SIOUX CITY | Toward the end of the 2016-2017 school year, fidget spinners began showing up in fifth-grade teacher Mande Moran's Spalding Park Environmental Sciences Elementary School classroom.

Moran, who is in her fourth year of teaching, confiscated the metal and plastic gadgets that are spun on the finger, placing them in a middle drawer in her desk.

While some children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder need something to fidget with to block out distractions and increase productivity, Moran said her students were using fidget spinners as toys.

"After they became a problem last year, we sent a note home saying, 'No more fidget spinners,' but students still try to sneak them in," said Moran, who kept some fidget spinners for as little as a day after a first-time offense.

"Next time it's mine until Christmas break or the end of the year," she said. "Leave your toys at home!"

Moran, however, has some toys of her own. Minions, yellow creatures with bulging eyes that appear in the "Despicable Me" franchise, decorate her classroom, along with a wall hanging aside the door frame that states her rules in colorful fonts: "Behave. Show respect. Be polite. Try your hardest." 

The characters have been a popular way to teach laboratory safety in some middle and high schools. 

In Moran's classroom, the Minion figurines and magnets, which will inspire her fifth-graders to dig into literacy, are kept on a file cabinet or her desk.

Keeping kids focused and on task can be challenging. Moran said students can easily become distracted playing with standard school supplies, such as a pencil.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal
Mande Moran, a fifth-grade teacher at Sioux City's Spalding Park Elementary School, holds three plastic rocking seats that she will use in her classroom this school year.

This year, students in Moran's classroom will sit at tables, rather than in desks. They'll have a few different types of seating to chose from, including yoga balls, ottomans and plastic rocker chairs, which Moran said will help them move around and collaborate with each other.

"They're able to move comfortably where they want to sit and learn, so that they're not confined to a desk," she said.

Cell phones and smartphones, which Moran said most students have, won't be a distraction. They aren't allowed in the classroom and must be kept in lockers. She said that rule, which is written in the Sioux City Community School District's handbook, could change in the future, as some schools in other districts around the country have allowed students to use smartphones as a learning tool. 

Moran said she doesn't see her students needing to use a smartphone for that purpose because of the Future Ready Initiative, which puts devices, such as tablets, in her students' hands. Internet access on these school-issued devices, however, is restricted for safety purposes.

"I think the way that we have brought it into our lessons extends the lesson rather than hurts the lesson," Moran said. "We spent the whole summer creating these lessons."

Pagers, two-way radios and laser lights are electronic devices that could land students in hot water if they bring them to school, according to the district's handbook. Possessing BB guns, air pistols or electronic cigarettes on school property is also a violation of the Student Code.

Even the clothing, hairstyles and jewelry other students wear could disrupt learning, according to the handbook, which states that students are "to be dressed and groomed appropriately for the educational environment." 

Unless worn in affiliation with a student's religion, sweatbands, bandannas, do-rags and other head coverings are not permitted. Students aren't allowed to wear clothing suggestive of alcohol, nicotine or drugs, either.

Students should keep their chains and spikes at home, which the handbook said could pose a safety hazard.

As far as dress goes, Moran said the only issues she's run into involved inappropriate footwear, such as flip-flops.

"On P.E. day, wear tennis shoes," she said. "We really haven't had an issue with dress."

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