When the kids’ latest craze, flipping bottles, leaves you on the brink of flipping out, how exactly are you going to put a lid on it, asks Paul Dix
For a short time the sight of a small plastic bottle gently flying through the air was intriguing. Its gentle arc and weighted spin was something unusual, different - possibly beautiful, even. Then the bottom dropped out. The positive spin has ended. Suddenly no child seems capable of holding onto a plastic bottle without immediately throwing it on the floor/ shelf /head of a smaller child.
The sound of bottles landing plays havoc with teacher broadcast frequencies. On the rare occasion that the bottle lands on its base, a roar of self congratulation erupts (cue selfies / laps of honour / lengthy acceptance speeches). Perhaps what is most frustrating is the esteem in which bottle flipping is held. No other ‘sport’ glorifies the application of ‘no skill whatsoever’ the way that bottle flipping does. The disproportionate celebration that a fluke landing inspires is the most undeserved brag.
The classroom chatter is full of legendary tales: the Year 6 girl who bottle flipped the top of the basketball net and, in hushed tones, the boy who flipped his bottle on the headteacher’s car – he’s, apparently, a ‘ledge’.
If you don’t do something soon the entire focus of the day will be lost to this new obsession and your own patience will eventually let you down. Before you grab every bottle and throw them in the bin in a fit of flipping retribution, you need a plan.
Outlaw bottle flipping across the site. Police it hard and punish anyone who dares to flip.
Establish ‘safe zones’ for bottle flipping in the playground.
Start an after-school bottle flipping club and hide some learning within the play.
The letter to parents wasn’t easy to write and reading it back you worry it might come across as petty. A small group of parents took to social media to complain about ‘restrictive practices’ and ‘desperately dehydrated children’. Fortunately, this was limited to a few moany posts and didn’t go viral.
The children look crestfallen and seemingly incapable of thinking of anything other than their beloved fad. Your policing of the new ban is overzealous, to say the least. You snap in frustration when a bottle falls from a coat pocket, accuse an innocent child of rule-breaking when she passes a bottle to a friend ‘too enthusiastically’ and you almost lose control when a child accidentally drops one next to your foot while on playground duty. You press home your point by issuing endless lunchtime detentions.
The prohibition drives the obsession underground. Younger children are recruited as lookouts, crowds of children form suspiciously at the far recesses of the school and hushed conversations give away the fact your ban has fundamentally changed nothing.
As you sit eating your lunch with the miscreants you’ve placed in detention, you nudge your own bottle, which tumbles and falls on the upturned bin, perfectly. A ripple of admiration from those in custody meets your barely suppressed smile and the laughter breaks the tension. In a moment you see that you have become a Scrooge figure, joylessly stamping out fun before it has a chance to begin.
The establishment of flipping zones for the world’s least-skilful sport is such a brilliant marketing campaign that seemingly every child now wants to be involved. After two days the zones need to be extended and there are queues of frustrated children waiting to step across a chalk line. There are the inevitable arguments over kids ‘hogging the zone’, ‘queue jumping’ and “He bottle flipped me on my nose and now it’s bleeding” incidents.
Instead of discouraging the addiction you seem to have made it a whole-school event. Parents question, ‘Does he have to have a plastic bottle every day?’, staff are unhappy that this daily distraction still dominates and the site manager is run ragged finding water bottles in the most unlikely of places.
Plus, it seems that while staff attention was all on the busy zones that renegade flipping joints have been set up in unseen corners of the building.
You explain to the children that instead of the distraction of all-day bottle flipping there will be a ‘Champions of Bottle Flipping’ club after school on a Wednesday. You also make it clear that bottles are no longer to be thrown around in the playground - they will stay in bags not to be taken outside. Those that flout the new ‘agreement’ will be given a compulsory invitation for one session at the club. A natural consequence.
You set up some instances for more-challenging flipping and invite them to create levels of difficulty and shared challenges. You create a controlled environment for some bottle-flipping experimentation. Using the slow-motion setting on a smartphone, you examine the angular momentum, rotational force, shifting centres of gravity, uneven weight, optimum bottle fill, stable falling mass, and arc. Presentations in assembly are given, and STEM competitions entered.
Early adopters of the club volunteer to patrol the site, reminding children that bottle flipping is not allowed and handing out flyers for the club. Within a week the club is overflowing and you have recruited help from a teaching assistant and the Year 4 teacher. A staff vs pupils challenge is issued and a positive energy and discipline is emerging. You congratulate yourself as you see excellent results in changing behaviour.
As you walk into the staff room the following day, almost whistling with self satisfaction, you discover to your horror that, in preparation for the competition, colleagues are incessantly bottle flipping on the counter top /pigeon holes/ heads of smaller teachers!
Whoa there! Your inner dictator has taken over. Banning the latest craze doesn’t end it. It was conkers yesterday, flipping bottles today, perhaps virtual monster wars tomorrow. Teach the children appropriate boundaries.
You have bottled the problem and left the children to manage it without support. There will be more tears before you need to find a better plan.
Catching the energy and re-channelling it is a key teacher skill. While establishing the boundaries you see an opportunity to teach something really complex through something so seemingly simple.
Paul Dix podcasts at pivotalpodcast.com and tweets at @PivotalPaul. The Pivotal Curriculum (pivotalcurriculum.com) is a licensed trainer scheme that allows every school to deliver Pivotal Behaviour and Safeguarding Training.