The FitBit Made Me Do It (and other things I learned this week)

The FitBit Made Me Do It (and other things I learned this week)

I love analogies. I feel like they let you learn something sideways, when something is too hard to take face on, relating it to something you know and understand is like opening the side door in your mind, or walking on the diagonal up a steep hill. (Boom, analogy, can’t stop/won’t stop). I live my life thinking, “What is this like? How do I understand this?”

So recently, when my sister (Hi Jen!) gave me a FitBit, she unwittingly gave me an analogy machine. The FitBit is a magical little bracelet contraption that keeps track of the steps you take, the stairs you climb, the minutes you are active, and the calories you have burned using some kind of sci-fi technology I don’t understand. In the three weeks that I have worn this doodad, not only have I changed habits and become more fit, but I have begun to understand what some axioms in my teaching world really mean.

Axiom 1: Anecdotes are not data, and data can be eye opening

Before Fitbit (Heretofore known as BFB) I would have told you this: I am really active. I walk all day at my job, and even on the weekends I try to get out and about. I would have said, “I probably walk like 20,000 steps just at work.”

After Futbit (AFB) well, Fitbit broke my heart. Yes, I am active and I do move… some days. But those Saturdays when I got my exercise when “cleaning” that was like 700 steps for the entire day. (10,000 steps a day is considered the number to keep healthy) And yes, my classroom is on the third floor, and there are steps, but that didn’t mean I actually used the steps as much as I thought I did. Data from fitbit showed me how often I was filling in the gaps in my favor, believing myself to do more than I actually did.

And this helped me understand in the classroom…

How important it is to look to data. Now, I know, people have gotten crazy about data, but there is the difference between what I think I know about my kids as readers and what I know about them as readers from data gathered from running records. I may want to believe, for various reasons, that a child is a lot closer to reading level D than the information I actually collect on running records demonstrates. Data can be eye-opening, but better have open eyes and have your teaching be grounded in the truth of where your students are, for better or for worse.

Axiom 2: Having a goal makes work have purpose

Fitbit has preset goals based on your height and weight and the general standard of fitness. Ten thousand steps is an arguable measure of fitness, but lets roll with that one goal. Here is what I noticed: on a typical day in school, I walked about 6,000 steps. Add the commute to and from work, and I was up to about 8,000. With only 2,ooo steps to go I was ENERGIZED. I would offer to take the dog out on walks (my most hated job), I took the longer way home. I walked to the further coffee shop. When I was close, I worked to get closer and closer until I got it, but when I was far… When I was far from the goal, like a lazy Saturday when I read all day, the Fitbit registered 300 steps. Rather than get up and take the dog out, go for a run, get out and do anything, I took off the fitbit and stuck it in my jewelry box and pretended like it didn’t exist, so I could lie to myself that the walking around the kitchen to make dinner was about 10,000 steps (see axiom 1). Goals motivate you when you have a shot to reach them.

And this helped me understand in the classroom…

That maybe some kids don’t seem to put effort towards goals because the goals seem unattainable, what is the point of proving you failed? Selecting a goal that a child is within striking distance of, the thing they do sometimes but not consistently, is the best goal I can choose sometimes. Don’t look for the biggest deficit, look for the closest success. The belief you can reach your goal is as critical as the goal.

Axiom 3: Little celebrations yield big results

The fitbit vibrates and puts on a little light show when you reach 10,000 steps. It pains me to admit how much joy this brings me. When it buzzes as I am walking I ALWAYS stop and watch the 5 second light show. I earned that light show, and it makes me feel good. It doesn’t pay me a thousand dollars (Attn: Fitbit, if you are reading, I would also take 1,000 dollars) it is small and it is fast and it is all I need.

And this helped me understand in the classroom…

That a small daily celebration feels good. It doesn’t have to involve donut holes, parents, and elaborately designed themes, but a daily “hey, you did it!” (when you really did it, the fitbit doesn’t give me a light show on lazy days) makes you want to do it again and again. Take a minute from the lost minutes of the day (waiting for everyone to finally make it to the rug) and make it about a celebration. Tell about the child who met the goal, or have each child tell a neighbor the one thing they tried today that showed their brain grew.

Axiom 4: Proximity is powerful

The fitbit is on my wrist. I see it all the time. I press a little button on it and it tells me everything about my day: steps, stairs, active minutes, and calories. I press it at lunch, and when deciding how to walk home from the subway. It does not require internet or getting to a computer. It is is easy to check: how am I doing? How much more do I need to do?

