Friday, August 3, 2012

Hopefully My Last Post About Supplies

My battle with supplies continues. I wrote about my success, followed by semi-failure. I have decided there is no perfect solution for supply-less students. It is a matter of preference and what works for your students in your classroom. I've tried most everything, and this is how it worked for me:

1.  Exchanging supplies for a valuable item. Works great, but I hated the disruption and felt like valuable instruction time was lost.
2.  Selling supplies. Also works great, as long as the child who doesn't have a pencil also doesn't have a quarter, which is likely. Then you have to decide if you are going to give the student a pencil or not and try to collect the quarter later. Too much hassle for me.
3.  Expecting students to borrow from another student. This also works pretty well, but I started to feel bad for the same poor students getting hit up each day.
4.  Providing supplies freely. Nice and non-disruptive, but supplies can go un-returned.

Providing supplies remains my method of choice. I try to set it up so the disappearance is minimized, and I live with replacing items occasionally in exchange for avoiding less-preferred hassles. This year, I am tweaking the location of my supplies.

Back story:  I decided to test out this classroom arrangement I read about from Mathy McMatherson. It is pretty genius, really. All students can simultaneously see the front of the room AND interact with a group of four without re-arranging desks. I hate moving desks. I wonder how many opportunities I have missed to allow students to work cooperatively because I didn't want to move the stinking desks. I am hoping I will be able to move toward a more cooperative, student-centered classroom, just by removing that barrier. I'll keep you posted . . .

Bonus! This new arrangement allows for a supply caddy right in the middle of each table:

I found the shower caddies at Walmart for $.97. Each contains:

1. Two basic operation calculators.
2.  A set of colored pencils and a pencil sharpener.
3.  Two spoon pencils. 
4.  Two knife erasers.
5.  A note card holder.

I am most excited about the note card holder. I plan to use it for any accessories that are specific to a lesson. It can hold math dominoes, puzzle cards, sorting cards, log war cards, and more. When I get to that part of the lesson, students can take them out without wasting any time on distribution.

Additional items I might include permanently or as needed:

6.  Green fork pens.
7.  Dry erase markers and erasers.
8.  Scissors and glue sticks
9.  Graphing calculators.
10. Clickers.

My hope is that I can trade a bunch of distractions and transitions for more instruction time.

Finally, I have been thinking about the inevitable. There will be broken, consumed, and lost or stolen items. How to minimize that? I have a few ideas:

1.  Don't have the caddies out on the first day of school. Wait until there is time to give students clear instructions and expectations.
2.  Have an inventory list on the side of the caddy. Part of the closing routine each day includes students double-checking to make sure everything is there.
3.  Ask students to donate consumable items. Will they?

P.S. It turns out that Sarah posted something really similar earlier today. I decided to go ahead and publish this, but I encourage you to check out her version. She uses supply baskets in conjunction with interactive notebooks. I don't do ISN's, but I don't think I would want to try without reading up on all of her good ideas. And she says she'll post pics of her supply basket, so stay tuned!


  1. Great ideas there! I am going to give my groups a go again this year and hopefully won't regret it in December when I want to pull my hair out. The management is the key component.

  2. I learned from a mentor teacher to get collateral for borrowing something. Car keys, back pack, jacket, school planner (that is required for students to have as hall pass) or cell phone! Anything that means something to them. Plus they kinda get a kick out of me acknowledging that they have a phone when I'm not confiscating it.

  3. Genius! I might have to borrow a few of these tricks! Last year, I mainly used the collateral method. I'm guessing this year might be a bit of selling a pencil and collateral.

  4. As for students donating consumables, I assign each class period a different item to bring: pack of pencils, pack of colored pencils, paper, kleenex, hand sanitizer (I usually double up classes on the kleenex). About two-thirds participate and usually that's enough to last for the year.

    Love your group arrangment; maybe I can make room in my class to make that work.

    1. This gives me hope! I am going to try assigning items to donate as well. Thank you for the tip!

      As far as the group arrangement -- I actually felt like it made extra space in my room. I hope you find the same to be true!

  5. Sigh. I'd buy a book on how to handle supplies if there was one. So, like you, I'm just providing them. You used to charge a quarter for a pencil? I couldn't even get them to pay a dime. I LOVE LOVE your student desks!! Surface looks science-lab conducive too. I just have those regular student desks that are not even uniform (not from the same manufacturer), so they look awful put together in groups. The basket of supplies is a GREAT idea. We always have these at workshops that I run. Thanks, Amy! Your pic with your daughter is precious!!

    1. Thank you, Fawn! The charging for a pencil didn't last long. I am just lacking the organization skills required to collect one thing in exchange for another thing. I am continually amazed by how much interest there is in talking about supplies. You would think someone would have figured out a genius plan by now. Until then . . . Here's hoping we can stop thinking about that and focus on the other minor details like lesson plans and such. :)

  6. One of our math teachers had pencils made that said "This pencil was stolen from Mr. Taft." And that's all I have to contribute because I teach music.

  7. I love the idea of a supply basket at each group. If I had my classroom all to myself, that would really be ideal. I'm also in the camp of "give supplies away, hope they come back," but will probably move towards a sign-out sheet of some sort this year to try to keep better track for repeat offenders. I also started doing a "supply check" maybe once a week or two where students got points for having all of the required supplies, and that seemed to really help motivate a few of the slackiest ones to get with it.