Classroom wonders that come unstuck

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Glue tubs with lids that stick, rulers that don't draw straight lines, trundle wheels that leave you in circles... Ally Budge discovers a few design faults with some sundries. Most of the resources used in any primary school are quite similar. Pencils, rulers, pens, paints, staplers; the very stuff from the basic classroom sundries list. Such items must appear on every requisition list in the country.

It might be thought that the popularity for such common classroom items would have tied their qualities to what the consumer demanded. Yet, because such items are used so frequently and in such a variety of situations, small design flaws become apparent. Here are a few that I have discovered.

Pritt sticks are wonderful. It is impossible for a child using a Pritt stick to place so much glue on any two pieces of paper that when they are stuck together the adhesive oozes menacingly out from underneath like some white sticky goo set to overtake the classroom. Equally, no two pieces of paper stuck together with Pritt stick ever bend like a banana as they dry out. But Pritt sticks are expensive and they don't last long.

A school that still has Pritt sticks left at the end of the financial year is one where the resources are kept under lock, key and rabid guard dog. Hence the scarcity of classroom Pritt stick makes the frequent problem of losing the white plastic glue top a particularly serious one.

A search for the little top can prove difficult because it is invariably the same colour and size as the bits of paper that the child has been cutting out. A fruitless search can result in temporary and largely ineffective measures of placing pieces of paper secured with elastic bands over the top of the glue. Perhaps Pritt sticks with purple or even non detachable tops would prove beneficial. Alternatively, I suppose I could keep all the tops that manage to stay with their Pritt sticks until they are finished. They could be kept in my cupboard in another box labelled "Spare Pritt Stick Tops: Open in Emergencies".

For a heavy duty job, classroom glue comes into its own. This is wonderful stuff. Whoever does the requisition invariably notices that it is most economical to buy classroom glue in five-litre tubs. Hence, this is the glue container that many classrooms have.

But a major problem with these containers is that the screw tops get stuck on. I know because I have wrestled with my own and those of other teachers who were unable to remove the top themselves.

Being a man, I should have a vice-like grip specifically developed for such tests of strength. Yet my classroom credibility with the pupils could be ruined if a glued top beats me. My cover of being the Scottish Schoolboy Arm Wrestling Champion could be blown. If it doesn't move at the first tug I make some excuse about being concerned I may rip the container apart and ease the stuck top with some hot water. Tops that wouldn't stick would be good to have on glue containers.

Classroom rulers are fantastic. They are versatile. They can quite legitimately be used for drawing lines, for using as a number line or some important structural classroom task. An example of the latter would be strengthening the sides of the Viking longship which looks far from shipshape and was to have been the central feature of your Viking wall display.

Rulers can illicitly be used for sword fights, catapults, musical twangers and general poking instruments. This combined with the fact that teachers don't like to throw out old rulers because they can always fulfil at least one of their legitimate uses, means that any set of classroom rulers may contain some that would certainly not draw a straight line. Children are reluctant to use rulers to draw lines, often assuming that a free hand approximation will do instead. Nevertheless, they claim they used a ruler. The indestructible school ruler would ensure that no child could say he or she drew a crooked line with it.

Wall staplers are brilliant. They are tremendous for getting your art display up quickly without any internal damage to your thumb, which can be caused by sticking too many drawing pins into plaster walls. They allow you to stick artwork and displays up where drawing pins, Blu-Tack and Sellotape would never stand a chance.

But you are far more likely to be caught like some unfortunate trapeze artist who has lost his nerve, precariously standing on a chair or window ledge (without even the whiff off a safety net), when your wall stapler runs out of staples. When this happens, it is very annoying to note that paper staples do not fit the wall stapler. The wall stapler needs special staples which are kept in small boxes, which may or not be somewhere in your classroom. Why don't all classroom staplers use the same staples?

Trundle wheels are wonderful things. Children love them because as soon as they see a trundle wheel they ask "Will we put our coats on for going outside?"

One persistent problem with trundle wheels is that after eating up all these tarmac metres in the playground, they can become a bit wobbly. This is a slight nuisance but a much more serious flaw in a trundle wheel is when it loses its click. Plenty of room for imaginative writing here. "Who stole the Terry the Trundle wheel's click?" Could it have been that sharp lad Charlie Compass who had the local police running around in circles or did the evidence weigh in favour of Sammy Scales who had become imbalanced. Poetry as well: "A trundle wheel without a click is like... a dog without a bark, a rose without a smell, a teacher without a blackboard" etc.

However, despite offering a context for all this language work, there are much less fortunate aspects of trundle wheels losing their clicks. Children are remarkably uncritical of the answers they obtain in calculations. For example, in children's arithmetic it is conceivable that Pounds 45 shared between two people can easily result in each lucky person receiving Pounds 225 each. Similarly, a trundle wheel that doesn't click or worse has an intermittent fault can result in the length of the school football pitch being contracted to 12 metres. It would be good to have robust trundle wheels which have sharp, loud ever-lasting clicks.

Although it does not appear on the requisition every year, it will appear in every primary school classroom. The item is the common classroom chair, which is not without its design problems. The backs will sometimes lift from the chairs.

Noise pollution is a constant danger. As the legs scrape across the floor, they create sounds which are within the frequency that could be described as painful to the ear of the primary school teacher.

Finally, in an age when seats can have internal heating, have memories so they can revert to certain favoured positions, are designed by ergonomic and chiropractic experts, no one seems to have designed the ultimate classroom chair.

The chair that will assist to focus the attention of children on their work. The chair that will reduce classroom chatter and noise. The chair that will cut down on classroom accidents. In short, the chair that could well raise standards in the primary classroom. Simply, a classroom chair that children are unable to swing on. Now there is a challenge for the designers.

* Ally Budge is deputy headteacher at Miller Academy in Thurso

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