should students bring their own pencils?

not my style, but if it works . . . 

Apparently, there are new, ultra-portable mechanical pencils that do not even require a sharpener.  I've never heard of that, but my God, the ingenious methods of industrialization?  Will the progress ever stop?  We very well might be at the pinnacle of technological development as a society.

Should students be able to bring mechanical pencils into a pencil-integrated classroom?  Can we handle the diversity of both various paper types and pencil types?  Should we have a uniform set of learning tools or should we allow for customization based upon personality and preference?

I brought this topic up to Mr. Jackson, the Language Arts (which incidentally is less about the art of language as much as the science of grammar and syntax) department chair (which incidentally does not have anything to do with chairs, but is more about managing a committee).

"I think we should let kids bring in whatever pencils they want," I explained.

"But won't that be unfair to students?  What if one student comes to school with one of those fancy glittery pencils that shines when the light hits it? You know what I'm talking about right?"

"Uh huh, go on."

"So, you supply your students with those bland yellow pencils.  It just doesn't seem equitable."

"I see your point.  However, students come to school with different clothes and with different books and no one is complaining about that.  Yes, I'd love for every student to have something fancy.  However, it's not about the glitz.  It's about learning."

Mr. Brown cuts in, "Plus, it will be chaotic and disorganized.  How are you supposed to problem solve when I have multiple pencil types.  I'll have one kid asking for help in sharpening his pencil while another student asks me to help her refill her pencil lead. I can't do that."

"Why don't you teach kids to problem-solve their pencil issues? I have a hunch they have been doing some of that on their own at home."

photo credit


  1. I like the new blog! Great premise; looking forward to future discussions/posts. Maybe what happens if a student doesn't have a pencil at home? Can you still expect them to do the work?

  2. The equity issue came up repeatedly in our school's conversations about the type of 1:1 learning model that we should use. Should we require every student to have the same type of laptop, or should we allow students and families to choose? As the conversation moved on, I think that most people came to see the many holes when arguing the equity issues associated with an OS agnostic 1:1 learning model.

    While I didn't articulate this in our deliberations, I was thinking of the much larger equity issues that our students have in their lives. Some students come from families that have the best health/vision care while others come from families with very poor health care. Some students may have vision problems while others have the best glasses that money can buy. This issue of equity and many others like it have a much greater impact on learning than whether or not students are showing up to school with different kinds of "pencils" and computers.

  3. I think the bigger concern is theft. There is the ever present problem of pencil theft in the classroom. It was bad enough when people with small nubs of chalk snitched fresh sticks from each other. Chalk is dirt cheap. Students bringing expensive mechanical pencils to class raises the specter of greater problems. Easy enough for a parent to shrug off the loss of a piece of chalk. They will squirm if a personal mechanical pencil is taken. We teachers will spend all our time tracking down thieves. It simply borrows trouble.

    I admit in my after school drawing club it is fun to watch the students discussing the relative merits of their different pencils. They sometimes exchange them. A lot of learning seems to take place.

  4. A pencil is a very inconvenient implement. It sticks out of your pocket, or you need a special 'pencil case' just to keep it in place. We should keep pencils in the classroom for those students who choose not to carry one.

    Perhaps this isn't the appropriate forum for this, but I'm a pencil abolutionist. It's perfectly clear to me that pens have distinct advantages over pencils and it's only lower performing students who are channelled into using pencils.

  5. I do appreciate your points, Mike. However, pens and pencils both have their advantages. For example, math class in pen is just messy. I advocate keeping a class set of pencils but allowing students to bring a pencil in if necessary.

  6. Stereotypically it's math class that provides the sufficient need for pencils. I'll allow that argument for artists working in pencil, but for maths I'd like to make the case that pen is a more natural implement.

    Pen is cleaner and allows for neater 'crossing out' rather than the abrasive and messy and time consuming 'rubbing out'. Using ink in math class also stresses making correct answers, rather than simply putting down an answer that may be wrong but that can be erased. Ink is more durable than pencil. When we answer in ink we are saying "this is my best answer and I'm committing to it".

    Let pencils be kept for the artist. In math class it's okay to forget the pencil and grab for a pen. Pencils send the unfortunate message that math is so often wrong we may as well forget the pen. Well let's celebrate what's right, and stick with ink. I'd be willing to keep the students' pencils until the end of the math class, and substitute pens instead.

  7. Anonymous2:52:00 PM

    @Matt: What is this "lap top" you speak of? Is it some form of advanced pencil design?