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Learning Library Blog Let distracted students make DIY fidgets with 3D printers
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Let distracted students make DIY fidgets with 3D printers

By Team ISTE
October 13, 2015
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What kid doesn’t like to play with toys? And what kid wouldn’t like to play with toys in school?

More teachers are discovering that, rather than a distraction, toys can be a way to help engage students in the classroom and give them new tools to improve learning skills. Even better, thanks to technologies like 3D printing, students can actually create the toys they’ll use in the classroom.

Facilitate movement to aid focus

One of the challenges every teacher faces is keeping distracted students engaged in the classroom. Toys called “fidgets” may be one answer to help these children become more focused on tasks.

Fidgets are small toys that originated with occupational therapy, says Glen Bull, co-director of the Center for Technology & Teacher Education at the University of Virginia. The idea is that using fidgets to keep one’s fingers busy relieves stress.

For students with excess energy, fidgets — usually low-tech toys like stress balls or kneadable erasers — can also help them focus better and make significant academic progress. In fact, studies have found that some children have to move to maintain alertness, according to Mark Rapport, head of the Children’s Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida.

This knowledge is of great value to teachers, who can help their distractible students complete tasks by giving them toys that will facilitate movement.

Student-made toys

Not every child needs a fidget to be focused. However, every child should have the opportunity to bring play into the learning environment, and what better way to do that than by building their own toys? Here are a few examples on the types of fidgets and toys your students can create using a 3D printer:

Fidget star: Cubes are a popular 3D-printer design, but what happens when you connect a bunch of cubes together? You can fold it into a star.

Train tracks: Like the fidget star, the train tracks take a popular 3D-printer design – the fidget ring – and turn it into a multipurpose toy. Students can use the bendable track as a fidget toy or as a flexible track section for a wooden train set.

Builder toys: For kids who like to use the toys they have to build and create, they can print their fidget building “tools,” like nuts and bolts, chains and gears for their projects.

Fidget with a phone case: For older kids who need to keep their hands busy, this iPhone case has fidget gears built in, so students can fool around with their phones without actually using the devices.