Pencils, Ice Cream, and Veggies: Withholding Basic Needs Is Never Classy

I loved the article “Give the Kid a Pencil” by Chad Donahue (2016). For years I have wrestled with the conundrum of missing and broken pencils.IMG_9380

Two years ago I was so frustrated at the end of the year that I began a policy of punishing students after three strikes. I reasoned with them that there are always accidents and mistakes, and therefore there will be three passes on pencil breakage/loss. After that, though, they begin losing recess. I don’t think anyone missed out on any recess, but I do remember a very interesting phenomena occurring; a sort of underworld of pencil dealings was birthed. Kids were not bothering me with sharpening their pencils or interrupting lessons with “I can’t find my pencil” anymore. They would vanish under their desks. Friends would traffic Ticonderoga  No. 2 (Pollard, 2008) contraband across the room so that their buddies could join them at recess. It literally went this way.

IMG_9369At the beginning of last year I tried telling the students that their pencils were their swords–In this case the pencil was mightier than the sword. We have a pirate theme in my classroom, so the pencils were actually cutlasses. I had planned to have the kids make crafty, creative sheathes for their sabors, but time evaporated, and we got into learning/teaching. Honestly, I didn’t really like the focus on weapons.

When I student-taught in a first grade classroom at Foglesville Elementary, the teacherImage result for pencil sharpenerspent every lunch break sharpening pencils. She provided the pencils for pupils whose pencil broke, free of charge. They would simply go over and exchange the writing utensil. I liked this idea, but never implemented it in third grade.

At the very beginning of the year I have school supplies on the brain once again. The author of “Give the Kid a Pencil” (Donahue, 2016) presented the problem to grad students. Predictably, they came up with clever capture and release plans where students felt the pain of pencil loss, but regained the use of writing through a variety of redemptive activities.

Unpredictably and refreshingly, Chad Donahue (2016) told his grad students he would “…give the kid a pencil… every time…” not just the first time, or after regaining trust, or once the kid jumps through hoops; immediately and always.

This article reminded me of a time when I was a kid and I was eating an ice cream cone with my family. My scoop of ice cream dropped onto the ground. I’m not sure if one of my parents asked the restaurant for more ice cream or the workers witnessed the catastrophe of a kid who adored ice cream, but I do remember that no money was exchanged for the new scoop that was added to my cone.

ice cream
Scarlet wonders if Grampy ever dropped a scoop of ice cream.

Image result for no 2 pencilsGrad students asked Donahue (2016) about kids who might take advantage of the pencil producing professor’s liberalism. He explains that if a kid does want to test the teacher, and he/she breaks or loses his/her pencil on purpose, there will come a point, a magic number–fifty, a hundred–at some point the pupil will get it: there will always be a pencil available. And, guess what… I never developed a habit of dropping my ice cream scoop on the ground as a result of being given a new one for free!

Teachers, don’t make the pencil an issue. Find the underlying cause. Maybe the kid wants attention. Perhaps he needs a break… so he breaks his pencil. I can picture myself having a pencil cup full of sharp, ready to go pencils, and becoming frustrated when a kid tells me he needs a new pencil for the hundredth time. “Didn’t I tell you 99 times before that they are right there?!” Do you think the kid will remember where the sharp pencils are next time if I yell at him? There is clearly a different need going on here.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory that seeks to explain what causesMaslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramidpeople to behave certain ways (McLeod, 2018). As each level is met, a human being can concentrate on the next. A person isn’t going to worry about safety when he is starving. When pencils are not freely available in the classroom, student psyche could bottom out in the basement of Maslow’s pyramid. How is a kid supposed to feel good (esteem) about himself if he is being controlled by a pencil-nazi who is hoarding the most basic scholastic tool of all time?

