Class Marker Buckets

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.

15 thoughts on “Class Marker Buckets

  1. I’m smiling because I have not thought about the “put the markers back” problem since I retired in June of 2009. To make sure that it was easy and quick to check to see that all markers were returned to where they were found, I hung them from the ceiling. I used aligator clips attached to shoe laces or heavy string.
    When students were done with markers, they hung them up. A quick visual check to see that there were two (or more) markers hanging at each student work area was easy and quick. A quick “OOOP, were mising markers there” got students scrambling. I sure like quick and easy!

  2. Kelly, great idea–thanks for sharing it. I think I’ll start next year with my students having to define “the tragedy of the commons” as an introduction to the class buckets.

    And thanks for the tip on the AusPens, they look much better than traditional whiteboard markers. Do they erase easily? Any special clean up tips?

    PS. Love the buckets. Gives each period some personality as well :-)

    1. AusPens erase very easily. We just use normal whiteboard erasers. Some colors seem to ghost more than others when the marker has been left on the board over break (at which point some normal whiteboard cleaner on a paper towel still does the trick, though).

      The key is to fill them when they are starting to run out, but before they are completely dried out. And also to never overfill them. I put some students on marker probation when they are eager in their filling jobs. The overfilled markers can just be a mess. The kids tend to get it, though, and it’s only a very rare problem.

      Did you see how mauled the popcorn bucket got? That class loves to rush up and fight over control of the markers…

  3. I use ankle-height white socks to store 5 markers and an eraser together but have had this same tragedy of the commons problem. I was considering next year numbering the socks, but it would still mean that a student’s sock-kit would change each time the groups did, and multiple periods would share them with no obvious visual accountability. I’m a traveling teacher, so I put the socks in a shoe organizer draped over my cart. I like your bucket idea better but would have trouble carrying that many supplies on a cart. On the plus side, during whiteboarding presentations I can tell the kids to put the markers in the socks so I don’t have inattentive listeners.

    I’ve been using Styrofoam Expo erasers, but they have succumbed to marker gouging (F^f_{student on marker} and F^n_{marker on eraser}). What do you use to erase the AusPens?

    I also have, essentially, Lee’s question: Do the AusPens erase well on the terrible HomeDepot shower board?

    1. We just use normal whiteboard erasers for the markers, and they work well. The ones we’ve been using this year are these:
      Expo Eraser
      They’ve gotten a little beat up, too (drawing around the edges, one has had the rubber siding pulled off?!), but are still pretty good after two years. And yes, the AusPens erase very well off of shower board.

      I suspect that even numbering the socks might create more of a sense of responsibility. It takes it from being an anonymous, untraceable sock to being one that has a clear history. And even if the groups change every couple of weeks, they would be using the same sock for that whole time with their group. I bet it would work!

      Also, the shoe organizer idea is genius.

      I have one bucket for each class (not for each group), so buckets per class still might work, depending on the size and shape of the “buckets” (for attachment to your traveling cart). Though I still think the socks+shoe organizer is great. Oh, and—can’t they just use the socks as erasers? Seems like a cheap and efficient solution that I imagine would work pretty well.

      1. I try to avoid having them use the socks as erasers because the whiteboard marker doesn’t wash out of the fabric, and then they just look gross.

        On your advice, I picked up two of the assorted AusPen marker packs and tried them out. I did have trouble with a few of them not being screwed together and drying out during shipping (and no response from the company yet), but in my suprisingly-unscientific-from-a-science-teacher test on my lousy shower board, the black and orange erased the best, followed by green and blue, but red and purple didn’t do so well. I’ll probably just get those first four colors and use orange as a red-substitute. Thanks for the recommendation!

        1. Yay!

          I’ve found the red and purple leave the most ghosting behind on the boards, too. This past year, we bought blue, purple, orange, and black for the kids (in boxes that we just split up among the classes). The red and green also tend to look the most faded (I think) as the ink is being used.

          One definite key is to make sure the kids keep refilling the markers when the ink starts to run low. Don’t wait until the marker stops writing at all.

  4. […] you finish wiring, and developing some good marker care and feeding habits among your students. See Kelly O’Shea’s post on marker buckets for some pro tips for marker care. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  5. Hello Kelly, Do you have any suggestions about the “nib”? Chisel Nib or Bullet Nib? I don’t believe we have a name for the tip size here in Europe (they normally state the tip size in mm or so). They sell spare “Nibs” as well. Do you know if the pens are the same (so I can use an other spare “Nib” in the same pen?). Thanks. Bernard.

    1. I ordered a set of each to sample the difference. The chisel nib is a angular shape that allows one to make very narrow or very wide strokes, so it is more versatile. The bullet nib is rounded and makes a medium line stroke, so it might blunt less. I’m not sure which would hold up best to a Pointillism rendition. Although my young daughter did her best with one marker, I didn’t think to let her ruin its counterpart! I’d recommend that the intended marker users be instructed to be gentle.

    2. Thanks Kelly and Brian,
      After your comments I took a better look at the Auspen website. When I enlarge the photo’s with pens with the cap off I can see the difference. I think the bullet nib can best be used when using a whiteboard in front of a whole class. The chisel nib maybe can be better used with smaller whiteboards for students. I don’t know. Think I have to buy them both :-))

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