I took a photo of my kids’ fidget spinner, but by now you’ve probably seen one. This article is aimed mostly at students, teachers and parents, so I thought I’d include a photo for reference. It also happens to be useful to pilots, because that’s sort of my thing.
First let me start off with a disclaimer, as a parent, I get it. When my kids are focused on something other than me it can be frustrating, which I assume is the premise of the banning of spinners in school. They can be a distraction in class. However, banning something is the easy way out, and a short-sighted shotgun approach to a solution. I even know of young entrepreneurs who have formed a makeshift business around these toys.
Lets look to Roland Rotz and Sarah D. Wright, in their book Fidget to Focus, fidgeting is an act that can help to coarse correct someone who has difficulty connecting or focusing and provides stimulation that “allows our brains to become fully engaged and allows us to sustain focus on the primary activity in which we are participating.” They suggest that they can be useful for special needs education, such as calming an autistic child. There are different learning and teaching styles and it may benefit some children. Of course the challenge in a classroom is that it can be a distraction for some kids to be fidgeting while others are learning. My personal experience with my children who are active learners is that many kids just have a lot of energy. Recess and other activities are designed for kids to expend energy so they can concentrate in class. But what about allowing spinners as a reward for achievement? Or better yet, a learning activity. (From the article https://www.attn.com/stories/17143/why-fidget-spinners-might-be-helpful-brain-fidget-spinners-might-be-helpful-brain)
What can they learn from a spinner? The first and most obvious for me is gyroscopic precession. That is essentially how spinners work. You apply a force which provides torque and makes them spin. As an equally weighted spinning object held in the center, it becomes a simple gyro. As you rotate the object against its plain of motion, you feel the force of precession at 90 degrees from the angle of movement. This is used in aviation as one of the left turning tendencies in a traditional single engine propeller aircraft. Torque is another. While I’m not an expert in physics, it doesn’t take much research in google to gain an understanding of gyroscopic procession, and use the spinner as a learning aid.
In situations of prolonged sitting, fidgeting is the body’s way of coping or finding a stimulus that actually helps keep the brain engaged. So, by making it a teachable moment, creative teachers can talk about the ball bearings and how they work to reduce the resistance acting on a spinning object around a stationary point. They could segue into centrifugal force of the spinning object acting outwards from the center of motion. And, like I mentioned earlier, knowing they can use their spinner once their work is complete can be a motivational tool as well. Perhaps there could be an activity where kids in groups make comparisons and contrast to different spinners. And perhaps several spinners could be placed on a table and used to simulate how gears work.
I’m a big fan of using popular toys as educational tools. I recently read the following article that illustrates how a simple toy actually changed the world. Read it here. http://inspire.eaa.org/2017/04/28/the-most-important-toy-in-history/
So, as a flight instructor, and a parent, one mission that I have taken on is that aviation is a great platform for STEM education, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. This is important because most schools don’t cover much about aviation in the classroom, and most have a perception that it is a college-level or trade-school subject area. Since kids can solo a glider at age 14 and can fly a drone at and age, with 16 being the Federal Aviation Administration’s minimum age for Commercial Part 107 operations, 16 is also the age at which children can solo a powered aircraft. At 17 years of age one can legally get their pilot’s license, so my argument is that children should be at least exposed to this subject areas by 12 or 13 years of age, if not younger.
I have written a book called Open Air which is designed to give the most thorough basic overview of aviation that I haven’t found anywhere else. Aviation touches most everyone’s lives, yet few know much about this intriguing industry outside of what they might see in the news. This book is a great compliment to high school councilors, EAA Chapters who want to provide a follow-up to their famed Young Eagles flights at local airports, and for any organization who wants to help promote aviation. Along with the book, I have also worked out a number of solutions to help organizations inspire and educate future and current aviators.
Start with a Fidget Spinner then go to at http://openairforeveryone.com to learn more.
See you in the Open Air!