The Power of a Pen

Teach Better TeamBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Lesson Plan Better, Manage Better


  • A pen teaches students that mistakes are learning opportunities.
  • It gives students time to pause and think before they write.
  • It empowers students by providing them with skills they can use throughout their lives.

Every December, I gave a present to my students. Yes, I taught middle school. Yes, I had over 100 students each year. And yes, it was a lot of work, but it was worth it. What was the gift? A candy cane and a pen.

Candy cane and pen

Figure 1. The candy cane and pen I gave to each of my students every December. (Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)


I required my students to use a pen to write in their science notebooks and science journals. This came as a shock to most of my students and many tried to fight back and resist this requirement. I held fast to my belief that writing in pen would make them not just better scientists, but better students all around. Here are my reasons.

Mistakes = Learning Opportunities

The scientific knowledge humans have built over time came from experimentation. And in the real world, experiments don’t usually go as planned. It is important to note that data collected from failures provides valuable information. But, these mistakes must be documented so that we and others can study and analyze them to see where we went wrong. Erasing them away prevents us from reaching a crucial step of the learning process: reflection. The pen lets you keep the mistakes, reflect on the errors, and improve your learning.

I required my students to use a pen to write in their science notebooks and science journals. I held fast to my belief that writing in pen would make them not just better scientists, but better students all around. Click To Tweet

Permanence = Time to Pause

The fact that what is written with a pen cannot be erased is daunting to many students. And this is good! They know that the information that goes into their science notebook can’t be removed, so students stop to think about what they will write before they write anything. They organize their thoughts, they think about their words, and they plan how they will lay out the information on the page. In short, they slow down and end up with a neater, more organized notebook to study from because they took their time.

Soft Skills = Life Skills

As the year progresses, I watch my students take pride in their science notebooks, own their learning, and gain confidence in their scientific abilities. I hear them say things like:

Science Notebook page with a graph and equations

Figure 2. A motion time graph in the science notebook (Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)

  • My handwriting has really improved!
  • I’ve never been this organized before!
  • I love the graph I made in my notebook! (Really, and here is a picture of the graph she was referring to.)
  • Science is actually easy because of my notebook!

These comments all relate to skills our students should develop in all of their classes throughout their time in school and that they will need to be successful after school:

  • Written communication
  • Organization
  • Planning
  • Critical thinking
  • Analyzing data
  • Motivation to learn
[scroll down to keep reading]

Pen = Power

These are the main reasons for my pen requirement. And because I feel so strongly about it and the benefits my students reap from it, I take time every year to prepare their gifts. Are some students more interested in the candy cane? Of course. But others are very appreciative of the pen and all of the potential it holds. And when I see that the potential inside a student is realized, I know that I have done my part to Science Better.

Please be sure to tag me on Twitter (@hollyastuart) with ideas you have for student gifts that go beyond the object itself. I would love to hear about how you are helping your students to grow! And by sharing, you just might be the one to help another teacher come up with a great gift idea for their students!

Happy holidays, Teach Better friends!

About Holly Stuart

Holly Stuart is the Education Specialist for Foldscope Instruments and former 8th grade science and design teacher in South Carolina. Her passions include finding new and innovative ways to provide access to scientific tools to students everywhere because she knows that when students have access to the wonders of science, they can discover new scientific concepts through inquiry, and learn science by doing science.

In addition to her out-of-the-box approach to teaching science, Holly successfully implemented The Grid Method into her teaching practice and is currently a Teach Better Team Mentor Ambassador.

Holly is married to her high school sweetheart and is a mother to three children. When not working, she enjoys traveling and being outside with her family. Some of their favorite outdoor activities include hiking, running, biking, and gardening. (Holly often brings her telescope, binoculars, and microscopes with her on hikes!) Her indoor hobbies include reading, writing, and learning more about sketchnoting and drawing.