We (the physics pholks) used to have a big tub of whiteboard markers that stayed in the classroom all the time. We would sometimes come in to find that students had written all over the board the night before (during study hall—boarding school), but the real problem was that very few students felt any obligation to take care of the markers. We would find them on the floor, crushed by slamming them against a table (very intentionally—they couldn’t be crushed that way accidentally, especially not that many times), or completely dead because no one refilled* them when they were running out of ink. Similarly, we routinely ran out of protractors almost as soon as we replenished the supply.
We had a tragedy of the commons problem.
This year, we decided to go a different route with marker and protractor maintenance. I got a bucket for each of my classes (I just used whatever I could find around my house and the lab, so they’re sort of eclectic—you’ll see them below) and divvied up the markers and protractors among all the sections. Each class has a handful of protractors, 6 markers (one for each group + one extra so that you can use the extra while one is being refilled), and a handful of pencil erasers (so that we can make lots of mistakes). The bunny bucket also has some colored pencils because that class always seemed to want to use them for one thing or another. I have a separate bag of pencils to lend to students, though next year I’ll probably just include some pencils in the buckets, too.
The deal with each class is that I won’t let anyone from any other class use the materials in their class’s bucket. It is their responsibility (as a class) to tend their own supplies (refill the markers when needed and with the correct color ink, don’t steal the protractors so that you still have them later, put the erasers back at the end of class if you’ve borrowed one).
We’ve made it all the way to the end of the year without a single crushed marker. I don’t think we’ve lost any markers, none have dried out and stopped working due to neglect, and we still have tons of protractors (I didn’t keep track of the number, so we may be down one or two, but we basically used to lose every one of them no matter how many we bought). Tragedy of the commons no more. Hurrah!
I was lucky that we had enough supplies to make a bucket for each class, but there are probably also ways to make a similar idea work with fewer materials. Share your ideas or other organizational strategies in the comments?
* We’ve been using AusPens since I’ve been here. They are refillable, they don’t smell, and they last a really long time (if you care for them, anyway). They are more expensive than Expo markers, but you also don’t constantly throw them away or get a headache from the smell. They’ve started spreading to other classrooms, too, as other teachers have seen the AusPen greatness. I’m not affiliated with them at all. I just think the markers are great.