I am reluctant to guess how much paper waste we create in my classroom alone, but I know it's substantial. So I've set a goal of going paperless in my English class within two years. Read on to learn about why this is important — and why it will benefit my students — and how I intend to do it.
I believe there are three major benefits to creating a "green," or paperless, classroom. Going paperless in the classroom reduces paper waste, which means that less energy is used in the making of paper and that fewer natural resources are destroyed.
It also creates a conservation mind-set in students and educates them on related issues. It creates "teachable" moments that often carry over into the home. I know from my experiences with my 3rd grade daughter how much learning comes home from the classroom.
Creating a paperless classroom also allows the teacher to introduce new technologies to students. Businesses are looking for employees that have 21st century skills. It is important that students receive some training on Web-based applications and other technological tools.
E-readers are becoming an affordable alternative to textbooks in schools. This year, instead of printing out articles from PDF files I created, I loaded them onto our classroom set of Amazon Kindles. This not only saves paper, but allows students to explore e-reader functions. In her article "Build Your Own Digital Textbooks," Kate Rix discusses the shift from textbooks to digital resources and describes how this shift will affect the curriculum. One tool I have discovered in producing digital material is The Writerhood. The Writerhood was developed by eReadia as a tool to publish writing in an electronic format.
I currently have seven computers in my room, including my personal laptop and a teacher computer. Most of the computers are out of date and slow, but they serve their purpose. If students finish their assigned work and need to work on a journal post or other piece of writing for my class, they are allowed to get onto the computer. One-Laptop-Per-Child programs still exist, but a lot of schools have been allowing students to bring mobile devices from home. In the article "Mobile Learning Technologies for 21st Century Classrooms," Jonathan Wylie discusses this trend. Our school district recently adopted a mobile electronic device policy, allowing students to bring laptops, e-readers, and mobile tablets to school, provided they have administration and teacher approval.
Student Response Systems
As I mentioned in my earlier post, "Three Tech Tools to Collect and Analyze Student Interest Data," I have the opportunity to use MimioVote this year. Instead of taking paper and pencil tests, my students can answer multiple choice and true/false questions on the MimioVote. One great thing about MimioVote is that the test is automatically graded and put into the electronic grade book. I have my students write out the answers to short answer or essay questions, but usually allow them to go to the computer lab to type their responses.
Web-Based Tools for the Paperless Classroom
Instead of turning in paper copies of their writing assignments, this year students will use computers and online applications. This allows students to improve their basic computer skills while learning the grammar and mechanics of writing. This will also benefit me, as I will no longer have to carry mountains of paperwork home.
When creating a paperless classroom, there are many Web-based applications and tools teachers can utilize in the classroom or for collaborative work outside of class. Below are a couple of the free Web-based tools I use in my classroom.
I learned about Writeboard at a conference this summer and I've experimented briefly with it in the classroom. I see great value in using Writeboard as a collaborative workspace for group projects outside of class. It would also be an excellent spot for keeping classroom notes.
Moodle is a class management system similar to WebCt or Blackboard. Teachers can organize activities and create discussion forums and quizzes. Moodle also allows students to submit their assignments online, cutting down on paper usage. I have also used Moodle for journal entries about novels and for exploring basic discussion questions. I am in the process of creating an online book club on Moodle now.
Comprehensive tests have their place, but I want to be sure I'm taking students to a higher level of thinking. Instead of giving a test over Romeo and Juliet, I asked students to complete a "Toondoo." Toondoo is a comic strip creator. For the assignment, students had to turn Shakespeare's play into a comic strip set in modern times. My students had a blast. Here is one of my favorites, "Romeo and Juliet go to Las Vegas":