Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Favorite Pencil Sharpener for the Art Room (Ever)

My pencils and my "Carl"
Once upon a time, I wrote a post entitled "The Holy Terror that is the Electric Pencil Sharpener."

After I wrote that a lot of you sent me some super-helpful tips about managing the Vile Pencil Sharpener. They were and are great tips like setting specific guidelines for usage, posting rules for sharpening next to the sharpener and (my favorite) a little card over the sharpener that read "The Sharpener is Currently Closed for Business."

Even with all of those awesome tips, my opinion on the matter is pretty much unchanged.

Electric pencil sharpeners are a pain in the bootie in the Art classroom. Here's why:
#1. You have to constantly manage their use.
#2. Using one is the go-to choice for students who want to waste time.
#3. Despite management, students WILL use it when you are trying to address the whole class.
#4. They overheat and then stop working for periods of time (usually when you most need them).
#5. They break. Easily.
#6. A decent electric pencil sharpener is expensive.

So far this year my students and I have killed the following electric pencil sharpeners (may they NOT rest in peace!). I should add that none of these sharpeners were killed through misuse or deliberate abuse; we just used them to death.

X-Acto Teacher Pro 
-I inherited this sharpener with my classroom
-Overheated all the time
-Students liked to play with the pencil diameter settings
-One day just stopped working
-Retails for $60
Status: DEAD

X-Acto School Pro Heavy-Duty Sharpener
-I bought this one with my own money after we killed the Teacher Pro
-Often sharpens pencils off-center making for that extra-sharp wood-only point (ugh)
-CRAZY super loud
-Students still liked to play with the diameter settings
-The shavings reservoir has a piece that breaks easily when emptying. The sharpener will not work unless this piece is present. I hot-glued it back into place about 25 times before we killed it.
-Didn't over-heat too much
-One day just stopped working
-We re-purposed the parts for a recycled art project
-Retails for $59.99
Status: DEAD

X-Acto XLR 1818
-I might have liberated this sharpener from an unused classroom after the School Pro died
-Often sharpens pencils off-center making for that extra-sharp wood-only point (ugh)
-Overheats ALL. THE. TIME.
-CRAZY super loud
-Shaving reservoir is tiny and more conducive to a non-Art setting
-Not for high-volume use
-Pretty sure that the constant over-heating is what killed it
-Retails for $27.66
Status: DEAD

Bostitch All Metal Wall Sharpener
-This is mounted on the wall of my classroom
-It has probably been there since 1985
-Often sharpens pencils off-center making for that extra-sharp wood-only point (ugh)
-Reservoir cover was lost long before my time
-It barely sharpens anymore because we've worn the blades down so bad
-Dangerous because the exposed blades are present b/c the reservoir cup is gone
-Retails $22.99
Status: MOSTLY DEAD
After killing THREE electric pencils sharpeners in a span of six months, I decided it was time to do a little research. I kept hearing good things about the CARL Angel-5 Pencil Sharpener; a non-electric, high-volume pencil sharpener. It looks like no pencil sharpener I've ever seen and it is supposedly based on a 1950's design. It retails for less than $25. I decided to take the plunge. After three months of heavy student use, here are my thoughts on "Carl."

CARL Angel-5 Pencil Sharpener (non-electric)
-Comes with a clamp for mounting to the desk; the clamp is pretty worthless
-You don't need the clamp!
-Only allows students to sharpen a pencil to a point (no over-sharpening)
-Sharpens a perfect point EVERY. TIME. (no more off-center sharpening)
-Is easy to remove the blade mechanism to take out a jam (soft lead will jam in any sharpener!)
-Is very quiet
-Has a decent-sized reservoir
-Reservoir is easy to empty
-Sharpening is very easy once you understand how to do it (you will have to teach it first)
-Only a part of the handle is plastic (for comfort) the rest is all metal
-It's cute
-It comes in different colors
-It has a great price
-Never overheats because it isn't electric
-My students LOVE it; say it is the best sharpener ever
-Because the students love it, it is treated with respect
-Students beg to sharpen all my pencils for me
-It is personified and treated better because of it, "Yo bruh, be nice to Carl!"
-Retails $23.99
Status: ALIVE & AWESOME

I love my Carl! He lives on my desk and has a set of "instructions" mounted next to him. Students come to me in-between classes to sharpen their pencils because "My other teacher's sharpener's aren't as good as Carl!"  I'm already planning to purchase a Carl for all of my Art tables next year; this will mean all pencil sharpening can happen in student seats!

