The previous spring, our vice principal had come around and asked if anyone would like new desks. The offer lasted about 25 minutes and I missed it. I started my students on area with the story. "I didn't jump on the opportunity," I told them, "because I hadn't been well enough prepared to know whether the new desks would give you any more work space than you've already got. In case he comes around again, I want to be prepared and I need your help. You are the best people to figure out how much space 8th graders need on their desks."
I passed out rulers, and issued a challenge: "You have 10 minutes to measure and calculate the total desktop area you need for your books and supplies."
As students finished measuring and began reporting their results to the class, Terra, with quiet drama, zipped up her binder to make the foundation of an elaborate tower on her desk. Ever prepared to learn, Terra always has several pencils, all sharp, and pens and highlighters, and she loves to read so she's got a reading book and a back-up just in case. Once she'd finished her creation, she raised her hand with urgency. "Ms. Dean, Ms. Dean, look at all my stuff. There's no way I have space."
I turned to her decidedly undramatic desk partner Shane and asked, "Shane, ever feel crowded?" He nodded gravely.
It turned out that Terra needed more space than most: she required 640 square inches, while the class averaged 568 square inches.