About Lightning Strikes

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Pencil Problem

It seems that pencils are always in high demand in my classroom. Where do they all go? I start the year with 18 pencils per student and sometimes by the end of April, I have none left.

I decided to do another Quick Challenge on this issue to see what my 4th graders could make of it. I had some ideas about what was happening to the pencils, but since I had learned so much about lunch from the last Quick Challenge,  I didn't share any of my thoughts.

We started by partnering up and brainstorming together what some of the problems were. I stressed that they were only to think about the problems, not figure out solutions. Then we collected them all on the white board.

As you can see, they came up with quite a comprehensive list. Next, I asked them to choose one of the problems, or more if they thought they were connected, to come up with some solutions. I suggested they choose problems that interested them or that they thought would be fun to solve. The solutions were pretty straightforward. The erasers on the ends of the pencils get used up quickly, but they can use a separate eraser instead. Students could write their name or initials on their pencils. (I though this was a bit extreme, but several of them did this.) There were a few pencil hoarders in the class, who had more pencils in their desks than they could possibly use. One of them came up to me privately and asked if he could return some!

We didn't take this too seriously and had some fun with this problem. The activity reenforced the idea of taking time to examine the problem, and only after determining the cause(s) to move on to exploring solutions.

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