MAHTOMEDI, Minn. -- "Please leave the sheets at your tables and come to your tape lines," Lori Baker instructed her second graders.
Baker likes precision, so when she noticed the second grade was running out of pencils, she didn't just go out and buy more. She wanted to know why. Furthermore, Baker decided it would be a great opportunity for her math students.
"So I thought, let's do a pencil test," said Baker.
She enlisted the help of a parent who works at Office Depot, which donated several different kinds of pencils for Baker's students to test.
"Lead out, lead breaks, erasers, and the price," said second grader Nicholas Rollinger. He and his classmates checked each type of pencil for those attributes.
They also found a category Baker wasn't expecting, distractibility.
"Sometimes people play with the mechanical ones," explained second grader Connor Hagen.
That, of course, makes it the favorite.
"Instead of waiting a long time to sharpen it," said second grader Anabel Hillstrom, "all you do is click the back of the eraser and then it (lead) comes out."
However, the job requires an unemotional look at what is the best value for Wildwood's dollar. "We want to have a pencil that's going to hold up," said Baker.
Students developed charts for each brand, and each category tested. They crunched the numbers, and even considered the consumer angle.
"We talked about price points," said Baker, "Why is it 99, 98, what's the marketing behind that?" Stuff that isn't in the second grade textbooks.
"Percentages and probability, and some of these extra life issues that we have to think about," Baker said.
In the end, the pencil that seems to be the best value and most durable was probably not the top choice of students who were looking for a sleek, mechanical version. It was a 9-cent house brand from Office Depot.
Once the final numbers are in, Baker's math students will make their choice. It's an important one because that will be the pencil the school will buy for next year's first and second graders.
A reporter pointed out the students are leaving a legacy. "Yeah, pretty much," laughed second grader Drew Mallin.
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