There has been a lot of brain research in the last 10 years that has really informed teachers about what is happening with students who fidget a lot (or those who don’t but are sleepy and not engaged). Brains today are not the same brains that existed 1000 years ago. I wasn’t there 1000 years ago, but neuroscientists tell me so and I believe them.
There are many aspects of brain development that are of interest to teachers, but today I want to emphasize just one part. The brain and physical body are interconnected. Physical activityeffects how the brain works. When the body is moving, oxygen is being pumped to the brain and neurons are being formed.
All good things. And as most of you can attest, sitting in an uncomfortable desk or chair for an hour can put your brain to rest or cause irritability.
This is why kids start to fidget. Added to this, the attention span of the brain is about a 6th grade level. Every 10 minutes it needs new stimulation, new discoveries, new information.
My first year of teaching I was frustrated by students inability to focus for the period and lacking experience, assumed that the second year would improve. It did, but not because the students changed. It was me.
I began by adding a lot of activities that required students to get up and move about the classroom. We played musical chairs, we did gallery walks, we took field trips on the campus to note some mathematical concepts. It sounds like we were not doing Math. We were, I am all about doing math every single day. But it doesn’t mean we have to sit down and be quiet.
Here are some of my favorite activities that can be used with any concept to get students moving:
1) Stand Up, Sit Down. We use this in a variety of ways. If students are working on a practice sheet. I have them stand up when they have all finished the first problem. And then the answer is shown and they sit down to do the next problem.
Sometimes if I am checking the answers to an activity, I ask them all to stand up at the beginning. As I go over the answers, students who did not get it right will sit down. These are great formative assessments for the teacher. We know who is strugging, who did not get the answer right, who needs help.
2) Task Cards. Using task cards in some form or another is a staple in most classrooms. Have some fun with them. Print and laminate a big bunch of them on the concept you are learning and place them in a big box.
Students get up, draw out a card, go back to their desk and solve/complete/answer the card and when done, run back up and get another. Yes, it creates a little chaos in the room, but no one is sleeping in my class. You can’t—it’s noisy.
You can also place one task card on every seat and after a predetermined amount of time, sound a bell and have students all move to the next card. Or start a student off with one card and have them exchange it for another at the front/back of the room.
3) Matching Cards. I use a lot of matching cards in my class for various reasons. They sometimes bridge the gap for students who are still struggling with a concept. But they do not have to be used as paired desk activities. Give students some of the the matching cards and have them get up and find a student who has one of their answers. Creates a lot of talking and movement. Or place the answers around the room and give students the problem half and have them race around to match theirs up first.
4) 4 Corners. This is a great way to review for a test. If you have multiple choice answers, just place A, B, C, and D in each of the corners of your room. Ask students to work and answer the problem then go to the corner of their answer. Yes, some students will be lemmings and just follow the crowd.
But I always pick a person from the corner (each one) to show us how they arrived at the answer. And most of the time I just coincidently pick one of the lemmings who followed and doesn’t know. But they will still have to answer. Even if we all have to coach that student to success.
5) Travel Around. Any worksheet can be turned into a travel around. Just tell the students that for each problem, they are to find a partner to work the problem with, they sign each others’ papers. When finished students find a new/different partner to work the next problem with.
No student can sign the same paper more than once so everyone is able to hear explanations from a new angle. Sometimes you have an odd number of students so one student is not paired up. The teacher can function as a partner, but they need to be a really low performing partner and let the student do all the work.
Or the alternative is to just let that student hang for a moment, until someone is freed up. Some students work a lot faster than others, so the pairings will not be at the same time.
I know there are a lot of creative teachers out there and have some additional ideas.