Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Short and Brutal Life

Hello Folks. Below is a guest article sent in by Henrik, who is a school teacher in Denmark. My old post about what not to do with your pencil got him thinking about pencils in the hands of his class. So, over to Henrik then...

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:
Mongol no. 1 (B) with pink eraser
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:
Faber-Castell Grip 2011 0.7mm.
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.

No mechanical pencil survived the first day fully functional, eraser and all – the more soft parts (rubber grips and erasers) the worse. The more gadgets the worse. A mechanical pencil with no cap, eraser, clip or rubberized parts would stand the best chance, which is quite contrary to the way most “school pencils” are built. I would guess, that a Yard O Led would have survived, but that would be an expensive solution. Mechanical pencils live a bit longer than wood cased – if you don’t mind the missing clip and eraser, and the torn rubber grip.

The survivors:
A Grip 2011 after one week.
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.


B2-kun said...

Amusing and sobering account. I tend to give quality pencils and other artist grade supplies as gifts to my young nephews and nieces, though I'm confident that they treat these tools with a little more respect than 3rd graders. At least I like to think so. Explains why some Japanese quality pencil boxes retail in boxes of 12, and average student wouldn't have a hard time going through an entire box in a single term.

Ricardo said...

What a wonderful article, thanks Henrik!
To me its always very hard to look at a beaten writing instrument, the images you provided where an exception, they did put a big smile on my face. There are some valuable lessons to be taken from the "ultimate pencil test", like, pencils do make great toys, weapons, they can be used as food and currency!

Best wishes,

Matthew R said...

The horror... The horror...

Anonymous said...

I can understand the ripping off of the Triplus Micro clip - this has to rank as the worst clip ever perpetrated on mankind - unless of course you like rubberised plastic.!!!

Anonymous said...

My daughter has been in grade 0 (preschool in Denmark (Hi Henrik)) and I'm actually surprised that the school's pencils have survived. They buy Grip 2001 Jumbo and Staedtler (jumbo size) colouring pencils. Maybe the Jumbos act better?

Anonymous said...

The is one chewed pencil!

Nice story.

Anonymous said...

I meant to write:

That is one chewed pencil!

Nice story.

Matthew R said...

2 things:

1. I was just joking about "The horror". I really can't think of a more noble use for a woodcase pencil or a (cheap) mechanical.

2. Congratulations on the three years. I found you a few months ago, and spent days being non-productive as I read all the posts. (But not all the comments. I mean, c'mon.)

Max said...

Wonder how long it would take them to break a Caran D'Ache Ecridor...? Not that I'm prepared to sponsor one ;)
Anyways, thanks for a great (and FUNNY) posting!!



Anonymous said...

I'm a college student, but I've developed a habit of pencil spinning. On any given day during class I spin my pencil in complex patterns around my fingers, using momentum, gravity, and fast reflexes to usually keep it under control. At least every day or two I make some mistake and send my beloved mechanical pencil flying across the room under someone's chair or rolled into the abyss, to be fished out after class. I must say, the Pentel Twist Erase III's are the most durable pencils I've found. If I get the cheap mechanical ones, the combination of throwing them across the room and using them to do homework in 3 writing intensive math classes wears them out in a month or two. The Twist Erase III's have lasted me several years on occasion though.

Anonymous said...

Whoa!! Sounds like your students need to be re-educated. Their parent did a HORRIBLE job. Why do I say this? Respect your things, and they will last. It is also a reflection of how you treat others. If you don;t take care of your personal property or others, there is a veyr good chance you feel the same way about people, and aren;t a very good human being or friend.

I know very harsh, but I still had a pencil, up until i sold it back in april, since about 7th grade. I will admit to losing many pencils in my day, but not chewing on em (BAD for teeth... BAD!!!). i did lose many, though.

Oh well. just a rant from an old pencil geek. :)

Pencils 11

Anonymous said...

How do the rigors of the workplace compare to the rigors of Henrik's children Dave? Have any battle-scarred (MP) veterans you can show us and accompanying stories of their ill-fated campaigns? Nice work Henrik.

Barrel Of A Pencil

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of old things that have lasted quite well.

I'm not sure how many date back to when I was in 3rd grade though. I probably did not take care of things like pens and pencils very well when I was that young.

Kiwi-d said...

Hello Barrel - well good question. I'm sure the average workplace is not as brutal as the classroom, still...I see some shocking sites in at the office. Longevity and durability are not things I really review. A great weakness in the grand scheme. I think though I will just leave it open - hopefully some reader(s) will take up the challenge and send in a few guest stories, or conduct an experiment similar to henriks - leaving a few MPs around the office and checking back a few weeks later.

Anonymous said...

What a horrible group of children you've chosen!
I'm in high school and I have had the same mechanical pencil all year, the only wear being on the clip from being put in my pocket so often.
I can't stand anything but mechanical anymore... the sound sends me cringing.

Anonymous said...

First of all: This is indeed a friendly spot. Thanks for all the nice comments. And thanks to Dave for this opportunity to publish - it was my debut as a (guest)blogger.

Just one more comment:
I agree that not only their parents, but some of my colleagues too, have done a bad job in educating these pupils in taking care of things, especially the issued pencils. I wrote this article because I somewhat irritated at the way both pupils and teachers treated pencils and writing tools. How should the pupils know, if the teachers aren’t any better?

Teachers don’t chew or trade them, but they pick up the nearest one, write, put it down and walk away. As a result, we have pencils floating around everywhere. (I once did a count in my classroom – 7 pupils two teachers and 45 pencils!). Others just keep it – no matter to whom it belongs – “it’s just a pencil”. Some of the pupils didn’t like that, and bought pencils with their name stamped on them. To no avail – I’ve seen my colleagues running around with pencils bearing pupil’s names.

I can’t say, if this attitude is common in the school world – but where I work it is. Pencils are some sort of common property – you just take one and toss it when you’re through.

I think we have a long way to go in terms of respect for property - your own or common.

Besides I didn’t choose these pupils – they were handed to me.

Regards Henrik

Compaq Laptop Parts said...

All I have to say is Verrry Funnnny! But see, there's truth behind every joke :} It's okay though, you got it out in a joking manner, but really hilarious I must say! Plenty of fun and games have I seen lately but this one has really got to my attention. I most certainly want to catch up with anymore articles or blogs you have up, hey, you're one heck of a character! :) enjoy

Anonymous said...

This is just unbeliavble. My son used a Lamy tri-pen since his first grade and it is as new-
no dents and scratches. I don't think he has even broke a lead stick!

miss.awesome.lady said...

I find damaged pencil parts at school all the time. Most are still usable though.