Tuesday, October 4, 2011

8 weeks, 8 pencils . . .

I've tried a variety of responses to students who show up to class pencil-less:

1.  Refusing to give them a pencil, so they can learn to be responsible.
(Doesn't work, and I feel like a jerk.)
2.  Providing them with a pencil.
(Pencil is usually gone for good.)
3.  Trading them for something valuable.
(Works, but it is inconvenient.)

This year, I just put out a cup of pencils for students to use as needed.

8 weeks later, I still have all the pencils I put out at the beginning of the year.

It turns out, a plastic spoon is a very affective anti-theft device.

Then I came up with a use for the forks.

(Green pens for checking bell work.)

We figured out right away that the spoon-pencil has a major design flaw:

You can't use the eraser.

So, then I really got carried away . . .

I would recommend attaching the eraser to the handle part instead . . . 


  1. Absolutely love this idea. This year I tried giving out golf pencils (small, no eraser) but unfortunately I have a batch of boys ( I teach 6 grade) who love golf pencils- not sure why- anyhow they are going like wildfire with those guys. I'm thinking I might take your idea and expand on it. Golf pencils with plastic spoons taped to them! Thanks for the idea!

  2. LOL Hilarious. Definitely trying that!

  3. Genius. Pure, unadulterated genius.

    - Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  4. The tendency of spoons to slip away through space-time is well-known (a spoonoid planet is postulated). Pencils appear to have the same property, yet tethering them to each other nullifies their effects. Remarkable.

  5. That made me laugh! I must confess that by the end of the semester 2 spoons were gone and one was broken. I used extra tape on the replacements, which cost me less than $1. I am still calling it a win. Thanks!

  6. I like it! It's got a definite "Class-is-put-together" feel, having a cup full of plasticware.
    I have a policy that I stole from MY 8th grade Algebra teacher: You want a pencil, give me a shoe as collateral.
    You may leave with my pencil, but you won't leave without a shoe.

  7. What do you do when they break the spoon or take it off? It makes me so furious but I can't really justify writing them up or anything.I mean it's not an accident they just take it between their hands and break it on purpose. Grr

  8. I got angry about the broken/missing spoon pencils, too. (I eventually ended up with two missing and one broken). Then I remembered that the original goal was to remove pencil-related stress from my life. So I decided not to get worked up about it. If I have to occasionally replace a few spoons and otherwise not think about pencils, it is no biggie. I might make a little speech to the class about being respectful of supplies that I’ve provided for your convenience. If I see someone intentionally bending the spoon or picking at the tape, I might say something like “Hey you, be nice to spoon pencil.” And they will stop. If not . . . Well, then you probably have a student attempting to watch your blood pressure rise on purpose. If the whole thing ends up causing more stress than it reduces, then I would stop doing it.

  9. This is so great! I have been keeping pencils available for them this year (never really did that before), but managed to keep most of them, even without the spoons. Part of it is definitely the population of students that I have and the small numbers in the classes, but I've also worked at building a classroom culture of taking care of their class materials. Each section has its own box of whiteboard markers and protractors. They know that if they break or lose them, their class just won't have as many, and so they do a much better job than I've ever had them do before of returning things they've used and being stewards of their classroom. Even though the class doesn't have its own pencil supply (I just keep the same bag of Halloween pencils with me all the time), I think that returning markers and protractors has made them more likely to return borrowed pencils or erasers, too. But I also like the spoon idea, so I might try adding class-specific pencils to their boxes, too, and putting something like the spoon on there so they are ones that obviously need to be returned with their supplies.

    Thanks for the great idea! :)

  10. I always give out pens and pencils because I've decided that that is one battle I don't want to fight. There are way too many other battles that need my full attention (factoring battles, fraction battles, graphing battles, etc) that I don't want to waste time with arguing with kids about why they dont have something to write with. I don't want my kids to have that as an excuse as to why they couldn't do math. I know it's almost like babying them but I'm always pressed for time and there are so many things you could do in a period. That's why I absolutely love this idea. I tried writing my initials on pens and pencils but then I realized they still weren't being returned. I used to threaten them with the "you know you're not going to go home and sharpen that pencil, so why don't you put it back so that tomorrow it'll be there for you to use again....". Didn't work either. But this is a stroke of genius!

  11. I usually make kids give me a shoe to get to borrow one of my pencils... :)

  12. I trade the loan pencil for one of their shoes. Works a treat because they all want to go out at recess time! No pencil, no shoe!! One smart child, however, needed another one very soon after borrowing the first....he thought it was much more comfortable to have both shoes off. Lesson: definitely make it a limit of one!!

  13. Telling them I would not be providing pencils ( I could/have spent fourty dollars or more on them during the year) works for most of the year. We also tell parents in our first newsletter to make sur they start them off with a good supply to keep in their lockers. Those students that still don't have one are to borrow from a fellow student. For some reason, they take this more seriously than when they borrow from a teacher and usually return them. There are always a few students that keep extras, and they're the same ones that expect to get them back. One year I instructed students in the fine art of recycling and had them keep a supply in the classroom by picking up discarded pencils in the halls and such. They kept a can full all year. The pencil issue is a huge distraction for many teachers and on more than one occasion I've body checked or been body checked by another teacher that spotted a pencil in the hallway. :)

  14. A teacher at my school traded anything a student wanted to borrow for their phone. Anything she lent was always returned.

  15. I was considering using feathers as pencil toppers to differentiate between my supply and student's belongings, but perhaps the feathers would increase the likelihood of theft...your green utensils are striking enough to be different, but students are probably less likely to want to keep them! Thanks of the idea :)

  16. I would worry about the forks either being used as 'weapons' or (and mostly) the fork tines being broken off and ending up being projectiles.

    I may consider multi-colored spoons.

  17. In British schools we bulk buy equipment for the class to use. It comes out of the stationary budget because these items are an essential part of learning. It seems like a pretty small thing to get worked up about.

    1. That may be the case in the British schools, but in American schools, these supplies are not provided for students and many times the teachers are buying these backup supplies with their own money, and can't afford to be replacing them all the time.

  18. I saw a photo of your fabulous spoon idea at the booth at NCTM Boston and had to know what you did the forks! Great idea..I teach middle school, this will work! Thanks!