And this helped me understand in the classroom

That proximity is powerful. Whether it is me moving during conferring (like a life sized fitbit ) or goal sheets taped to folders, nearness yields attention to the details. My colleague, an amazing teacher, Valerie Geschwind, taught me about this very simple solution for a child who often has unsafe hands. She makes wrist bands out of sentence strips (use velcro so they are easy on easy off) that say “Safe Hands”. If the child moves to push or grab, they see, right on their wrists, a reminder to use safe hands. It works like a charm. The safe hands chart may just be too far away to remember. Imagine a simple adaption for writing- on the child’s dominant hand make a wrist band that says: SPACES! or DIALOGUE or whatever the child needs a reminder of for that time. In reading it could say USE THE PICTURE. Goals should be personal, achievable, and close by.

Axiom 5: Over time small concentrated efforts become habits and good habits create positive change

For me, the easiest part of the fitbit to achieve every day is the steps. If I walk up the subway station steps and up the stairs to my classroom, I have met my stairs goal (7 flights) for the day. I started taking the stairs to up my fitbit numbers, and then suddenly I realized I was taking the stairs just because. I climb between 27 and 40 flights of stairs a day since fitbit, compared to riding the escalator and taking the elevator. A few things have happened: the stairs got easier, running hills on my runs felt better, and most importantly, my bottom got tighter. I know that is probably all shades of inappropriate to say, but there are going to be at least 3 readers who buy a fitbit based on that fact alone.

And this helped me understand in the classroom…

That small concentrated efforts on big ideas (like kindness) done daily will do more for my children than one day of amazing everything. They give us a year to teach for a reason. Use it. In a previous post (Fitting It All In) I spoke to my belief that supporting the development of brave, active, and kind learners and people is the most important thing to fit in. This I believe more than anything else, and I add to it that it is not about doing that just one day, but doing it every day, day after day until it becomes a habit, and the habit creates a positive change. Teaching is not about the flashy moment, its about the quiet, determined, and committed quest to help children find joy and passion in the world.

As of this writing, my FitBit reads 8,981 steps, time to take the dog out! In the comments share your favorite analogies or moments of clarity  for the classroom that came from the world around you. Those of you that read know that we sign off with a “Happy Charting!” Perhaps the best closing I can offer for this new blog-in-progress is:

Here’s to a week of joyful teaching!

  • Ramona
    Posted at 03:18h, 01 February Reply

    Just checked my fitbit – 8,925 steps. Time to step away from the computer and fit in a few more steps. I love the analogies to our work in the classroom. My favorite – axiom 5! I celebrated an “air five” with a student (we couldn’t quite reach each other) in a parent conference this afternoon .

  • jarhartz
    Posted at 04:15h, 03 February Reply

    I love analogies that are based in sport. The teacher is coach and students are athletes. The drills, the training, the again and again, add up. The races I suppose are those assessments. But for me who doesn’t race anymore, my performance isn’t measured by a race. It’s more in the knowledge of meeting certain goals I set. Be it the number of miles, laps or a time that it took. Perhaps this could equal the number of books, or pages read. Sometimes I can’t wait to go back and swim or run again, just for the feeling of doing it. And maybe that equals the I want another book like that one or do you have any more by that author feeling.
    Thanks for the reminders of these important goals that push us to do a little more.

  • Liz W
    Posted at 13:54h, 18 February Reply

    Love this connection! I adore my new Fitbit as well- although its becoming a small obsession of mine. Thank you for all of the wonderful ideas!

  • Catherine
    Posted at 20:08h, 13 April Reply

    I have just recently found your blog and loved this post as it verbalized a lot of what I’ve been thinking about recently in my classroom. Just this week I decided not to even wear my Nike Fuelband one day because I knew I wasn’t going to reach my goal. I loved your analogy and it really made me think about my students and their goals. I do always try to make sure their goals are attainable but I need to make sure they realize how attainable their goals are, and that they know what steps they need to take to get them there. I want them to be energized to make it those last few “steps” to reach their end goal. Thanks for this post!

  • Pingback:What roles will wearables “play” in our classrooms? 42/180 | InnovateSalisbury180
    Posted at 15:20h, 30 October Reply

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