The tendency to want to control the carbonite cartel in the classroom may very well come from a deep “root socioeconomic orientation of commerce based upon scarcity” (Joseph, 2017, p. 116). Peter Joseph explains a market system that capitalizes on the deficiency or weaknesses of others that pervades our American way of life in “The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression.” The grad students from Donahue’s course who were well-meaning, we will assume, couldn’t help but think in terms of this scarcity system. Students must learn that items like pencils do not grow on trees! Oh wait…

scarlet writes with pencilEarlier I equated pencil loss with ice cream spillage, but are kids as fond of pencils as they are of ice cream? Not quite. Replace ice cream with vegetables. A young child doesn’t want to eat his green beans, so he throws them on the floor. Does the parent have the kid get down on his hands and knees to lick the green beans off of the floor? Does the adult send the kid outside to begin tilling a plot of land that will be planted with green beans to be harvested months from now? These scenarios are ridiculous. A responsible grown up simply places more legumes on the child’s plate, explaining and modeling healthy eating. We do this because we want our offspring to grow up to be strong, smart, and live a fulfilled, fun, and productive life.

Plenty of pencils will pave a path toward eventual self-actualization, inspiring students to be the most that they can be. That is classy. Keeping kids from their potential, no matter what the reason, couldn’t be less classy.

IMG_9379
Plenty of pencils will pave a path toward eventual self-actualization, inspiring students to be the most that they can be.

Sources:

Donohue, C. (2016, August 4). Give the Kid a Pencil. Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/give-the-kid-a-pencil

Joseph, P. (2017). The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression. Dallas: Bendella Books.

McLeod, S. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Pollard, G. (2008, August 10). Great American Pencil Brands. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from http://www.brandlandusa.com/2008/08/10/great-american-pencil-brands/

 

Proof is Classy: A Back to School Idea

Worms make better pets
Worms are AWESOME! Fact or Opinion?

Most people have heard of the ice-breaking game, “Two Truths/One Lie.” I enjoy this little game so much that I have incorporated it in my first week of school for several years. I changed the name to “Fact vs. Falsehood” because I am a fiend for alliteration and I don’t like the idea of teaching kids to lie. Additionally, it affords me a teaching opportunity on day one: I break out the vocabulary word, EVIDENCE.

In the past, I would teach the difference between fact and false, and inevitably get things muddled with the concept of opinions. I recently saw a tweet by @tomascmurray, who will be keynoting the East Penn Back to School Assembly for teachers on Aug. 22, that gave me an awesome idea for changing my game. He suggested having interactive, thinking-oriented items on desks when students arrive on the first day of school, rather than a pile of books and papers. I loved this idea!

This year I plan to marry two games, and let kids work on figuring out the rules on their own. In addition to “Fact vs. Falsehood”, the second game is “Classmate Scavenger Hunt”. Traditionally, kids would have a piece of paper with a list on it. They would work on finding other kids who share the same experiences, opinions, and criteria from the list. They write the names of peers next to statements as they find students who fit the descriptions.

This year, however, I plan to break up the Classmate Scavenger Hunt paper list. I will make cards that contain one statement each. They will be placed in a bowl that I’ll put in the middle of each group of desks. Some example statements include:

  • I don’t have any pets.
  • I have more than one favorite color.
  • I have written a book. (Some kids love writing stories into mini booklets.)
  • I took the bus to school today.
  • I have never been to Disney World.Previous Evidence Lesson (1st day)
  • I love to swim.
  • My birthday is in the spring.
  • Summer is my favorite season.

Because there won’t be anything else on the desks, and kids can’t help but touch stuff, I expect that they will begin digging into the bowls and looking at the cards. I hope that they communicate with each other about the statements, finding out which ones they have in common. (Later on we can use the cards to make Venn diagrams, displaying similarities and differences between students.)

In the past, I taught the students in a whole group setting the difference between “facts” and “opinions”. This year, I am going to see if kids can figure out the difference by separating their cards into two different groups. I won’t tell them what the criteria is. They may decide to make a pile of things the classmates all share in common, leaving the rejected statements to their own pile. That would make sense. I’ll simply have them try to find another difference or criteria to categorize the two piles, until they realize that some statements contain phrases that make them opinions.

