Redesigned: John Scammell

So John Scammell uploaded this #anyqs, which captured an interesting moment. In his tweet, he wrote, “When I was a kid, I’d grind other kid’s pencils down to nothing.”

John Scammell – Original from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

Some things I’d like to accomplish in the redesign:

  1. Get the camera lens parallel to the pencil, an angle that makes it easier to see the length changing.
  2. Convey to the student visually what John wrote in his tweet: that this pencil is about to get ground down to nothing.
  3. Postpone the pencil measurements until the second act. The moment where John measures the pencil is useful and necessary but the first act (the #anyqs) should focus exclusively on curiosity and context. The math introduces itself later in act two to help resolve that curiosity.

Act One

Pencil Sharpener – Act One from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

Act Two

Pencil Sharpener – Act Two from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

Act Three

Pencil Sharpener – Act Three from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

The Goods

Download the full archive. [10.8 MB]

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Mary Watson

    May 25, 2011 - 3:08 pm -

    I love this, my 6 year old was sitting next to me as I watched this and has now gone to find a pencil and sharpen it to see how long it takes to make it a pencil stub. Thanks for that! :)

  2. Nice. I actually would postpone the timer until Act Two as well. Like the pencil measurement, it takes away from the curiosity and context, and actively pushes kids toward a specific question.

    It reminds me of the tank-filling video; my ideal Act One would be you grinding down an entire pencil, and the teacher pausing the video whenever a kid complains about how long it’s going to take. I am pretty sure this is you goal question ;)

    The first 4 seconds are subtle, helpful, and clever.

  3. Jan van Hulzen

    May 26, 2011 - 12:51 am -

    Now lets see if the 500th pencil goes through at the same speed as the first or if it matters how hard you push and under what angle you apply that force :-)

  4. @Bowen, there probably isn’t a design decision I’ve wobbled back and forth on more than including a timer in act one. I’m fairly certain students would want to know how long? without the timer. It isn’t about that. It’s that I’ve always sensed a whole lot of thumb-twiddling from the students when I replay the entire video just to get an accurate count on time.

  5. How about a second version of the Act One video? The first video you play is without the timer. Then when kids ask about time and get interested, you play a second version with a timer (perhaps skipping parts of the first video that aren’t as relevant anymore)? Or is that what you meant by the thumb-twiddling…

    Part of me also thinks that if your video included the full pencil-killing in real time, kids will just want to cheat and see how long the video lasts by fast-forwarding.

    It’s a tough call, you know enough about it to have probably made the right one!!

  6. Marcia Weinhold

    May 26, 2011 - 1:49 pm -

    My other burning question is, “How many pencils does it take to fill up the hopper with pencil shavings?” I guess only the person who has to clean up has that question…

  7. Bowen: Or is that what you meant by the thumb-twiddling…

    Right. What you describe (act one video + timer, cut down a little) is what I did for awhile. It started to feel silly. So here we are.

  8. Actually, as the person who has 4 times had to disassemble the library pencil sharpener from my wife’s school, because the bad design causes the sharpener to jam if the hopper overflows, I also care how long it takes the hopper to fill.

    I also wonder about the designers or engineers who design these objects, and why they make such bone-headed design decisions.

    Actually, after seeing what qualifies for barely passing work at an engineering school, maybe I don’t wonder so much.