They have a nifty, smooth-rolling point and they come in cool colors: mango orange, creamy purple, metallic silver, sea-foam green. Some are scented, so you could be inhaling the smell of blueberries as you scribble away at a math test.
What's not to like about gel pens?
Plenty, if you are a teacher, it seems. Last year's craze has become this year's banned item. Teachers all over the country have told students not to bring the popular pens to the classroom.
They have a number of complaints. The pens sometimes leak and stain the desks and carpets, one teacher said. Others feel that the line a gel pen makes on paper (especially the metallic colors) is too hard to see, making grading papers difficult.
Eric Brody, a teacher at Hayfield Elementary School in Alexandria, didn't like that kids were using them in all of their art projects "and the final product was not very neat. A lot were sloppy."
But the main problem with gel pens is that kids love them so much, they pay more attention to their pens than to their teachers and their classwork.
"Students were going to the school store and buying 20 or 30 of these pens," said Brody. He and the other fifth-grade teachers at Hayfield have banned gel pens.
"They were more interested in coloring than instruction," Brody complained.
In West Allis, Wisconsin, teacher Jeri Franz said that her second-graders were buying packs of 50 pens and spending way too many minutes deciding which one to choose.
"It's just too much of a distraction," said Franz, who has banished them from her classroom at the General Mitchell Elementary School.
What makes gel pens so special? They are made with a gel-based ink that flows smoothly on a roller-ball point and they come in a variety of flashy colors, from fluorescent to pastel to metallic.
The ink glides nicely on skin, too, kids have found. Students at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel were using gel pens to write all over their arms and legs, a teacher there complained.
"Males were covering their fingernails with ink. Writing their rapper names on themselves. Girls were writing their best friends' names on their arms, writing which boys they like, which bands they like," said Lynnette Moore, an eighth-grade math teacher.
Gel pens were banished from Murray Hill, but some teachers say they like the way the pens make students eager to write. In Wisconsin, reading teacher Maria Sweet said she tries to keep a supply on hand. With gel pens, the first- and second-graders she teaches focus more on how cool the colors look and less on how difficult it is for them to form letters.
For "the kids that need help with their reading," Sweet said, "it's a great motivator."
-- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Fern Shen
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