Carl in his home with his pencils and his instructions. 

The top of Carl. See! His name is even on him!!

Carl sharpens perfectly every time! I sharpened all of these pencils just once before I took the picture!
Here's a student using Carl


I should add I have received no compensation or anything from the company that makes Carl. I just really, really, really love him!!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

More Tips for Sewing Plush(ies) in the Classroom!

Mahi-Mahi Plush
I've taught hand-sewing (and sometimes hand-embroidery) in the Art classroom for over five years. Eek. That’s a scary number because it means I’m getting old. Yuck.

Anyway.

I written about plush (or plushies as the cool kids say) previously here, here, and here.

The more I teach this (incredibly valuable) skill the more tips and tricks I have to share with you. 

Yay!

A young fan of Doctor Who 
#1 – DON’T GIVE THEM GLUE
Mwfahahahahaahahaha! I live to torment them!! No, not really. I’ve just learned the hard way if the kiddos know there is glue available then they think they should use the glue any ole time something gets challenging. Just repeat after me, “No, precious. You have to sew it. Yup. It’s hard. I believe in you.” Figuring things out and problem-solving is an important skill that many of our students do not have enough opportunities to develop. You’ll be so proud with how they overcome the-need-for-glue hurdle.



#2 – USE A NYLON-BASED THREAD
Kids will get thread knotted in a wide variety of manners. It is harder to knot up nylon-based thread because it doesn’t have as much “tooth.” Also, nylon-based thread is easier to thread through the eye of a needle (it frays less). I got a little tired of my sweethearts bringing me frayed thread full of spit and asking, “will you thread this for me?” GROSS. This is my work-around.

Yup. I let someone make a grenade. He's in ROTC and a Junior Eagle Scout.  
#3 – USE CREWEL NEEDLES
Crewel needles are larger and have a larger eye. They are easier to thread.  ‘Nuff said.

#4 – GIVE THEM A SPECIFIC MEASUREMENT FOR GETTING OUT THREAD
This is how kids think:  “If a lil thread is good, a lot is better.” Then, you, the teacher, are helping the wee ones cut off huge knots of thread and throwing away wasted thread. That’s annoying. Give the students a very specific measurement they can figure out all on their own. I tell them a measure of thread from the tip of their pointer finger to the crease of their elbow is perfect. Also, it’s super cute to watch them measure it. Awww!

First. Time. Sewing. Ever.
#5 – MAKE DEMO VIDEOS & MAKE VIDEO LINKS AVAILABLE TO STUDENTS
You’re gonna show your students how to thread and knot a needle approximately 5 bagillion times. Sewing, for most of them, is uncharted territory and they are usually very intimidated. That many demos bores me. I made videos. I put shortened links to my videos on my class blog and wrote them on my board. Students are allowed to use devices in my classroom. They would look up the demos all on their own and get the benefit of me talking to them (over and over and over again). This is a huge time-saver.




#6 - DEVELOP A GOOD METHOD FOR NEEDLE MANAGEMENT
Needles go missing. Usually it is not because Sally is a cutter or because Joan is violent (I’ve got Mad Men on the brain), but you do want to be able to account for any sharps (also needles cost money, yo). My how-to-thread a needle video includes my current method of needle management, but there are lots of “right” answers for this demand.
 
This is the "love" emoiji we use on our mobile devices!
#7 – USE SMARTFAB FABRIC
About a bagillion years ago (really last year) SmartFab sent me some trial fabrics to try out. I put them in my storage closet and forgot about them. . . Until, we started running low on felt fabrics! OMYGAWSH. I’m a total convert. This is the best fabric for beginner sewing. First, it is transparent which allows students to trace their sketches (we call them patterns, ahem). Second, you can draw on it with any ole colored marker (I sometimes let them use a lil marker embellishment). Third, it is easy to cut with those ancient dull scissors that seem to exist in every Art room ever. Four, the colors do not fade. I’ve already ordered tons more SmartFab. Love this stuff.
 
A bottle of potion
An in-progress Jolly Rancher
SUPER PLUSH! I'm still amazed at that epic bit of cutting for the "S"

Those are my most current tips for sewing in the classroom. All of the images you see on this blog post are the works of my students and these are their very first sewing attempts ever! So proud of them!!