If you worked in a school, in the spring of 2017, you know what a fidget spinner is. If you are reading this after the fidget spinner craze has passed, were on sabbatical in a cave, or work in some crazy pocket universe where all of the children were not obsessed with this thing you may not understand the full impact of this lesson. That’s okay, a Fidget Spinner STEM Lesson will still be useful.
Any time I happen to notice that a significant portion of my students are incredibly engaged with something, I want to know what it is. Once I know about it, I want to come up with a way to turn it into a lesson. When I worked in sales we called this borrowed rapport. Essentially, if you referred me to your friend they automatically have a bit higher level of trust in me because they already trust you. In education the same holds true. It is far easier to get kids more excited about something they’re already excited about, than to create excitement from the ether. I also prefer whenever possible, to trick my students into learning while they think they are having fun. You can look at some of my other articles to see this philosophy illustrated.
Fidget Spinner STEM Lesson Standards
I had originally envisioned this lesson for my grade 4 students. After thinking about it though, I changed my opinion to it being more appropriate for my grade 6-8 students. As such, I have intentionally kept the standards general so they could apply across grade band.
- Math standards in your particular band can be anything having to do with measurement, engineering, and Geometry.
- For Science you will want to look at Energy & Motion, and Engineering.
- With State Pre-Engineering/Tech Ed Standards look specifically for anything relating to Computer Aided Design, Engineering Design Process, Manufacturing, or Advanced Technology.
Fidget Spinner STEM Lesson Materials & Equipment
- Tinkercad (or some other CAD Software).
- 3D Printer.
- 3 Roller Blade Bearings Per Student.
- Engineering Notebook.
Fidget Spinner STEM Lesson Overview
Prior to attempting this lesson students should be familiar with the operation of Tinkercad, as well as how to use the Micrometer. Students will be required to design and 3D print a fidget spinner with no fewer than three bearings. The total footprint of the design is up to you, but I’d recommend something in the neighborhood of a 6CM cross section with a 1CM height. The design should be unique, well balanced, and aesthetically pleasing.
Fidget Spinner STEM Lesson Ideation
First, students will be given the specifications and a bearing. I’d suggest having students start by sketching some thumbnails in their engineering notebooks. Have them brain storm on paper. That way they begin to think like a designer.
They can certainly do internet research, but we are trying to simulate the actual design process of an actual product. At it’s core we are exposing our students to the world of toy design. What student could possibly resist such a tempting project? With this in mind keep it fun, and make it a little silly. Too often in classes where we try to stick to a rigid design process we lose track of the fun. Somewhere along the way some teacher or administrator thought that school could not be both rigorous, and fun at the same time. That individual was completely wrong. In reality, the more fun you have built in to your lesson the more rigor you can expect from your students.
Engineering Notebook Sidebar
I will certainly do a longer post on this at some point (in fact as soon as I finish this post I will be doing one on collaboration that covers this), but for now suffice it to say that there are a billion and a half ways to do engineering notebooks in an engineering classroom. I have only found one good method. Use graph paper, have kids take a picture of the page with their phone, and save it to a google drive folder. Again, more on this in a later post, but this will get you started.
Fidget Spinner STEM Lesson Prototyping
This is where things start to get super fun. First, students need to measure the diameter of the bearing with the Micrometer. Next, have the kids make a detailed drawing of their design on paper. Once they have a solid design in mind, they go to Tinkercad, and design the spinner digitally. By forcing this process, and letting students know they will be making Tinkercad designs you will be forcing them to keep a bit more grounded in reality than they may want. This is okay, and exactly what you want from them because the last part of the initial prototyping phase is production. In the production phase students will 3D print their prototype. Once they have printed their prototype they can iterate until it works & looks perfect.
Fidget Spinner STEM Lesson Extension
Once students have completed the above steps, and have a working design you could certainly end the lesson. Students who’ve done the above have already demonstrated mastery in designing a working prototype of a useful item. If however, you want to spend a bit more time on it the lesson can easily be expanded into an entrepreneurship one. In the extension students will need to conduct some market research of their sales demographic to find out what their customers want/need, will have to come up with a marketing plan, and will have to figure out production costs. Once they’ve done all of that they could even actually try selling a few depending on the availability of your 3D printer.
Fidget Spinner STEM Lesson Conclusion
When we teach students by allowing them the freedom to express themselves we find massive engagement. Students talk about their project outside of class. They will work on their own time, and will surprise you with just how far they will take something. Whether the design is a fidget spinner, or some other widget kids are into, we should always look for a way to borrow engagement. Additionally, with class times being reduced we need to keep our lessons educationally dense in order to keep our rigor high.
Since the 1980’s Technology Education or Industrial Arts has had this project of a research design, and manufacture something. This is certainly a valuable exercise in terms of entrepreneurship, but has historically suffered from a lack of realism or relevance. I’ve heard of classes designing everything from Sports Drinks to Sports Cars. In none of those cases have the students been able to actually make & sell their idea. There are obvious benefits in the above lesson of teaching engineering design, but there is also an opportunity for students to actually make something salable.