Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Looking for the 21st Century in a School Supply List

Ah, it’s that time of year when kids lament the impending end of summer, when frazzled parents and care providers look for oncoming respite, when camp counselors and sports clinic coaches heave sighs of relief, when retailers of every kind look to capitalize on three simple words:

Back to School

Duty bound to support their local economies, schools dutifully publish, copy, distribute, post, email, mail, broadcast and anyway possible advertise the pinnacle of educational readiness:

The School Supply List

Please pause and bow your head in solemn reverence…Thank you, continue on.

Without the sacred and all-important School Supply List, many a poor soul would be relegated to shame and Trapper-Keeper (do they even make those anymore) want,  left to navigate a cruel world of humiliation and incomprehensible un-preparedness. Woe to he that lacketh supplies! Woe, woe, woe!

…And that’s if the parent buys the wrong brand of binder or paste when a glue stick is obviously required.

So here I sit with the 2009-2010 School Supply List (only slightly modified since the 19th century) for my son’s 7th grade year. (It’s the actual one.)

-1 box of facial tissue (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-1 roll of paper towels (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-One ream of white printer paper (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-One small package of graph paper (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-Dry erase markers (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-Large Binder (3″ or larger)
-Three pocket folders with brads
-8 subject dividers for Binder
-Five 70-80 page spiral notebooks
-College-ruled loose leaf notebook paper
-Pencil/pen bag or case- unless the Binder has one built in
-Blue/Black ink pens (no gel pens)
-Personal pencil sharpener
-24 count Colored pencils for core classes (these are separate from supplies for electives)
-Colored markers
-Red pen/pencil for checking and editing work
-Highlighters (yellow, green, blue, pink)
-#2 wooden pencils (must have for CSAP practice)
-Metal ruler with both standard and metric measurements
-Glue stick
-Scientific calculator (TI-84 if in Algebra I)
-Highly recommended but not required, 512 MB memory stick

I can only assume by the first item that there will be much weeping either because so many trees will have been sacrificed in the name of paper-based education or because the kids have to surrender the first five items to the homeroom teacher on the first day of school. It could also be that kids should have 8 subject dividers but only 5 spiral notebooks and everyone knows that 5 divides into 8 evenly to represent the 4 quarters he has 7 classes each. I mean, duh!

Happily for us, my son apparently can expect to be very organized with his bag case and pocket folders (with brads! -are they related to chads? Hmm, I wonder…)  Organization is a very important skill, one he hasn’t mastered despite heroic attempts every year to manage and file all that paper he’s using.  As his report cards attest, he hasn’t done well in the neat and organized category when compared to all those compliant, neat-writing types who don’t fill the margins of their papers with doodles and comic illustrations.

It seems a little strange that in all this focus on organization, they’re going to ask kids to write on all that unlined printer paper. Hey, that’s what the ruler is for. So they can practice making their own college ruled paper. Absolutely brilliant!

It’s also nice to see an early emphasis on post-secondary preparation by requiring kids to have college-ruled paper.  

I know we’re facing some economic troubles, but in a school that has computer projectors in each room I have to wonder about the dry erase markers. They’re usually four in a pack times 630+ kids, equals lots of un-archived whiteboard writing kids won’t have access to in order to reflect on their learning. Oh! How could I be so silly *that’s* what the 3″ or larger binder is for -to write all that stuff down. I’m assuming my son will use the paper towels to write on and keep like a scroll if his binder fills up. That will test his organizational skills for sure. I don’t want to undermine the organizational educational process, but I’m going to tell him to use his glue stick to keep his papers together.

Although he’s enrolled in a science class, his scientific calculator appears to be destined only for use in Algebra 1.  While we’re on the subject of subject isolation, that must be why he can’t use his colored pencils in his electives. Band and Guitar must require a unique kind -maybe the colored markers.

When I asked for a 512 MB memory stick, the kid at the electronics megastore looked pitifully at me and took his Captain Morgan one off his key chain and gave it to me. Other than that, the only other ones I’ve been able to find are the  novelty ones the vendors gave away at NECC. I’m not sure what my son is going to do with all that space anyway. I don’t think there’ll be much computer use anyway – he doesn’t have a computer class this year.

