them! Other teachers are saying, Let students have them.

It’s a stupid argument.

Remember yo-yo’s? Finger skateboards? gear-powered spinning tops? String powered spinning tops? How about Rubik’s Cubes which made a comeback a couple of years back? Wind-up cars that did tricks?

Fidget Spinners have a place and a time in children’s hands.  And as some of you know, one of my mantras or principles is that What the Hands Do, the Mind Knows.  But here’s the thing.  If you don’t want the latest finger-toy-de-jour in your classroom, then you have to find other ways to put those hands to work, learning actual hand skills:

  • teach calligraphy
  • teach knitting
  • teach drawing
  • teach geometry with an actual ruler and compass
  • teach the use of a slide rule or abacus
  • teach the building of automata (cogs and gears)
  • teach carpentry and build yo-yos, finger skateboards, spinning tops, and fidget spinners.
  • teach contact juggling
  • teach juggling
  • teach beading
  • teach woodcarving
  • teach origami
  • teach flint-knapping
  • teach ceramics throwing on a wheel
  • teach students 3D geometry through the assembly of nets of the Platonic solids.
  • teach color theory and coloring at a more advanced level through color pencils.

The fidget spinner is an outward and visible sign of an inward need — a need for the hands to learn something.  Kids’ hands fidget because they’re of an age to want to do something, not just sit still.

(And I KNOW that we’re not making them sit still in schools — that they’re doing personal practice as well as listening, reading, writing, reflecting on their work and all that sort of stuff. That’s not what this is about).

Human beings need to use their hands. We learn things through manual dexterity, through touch, through manipulation of objects.  Our constant rejection of the toys-de-jour, be they yo-yos or balsa wood flyers or paper airplanes or fidget toys is part of the reason kids don’t learn as much in school as they could.

So if you want to fidget-spinner proof your classroom… figure out WHAT tool or hand-skill you want your students to have, learn HOW to teach it, and then TEACH THAT.

Attending NAIS on February 27


So… every few years, the National Association of Independent Schools holds its conference in Boston. When it does, my school declares a professional day, and we attend.  We ALL attend.

Me too.  I’l be there.

I’m curious if I have any readers that will be in attendance, and if you’d like to meet up for coffee, to talk about Making, poetry in the classroom, Latin, and more?  Let me know by leaving a comment, or contacting me through Twitter at @andrewbwatt.  That’s me.


Why we need School Counselors

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I started this post in the ballroom of a small liberal arts college listening to presentations about student life and society in the 21st century. The current presenter is answering IT questions and he’s doing a good job of hitting the big bells: Mac v. PC, software purchases, anti viral software, printing, network storage, network access and more. It’s interesting, but my mind is wandering to the earlier presentations on the mindset of modern students, and their parents.

And it’s driving home to me the reasons why schools need counselors. Not just for guidance about what sort of college to go to, or what to do about current bad behavior, I think. But to do something far more critical…

Help parents and kids understand their own brains.

Helicopter parenting is up. I told the Dean who gave this presentation, “that’s not ending any time soon.” So is suicide among college-age kids. So are feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. So is deep depression — this college has psychological counselors on staff, and offers ten free sessions of counseling a year to every student. Forty psychological counseling sessions in a typical college experience.

Think about that.

There’s an entire generation that’s grown up privileged and protected. They want to change the world, but they don’t know how. And the fact that mom and dad have done all their world-changing for them means that they rely — a lot, apparently — on mom and dad to do it now, now that they’re in college. But this is also a source of crazy-making. There’s a bit in Downton Abbey where the mother of the girls admits that the girls are too old, and they need houses and establishments of their own — they need a chance to run things. And the failure of the current generation to step into their power is a direct result of mommy and daddy’s interference. Hence ten counseling sessions a year.

But what I think is that it’s wrong to devolve these functions on colleges. Because the problem is arising earlier — in eighth grade, in high school, in “gap years” and perhaps earlier. We need counselors to help ease the transition from being a child to being an adult. Other societies do this through fostering. Our system of schooling is not very efficient at easing the separation or giving students greater independence from their parents. But apparently it’s necessary. And we have to learn to do it better.

Writing Project

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I took on another writing project for a Georgia games company this winter, which was kinda dumb. I didn’t really have the time to devote to it, and I’ve been paying for it. On the other hand, I’ve managed to complete a good 80% of the project now, and another strong afternoon of writing should do it. If today had been a real snow day, of course, I’d be done, and I could move on to other more important projects, like sending out a bunch of envelopes with very polite letters on good stationery.

In-School Blog


Our technical staff at school has made it possible for me to keep an in-school blog, and so I started yesterday. Ideally, I’m going to be keeping records of what happens in each class I teach, each day. I’ll post actual homework, planned homework for the next several days, and a little bit about the goals of each class. I’ll also post some coded disciplinary information, and items for individual and group assessment, so that I can keep track over many moons of what happens in class. It’ll also serve as the basis for writing comments at the end of the term.

Is this a lot of work? Quite possibly. But then if I throw a kid out of class, and he comes back 30 seconds later, I can say “hey, why don’t you admins go and read my blog about what he’s been doing in class the last two months?” We’re always being pushed to document our relationships with students. Here’s an experiment in how far we can go.

Moleskine Page

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Moleskine Page
Originally uploaded by anselm23.

My photo-friend Gill from Flickr has asked if she can use some of my Moleskine imagery on her new business site, which in theory will go live in a few days. It’s a UK store called JournalCraft, and they’ll sell sketchbooks and journals and supplies to make sketchbooks and journals work for you. It’s not yet clear to me whether Americans can order from them; given the state of the £ versus the $ versus the €, it may not be cost-effective to buy from them anyway, but I’m hopeful. I’m also reasonably pleased with the deal that we worked out for the use of the images. Among other things, it means I’m a professional photographer, in the sense that I now get credit and pay for my photos; even if that pay is not great, it is still payment received for artistic efforts. Awesome stuff, that.

In any case, look for JournalCraft to go live in the next two weeks or so. I’m hoping that the site looks good, and my photos fit into their schema.

Wow what a day!

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Wow. OK, so this is what I get for opening my mouth. I’m now the vice-chair of a statewide commission for promoting teacher development at independent schools. This means, among other things, that in a year or so I will be the chair of this commission.

Me and my big mouth.

Was it only this morning that I typed up the April Full Moon sonnet? Why yes… yes it was. And there was a full day of grading and teaching and thinking in between the one, and the other. One of my colleagues on the commission thinks that I could be a dean of studies somewhere. Another told me I’m going to be a head-of-school someday. I’m not sure I would wish either job on an enemy.

Of course, today was also the day I heard back from my editor at a certain game company down south. He’s wanting words from me this spring, and possibly later this summer as well. This would be good, but it also means a lot of writing over the next two months. I’m going to ask my writing class if I should take the job, actually. Their opinion would mean a lot to me on this.