Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fiddlesticks! (AKA "Can I borrow your brain?")

I'm still working half days at school, with the other half of the day reserved for closing my eyes or neurological therapy.  It's an interesting life, but not nearly as interesting as the "normal" life of Susan Heydt, Teacher.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, although oncoming lights tend to make me rapidly close my eyes in a manner something akin to Dracula at dawn.

My day started with therapy, and I arrived at school before 2nd period ended.  One of my 9th graders came up to me and asked, "Can I borrow your brain for 3rd period?  I really need it to make it through English."

I must admit, it took more than a few seconds to translate the request, and then I realized he was pointing to the brain-shaped stress ball sitting on my desk.  A quick nod and toss, and he was on his way.  He promised to explain to his English teacher why he had it, and how he thought it would help him.  And he promised he wouldn't abuse it and get it confiscated.  He knew I had 3rd period prep, and didn't want to see it go unused.

As promised, it was returned to my room before 4th period began.

No Stress.... 

There are very few of us that are entirely focused all the time, when in a learning environment.  We doodle, zentangle, daydream.  We chew pen caps and fingernails, we fidget and tap.  From a teacher's perspective, it can be downright frustrating to watch the scootching, rocking, and wiggling of students in the classroom.  The societal expectation used to be "feet planted on the floor, straight backs, hands folded "- signifying the "ready to learn" mentality.

There's an increasing understanding among educators that a successful learning environment may not be rows of students arranged alphabetically, facing the front of the room.  I've talked before about the Green Chairs, standing tables, and other seemingly unusual classroom arrangements, and the reality is that teachers are looking for anything that will motivate and encourage learning.  

Check any office supply store -- the same motivation applies to corporate business.   There are ball chairs, finger gizmos, and all sorts of distractors/focusers.  Remember those metallic
balls that click together on the desk of every executive in the 60s?  Or Silly Putty, rubber bands, even baseballs, that are transferred from one hand to another to stimulate focus, creativity and innovation.  Heck, Google, and other big companies, are putting in entire playgrounds for their employees to kick back and chill, while working on the task at hand, building a sense of purpose and community.

Julie Beck talks about the value of stress toys in business in the July issue of The Atlantic, in her article entitled Stress Toys:  Mindlessness with a Purpose?   Interestingly, the business world is looking to educators, and educational research, to defend the use of the very fidget widgets teachers have seen in their classrooms for decades.  (Don't kid a kidder -- even if you weren't GIVEN a token to play with, there was SOMETHING in your desk, or on your body, that you snapped, chewed, twirled, or flicked.)  Simultaneously, educators are drooling at the creative and free environment that seems to be evolving in the business world.  

Do I mind lending my brain, my cow with the bulgy eyes, or my UHU tacky putty to kids to help them focus?  Absolutely not.  As long as they keep all four legs of their chairs on the floor while they're in my room (personal pet peeve, but I digress...), and return the toys at the end of the class, I'm one happy camper.  

And maybe, just maybe, they've learned a little bit more because of their attempt.