Do you tap your pencil? Click your pen? Bounce your feet? All of these fidgety behaviors can be construed as annoying to a presenter. However, neuroscientists and attention experts tell us that these behaviors are unconscious attempts to keep the brain from going into a rest state. So when you see participants fidgeting, take it as a sign that they need movement or some active form of engagement now!
One way to proactively address the need of some adults to fiddle in order to pay attention is to place small, unobtrusive fidget items on the tables. The key word here is unobtrusive. My husband recently attended a session that had metal slinkies on every table. A few of the participants took full advantage of the slinkies, distracting everyone around them! It is essential that the fidget items are unobtrusive.
My favorite fidget items are Wikki Stix. Wikki Stix are pieces of string that are covered in colored wax. They are similar to pipe cleaners, but without the metal wire down the center. They are bendable and shapeable, but do not make any noise at all. Learners can fidget with one or two, receiving fairly intensive tactile input, without distracting colleagues
I also try to build tactile interaction into the learning in more purposeful ways. For example, I often ask learners to use Wikki Stix to show their understanding of a concept by building a symbolic representation. Here are 5 items that I like to have on tables for on-the-spot tactile engagement.
I have just finished playing another hand of Solitaire, my fifth in a row. Before that it was several games of Red Herring and Cut the Rope. While I enjoy the win, it is more about the process for me - the puzzling, persevering, trying to figure it out. So, rather than quitting while I'm ahead, I continue on for another round.
Neuroscientists (Panksepp, et. al) explain this experience as the SEEKING System. As our brains engage in productive struggle, dopamine is released. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that make us feel pleasure and a desire to persevere. Scientists used to believe that the largest release of dopamine occurred upon successful task completion. They now know that opioids are released upon completion instead. Opioids differ from dopamine in that they result in a boost, or high, that drops off quickly. Dopamine, a more long-lasting high, is released during the SEEKING, or puzzling, process.
How can we enhance this process during professional learning classes? How can we engage participants in puzzling? Of course, well designed problem solving activities will be highly effective at this, as long as the outcome feels achievable. But puzzling can be introduced throughout instruction in simple, quick ways, too. I have tried three different ways to add some puzzling to the learning process. Each of these ideas could be developed for any content or audience, with very little prep. Each time, participants were attentive and highly motivated to complete the puzzles.
1. Crossword Puzzles – I used a free online puzzle maker to create a simple crossword puzzle with the key vocabulary words.
2. Fill in the Blank – I turned the learning target into a fill in the blank puzzle.
3. Wheel of Fortune – A variation on the t.v. show Wheel of Fortune - I provided some of the letters and then had teams compete to fill in the rest.
Answer: Novelty causes increased alertness.
For even more ideas...
Anne Beninghof is passionate about teaching and learning.
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