Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Prevent school supply waste and save money

One thing that makes it difficult for a student to get organized is that teachers require assignments to be handed in different ways, and it is hard to anticipate what they will want (and thus what supplies to get) without talking to them before school starts. If you buy school supplies without knowing what will actually be used, there is a high chance that you will waste money when you have buy school supplies a second time when you REALLY know what you need.

Some teachers insist upon seeing a whole notebook of a student’s work. But if Melanie keeps all her schoolwork for all her classes in a binder with different subdivisions, she can’t give the whole binder to the Mr. Smith because then Melanie won’t have her other papers for her other classes. Other times, the teacher might ask the student to hand in a paper. If Robert is using a notebook, he can tear out the sheet of paper the Miss Jones wants, but once the assignment is returned, it can’t be magically un-torn back into Robert’s notebook. All of a sudden, Robert needs a folder to keep his loose papers in.

With all this confusion, Melanie and Robert may throw up their hands in disgust and put everything in folders. Unfortunately, when it comes time to review for Mr. Black’s test, they have to sift through a pile of papers and assignments that have accumulated in their two-pocket folders. Where does the material covered in the test start and end in their notes? Should the returned assignments be kept mingled among class notes, or should it be kept separate? Where do they put sheets of extra blank paper? Where do they put notes in their folders when class is over? Where do they put assignments not yet turned in so they don’t lose them? Where do they put handouts that the teacher gives them or practice tests or syllabi?

When I was a student, I eventually learned that if I bought my notebooks and binders and folders before school started, I would find that I had gotten the wrong thing and some of my teachers wanted something different. So I had to learn to refrain from getting those things until I had gone to at least one class with all my teachers to find out what they wanted.

When money is tight, it is tempting to put several subjects in one notebook, especially if it becomes obvious that not all the paper will get used in one year or one semester. This can cause problems if the subjects are not separated in some way. When test time comes, Melanie will want to consolidate her notes together, and running across history notes in the middle of geometry notes gets distracting. If the same notebook must be used, it is helpful to start one subject from the front and another subject from the back, then work toward the middle.

Another way to improve organization is to use a portable accordion file instead of folders. In this way, papers can remain loose and a class can have a multiple pockets, one for notes, one for assignments, one for tests, one for handouts, one for projects, and so on. Accordion files come with little tabs at the top of each divider that can be nicely labeled in any way a student needs or wishes. As papers are added to the accordion folder, it will expand to hold them and there is usually no need to worry about exceeding its holding capacity. (This is great compared to binders, which come in certain sizes that can get overfull.)

I think it is kind of silly that folders are limited to only two pockets. They should have at least four. With only two pockets, a person has to create mental divisions inside each folder. That’s like living with a refrigerator with only two shelves, or living with a closet with only two hangers. It adds to the cognitive load on the student mind, which is already trying to remember how to balance an oxidation-reduction reaction or how to compute the greatest height reached by a launched projectile, or how to compute the midpoint of a line on the Cartesian plane, not to mention how to get through the day without being made fun of by that group. Yes. Only two pockets in folders adds to student cognitive load.

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