“Mr. Holt, how old are you?” my students recently asked me.
My response to that question is always the same, “How old do you think I am?”
“You’re like a big kid in an old man’s body,” one of my witty students commented.
“As my grandmother would often say, age is just a number. You are as young as you feel. I feel 23 years young but am actually 42 years old,” I then responded to my students.
“Wow, you don’t seem that old. I mean, you’re bald, but you still go sledding with us,” my students said.
Age truly is just a number and nothing more. My age is my mindset. I feel young and peppy like my students. I love having fun, being silly, and telling jokes. My students help me feel young and full of youth. Even around adults, my inner child comes out. During faculty meetings at my school, I often struggle to stay focused when one of my colleagues talks for more than five minutes. Instead of zoning out or getting lost amidst my thoughts though, I do find ways to stay focused and attentive to what is being discussed during these meetings. When I notice my attention beginning to wane, I start shaking my leg, tapping my foot, cracking my knuckles, or some other physical activity that allows my mind to stay focused. While this does help me to stay focused, it usually results in causing others to be distracted as they feel the tables in the room shake or hear the noise caused by my foot tapping or shaking. When I notice that my behavior creates a distraction, I stop and find another way to distract my body; however, this usually means that I will check my email or do something else that spreads my brain power too thin. As we’ve learned in recent years, multitasking is a myth perpetuated by those in charge to get more work out of their employees. Like my students, I can’t fully listen to someone speaking while reading text on my computer screen. So, then I’m back at where I started when my focus started to drift at the beginning of the meeting. If only I had another way to channel my energy.
As I’ve often written on this very blog, I wonder who is doing more of the learning inside the classroom, me or my students. Case and point right here.
Prior to the most recent holiday break, one of my students shared some very cool information with me. She told me about a rubber band like material that, when placed on the legs of desks or chairs, can be used as a fidget tool for students. It’s out of sight and generally creates very little noise or distraction for others. They are quite inexpensive as well. I wonder if they really do help students stay focused. She asked, “Could we try them in our classroom?” Like all good boys and girls, I added these fidget bands to my Christmas wish list, hoping that Santa would deliver the goods for my students.
To play it safe, over break, I researched these bands. Several different companies have created a version of them over the years. Some seem better than others based on my research and the reviews I read. After completing this bit of research, I was almost completely sold on the idea of trying them in my classroom for the start of 2020. My only concern at that point was the distractibility of the bands. Would they end up being used by my students in the same manner that many students use fidget objects? Would these bands cause my students to be more unfocused than on task? Would they help my students or hinder their learning process? After many trials of allowing my students to use fidget objects in the classroom, I’ve come to realize that fidget objects are more of a toy and distraction than a helpful tool to help students focus. When my students are using their hands to play with putty, squishes, or other fidget toys, their focus dwindles, in many cases. I tested this theory in class on several occasions by cold-calling on students who were using a fidget object. I would ask them a simple comprehension question based on what I was talking to the class about. In most cases, I found that those students were unable to answer the questions I posed because they were not completely listening to me speak. Instead, they were splitting their brain power between listening to me and playing with their fidget toys. For most students, I had found that fidget objects were more toys than tools. Several research studies supported the data I collected in my classroom. So, my past experiences with fidget objects definitely weighed heavily upon me as I researched these new fidget bands. Were fidget bands just another fidget toy?
While being alive on planet Earth has taught me many things, the most important lesson I’ve learned over the years is that it can’t hurt to give new things a try before passing them off as hooey. So, despite what my past experiences with fidget objects was trying to tell me, I ignored those pleas and decided to give the fidget bands a try. I ordered, I mean, Santa delivered, a class set of Busy Bands to our classroom over break. My students were so excited to see the new bands installed on their chairs upon returning from our lengthy break. “Busy Bands, yes!” many of my students exclaimed as they entered the classroom Monday morning. During our Morning Meeting that day, I introduced the bands and discussed with the students how we will try them out for a few weeks to determine their effectiveness. I worked very hard to ignore the loud slapping noises the students were making with the bands as they tried them out during Morning Meeting. I reminded myself that new things create a sense of novelty at first. My students were exploring and playing with these new bands. After I spoke to them about the bands, the excessive noise was squelched. Ahhh, I thought, much better.
Throughout this past week, I observed the students as they worked. They were using the Busy Bands, and they seemed to help keep them focused. Only two students, on one occasion, early in the week used fidget toys that required the use of their hands. It seemed as though the Busy Bands were working. They were helping my students stay on task in a non-distracting manner. Even during our mindful meditation, the students used the bands in a silent and appropriate manner. So far, I’m very pleased with how the bands seem to be helping my students. They are using a fidget tool in an effective manner. The bands are helping my students focus their brain power on the task at hand. During the three or four whole-class instruction lessons completed throughout the week, the students used the bands to release the excess energy coursing through their fifth grade bodies so that they could listen and effectively participate in the activities and discussions. Their feet were quietly bopping up and down and back and forth while their brains seemed to be focused on the task at hand. They listened well, took copious and effective notes, and were able to address questions I posed to them.
Mission accomplished? Perhaps for now. I’m going to engage my students in a discussion regarding the effectiveness of the Busy Bands sometime in the next few weeks, as another data point. I want to know what my students think and feel. Do they see what I see regarding these new fidget bands? My students are an equal part of our classroom community, and so I almost always involve them in the decision making process when changes happen in the fifth grade. While week one with the Busy Bands seemed to be a success, who knows what next week will bring. Will these fidget tools transform into fidget toys in the coming weeks? Based on the results I gathered this past week, I’m hopeful that my students will continue to utilize the bands as focus tools and not fidget toys. I’m going to go one step further to test out the effectiveness of these bands: I’m going to use one on my chair in my next Faculty Meeting. If the bands can help keep me focused, then Busy Bands will be a winner in my eyes.