Eventually, I’ll bring the thinking around to noticing that some of the statements can be proven, while some are impossible to prove, even though you might feel like they are true. The ones that are “prove-able” — able to be proven — are facts. And, how can you prove their accuracy? With… drum-role… EVIDENCE.

roach
This is a roach.
Roaches make cool pets
Roaches make the best classroom pets.

My birthday is in the summer. This is a fact. What proof do I have to support this? The evidence can be found in a few places: Driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, passport, etc.

“Summer is the best season” is an opinion. No matter how much you love it, or how many people agree with you, this is NOT a fact. You simply cannot prove that summer is better than other seasons. It might seem that way, but there isn’t any evidence to back up the statement.

Opinions are not bad or wrong to use. In “5 Classy Elements of ‘The Story of Mankind’ (1921)” I praised the author, Hendrik Van Loon, for providing his personal opinion within a history book. I enjoyed reading some of the ideas that he gleaned from his study of world history. It is helpful to let people know your likes and dislikes. Those are opinions.

baby chickens are cute
Baby chicks are soooooo cute!
baby chickens are noisy
Baby chicks are noisy and distracting.

Trouble arises when opinions are made to seem like facts. “I have a lot of homework” might seem like a fact, but in actuality, this is an opinion. When the phrase “a lot” is used, a statement that might otherwise be a fact turns into an opinion. “A lot,” compared to what? Comparing your amount of homework to what a kindergartener brings home would make it seem like a ton. But, compare your homework to what an eleventh grader might receive, and your task is minuscule! You DO have homework. That is a fact. You can prove that. Your evidence is written on your assignment book page, and you may even have physical papers that are not yet complete. So, saying “I feel like my homework will take a long time to complete” may be a more accurate statement than the one above, but until you actually complete it, there isn’t any evidence to prove just how much homework there really is.

“My homework took twenty minutes to complete, last night.” This is a fact, as long as it is true. There are parts of this statement that can be proven. Did you do it last night? Did it take twenty minutes?

Falsehood (untruth) Opinion (feelings) Fact (prove-able) Classy Fact (dressed up)
“My homework took me two hours to do!” “It felt like I would never finish my homework last night.” “It took me twenty minutes to complete my homework last night.” “I was surprised to find out that it only took me twenty minutes to do my homework last night, because it felt like it was taking forever.”

Facts can be dry and boring. That’s why we season them with opinions. “My birthday is in the best season, summer.” Your birthday may very well fall within the calendar days that land it in the season of summer, but who is to say that summer is the “best season”? That is your opinion.

Also, opinions are increasingly useful, the more they are explained. While you can’t actually prove an opinion, you CAN support it. A classy person may say, “I love summer because you can swim, there isn’t any homework, and my birthday is in August.” Now, we understand several reasons that cause you to like summer more than other seasons.

For “Fact vs. Falsehood” to work, students should write down two facts that can be proven with evidence, along with one untruth that also can be proven inaccurate with evidence (i.e. “I have three sisters” could be a falsehood if a student only has one.) After students compose their sentences, we go around the room sharing and guessing which of the three statements is false. In this way we learn a little about one another, hear each other speak, practice good listening habits, and appreciate some classroom rules.

That's a big hat
That 24″ diameter hat is rather large.

To close the entire lesson, I might display the following table, reiterating the differences.

Falsehood (hyperbole) Opinion (feelings) Fact (prove-able) Opinion/Fact (classy compound sentence)
“There were one hundred people at my house last night.” “There were too many people visiting last night.” “I had five extra people in my house last night.” “Five people probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but that more than doubled the normal number of people using the bathroom, showering, and making messes.”

Every year, just before school begins, family visits my house. It is the end of the summer for them, which is a perfect way to wrap it all up. But, it is the beginning of my preparing to start the school year! I’m happy to host, but it is not the best timing. Is that an opinion or fact?