What boys (especially) do to pencils.
(Or the ultimate pencil test)
As a teacher I use pencils a lot – mechanicals as well as wood cased. For many years I’ve just used the generic no-name pencils provided by the school and occasionally a ballpen, without thinking much about that it could be different.
Then first “Pencil Revolution” and a little later “Dave’s Mechanical Pencils” came into my life. It all started with a Gessner pencil and since then I have developed into some kind of pencil nut – thank you very much Dave! Another addiction, just what I needed.
Anyway, I got this idea that many of the good looking and much hyped pencils would be a blessing for my pupils in place of the usual generic “no name” scratchy HB’s (why does the school issue these? I thought). Also, I was curious about how luxury pencils would perform in “real life”, in my case in the hands of boys in a classroom. I have found this to be “the ultimate pencil test”. I’ve seen what pencils are used for besides writing – so if a pencil can survive this, it must be OK.
The test is: Give one of the expensive and much praised pencils to a schoolboy for a week or two and see what’s left of it afterwards. I didn’t expect any of them to survive for long. In my head was the picture of the Charge of the Light Brigade….
I have carried out these experiments for some time now and would like to share the results.
The Pencils were both wooden and mechanical and I chose from the ones I had already tried myself and found to be good.
The pencils were exposed to the general pupil activities: throwing, stabbing others, “pencil fight”, spinning, “peeling off”, “over sharpening”, biting, chewing, tearing apart, rolling around in “unfriendly quarters” – besides sketching and writing of course. Normal school activities for those in grade 3.
The wood cased pencils tested:
Helix no 2 (HB) with white eraser
Atlas novelty pencil – pink eraser
Grip 2001 2B no eraser
Mono 2B no eraser
Steadtler Noris Ergosoft HB no eraser
The eraser was the first victim – most erasers were off in one or two hours at the most. They were peeled off and used for ammo, or the more peace loving boys (and girls) tweaked them out while erasing. So built in erasers don’t work at all. The soft pencils were very popular – as they provided the really jet black line and had to be sharpened often – a great excuse for a longer pause. Due to the much sharpening, they didn’t last a week.
Only some of the pencils survived the first week, most were sharpened to death and then tossed.
The least durable. The Helix – a nice soft HB, but the lead broke quite often as did the Mongol and the Uni Mono pencil - very disappointing. Probably due to the fiendish conditions – a lot of “pencil fighting” and of course they are frequently dropped on the floor.
The most durable. The Grip 2001 - in fact the most durable concept.The eraser/point protector worked better than a built in eraser. Not that they weren’t lost or used for other things, but surprisingly the concept of a point protector was welcome – and most of these survived. Besides, the pencil was durable – the lead didn’t break, and didn’t have to be sharpened that often. The Staedtler was a little shorter lived as it was softer. But these two survived longer than the rest.
The Atlas novelty pencils had vanished from the face of the earth. Their value seemed to lie in fields other than writing. I think some of them live a secret life in the school’s underground economy as trading objects.
At the end of week one none of the pencils looked good and at the end of week two only bits were left of most pencils and their numbers heavily reduced. From the the original dozen Mongols issued, only two were left. Of the Helix only one, Of the Mono Uni pencils three and a half. The Grip 2001 were fewer from the start – only 4 issued and of those only 1 ½ were left. The Staedtlers were issued in a similar number, only one left.
The mechanical pencils tested:
Staedtler Triplus Micro 0.5mm.
Pentel Twist Erase 0.9mm
A generic no-name Faber-Castell super grip clone 0.5mm
Much the same pattern. Only exception was the absence of a long sharpening break, which made mechanical pencils less popular in general. Any soft parts would be peeled off almost from the first day. The erasers were great fun – especially the extendable ones. A lot of them were chopped up to provide plentiful ammunition – or as with the wood cased pencils, “erased off”. Of course, the pencils had to be taken apart and re-assembled which made up for the sharpening break. You can’t write anything with a pencil which has “suddenly come apart” and you can spend quite some time trying to assemble the thing again. No caps or clips survived for long – they went missing or were broken off from the first day. However, most of the mechanical pencils tested were still able to write at the end of week one.
A Triplus Micro after two weeks.
In spite of the rubber grip – the Pentel Twist Erase was the most durable – for some reason it survived almost intact - though attempts was made to kill it off by chewing it to death. Oh, and the “F-C clone”? It didn’t live a day.
This experiment was carried out when my pupils were in grade 3 – a year when handwriting is focused on. The pupils are children with some special education needs and therefore not representative of common Danish students. However, I thought their approach to writing etc. would really put the pencils to the test.
The lesson to be learned, IMHO, is that no matter how much I would like to give my students good pencils, it would seem that there is a good reason for the generic “no name” pencil in school.And that a new and different pencil will always be chewed on just to break it in.All this took place in 2007 and was meant as a bit of fun for all of us. I don’t think the same disasters would happen again as my students are now older and wiser. So am I.