Let’s review what’s important…*Lots* of paper products; organizational items like folders, binders, and bags; colored pens, pencils, markers, and highlighters; and wooden pencils for standardized test practice -because everyone knows you can’t practice with anything else but a #2 pencil and loose-leaf paper. Well, I’m hoping he won’t need any foam board since it’s not on the list and our local Tar-Mart and Wal-Get didn’t have an opportunity to stock it.


July 23, 2009 - Posted by | Education | , , ,


  1. Rick,
    Thanks for the laugh with my coffee this morning.
    My daughter will be starting kindergarten this year and we got a similar (albeit not as extensive on paper products) list.
    It seems as if the first 5 items are for the teachers to divvy up throughout the school. Our principal has threatened to push the copier into a nearby pond because we have no budget for paper. I say do it but get every kid a laptop first…
    My favorite on the list is the red pen/pencil for checking and editing…(sigh)

    Comment by Paul | July 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the fun post. Our supply list in a middle school looks much the same, except I’m not allowed to put USB sticks on the list because many kids can’t afford them. We still ask for at least 2 floppies; the kids who have computers at home don’t even have floppy drives! I did buy a batch of 1GB flash drives off eBay and we sell those for $6.50 in the school store.

    In my school they have “fired” one of our regular parent volunteers because all she did was print worksheets all day. I find that embarrassing, shameful, and a lot like malpractice if our teachers are truly using that many copies. Maybe, as Paul mentioned above, the budget will mean people are accountable for paper use and will change their wicked ways. LOL (Not that there isn’t the occasional appropriate use for a worksheet or two.)

    At least at my school we have computer classes which do 21st Century activities (that’s my class!). I sure wish other teachers would move forward but they are dragging their feet in my building. I sure wish you boy would get the chance to do more as well. Hope he has an excellent year.

    Comment by Suzanne @2020nexus | July 24, 2009 | Reply

  3. Thank you! Perfect for this back-to-school season. Now let’s try do something about it! :)

    Comment by Michelle - melynntwit | July 24, 2009 | Reply

  4. I work in LAUSD at a high school. The only things I tend to see our teachers requiring are basics like a notebook, dividers, lined paper, and obviously pens and pencils. I haven’t looked into it but I have a feeling we aren’t allowed to make certain supplies mandatory based on what students can afford. In the inner city we have to be sensitive on how our ideal supplies look as to not isolate students. Our students are supposed to wear their IDs on their lanyards. We did talk about getting 1 gig flash drives to give them to hang on their lanyards too. However, with budget cuts, I won’t be holding my breath :)). You guys are making me think of how much work I have yet to do for next school year. I still have a little over a month but knowing me, I’ll wait until the week before.

    Comment by Tamara Eden | July 24, 2009 | Reply

  5. I teach fourth graders in a suburban, public school just outside of New Orleans. As the lead teacher I write up the supply list for the upcoming school year. Well, I tried something a little different for this upcoming year. Along with the usual, I added a flash drive and a microphone headset combo. I even included the best places to find both (online and locally). I am planning to reduce my paper usage as much as I can. I started cutting back last year and I used the time I would have spent at the copier making lessons that had technology embedded in them. I felt like I had been released from “copier prison”.

    I am lucky in that I have a 2:1 ratio of laptops to students in my classroom. I even had most of my math tests online (from the textbook company) which cut down on my grading time and provided me with reports of each student’s progress (or lack thereof) so that I could differentiate my instruction.

    My motto this year is “Back away from the copier.” By putting together a class wiki and blog, I will be able to have my students keep their work online and hosted somewhere. We might even find that we will have no use for the flash drives. I say to the teachers who say they have no time to learn about Web 2.0 tools and technology, yes you will if you spend less time at the copier.

    Thank you for your post. I hope many people will read it and add to the conversation. I hope your son’s teachers are innovative educators and that he has a great year.

    Comment by Paula Naugle | July 29, 2009 | Reply

    • Another important thing I am planning to recommend to my students and worth an item in the supply list :) This one is a bit different and is the online collaborative learning platform , this will allow students and teachers as well to form study groups and is a good supplement to the traditional school.

      Comment by Nicole Huett | August 15, 2009 | Reply

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