The Paperless Classroom Experiment

My school has been 1:1 with laptops for 2 years now.  Eventually the tech coordinator and I believed that going 1:1 would gradually lead to a decrease in printing, photocopying and general paper use but it hasn’t really worked out that way.  Two weeks ago I was preparing my lesson for the next day and began printing some copies of example assignments I wanted to show my students.  The thought just popped into my head and I hit Command+P and printed without even thinking about.  Like a reflex.

So I challenged myself for one week to use no paper in the classroom.  I continued lesson planning like normal, but I had to find ways for myself and my students to work without the use of paper.  I just wrapped this up on Friday, so here are my main reflections on how it all went:

To each their own

Each of my students are different.  There are some students that thrive in a digital environment with hyperlinks and online filing cabinets.  Other students find that harder to navigate and understand.  I tried to, for the most part, give my students digital copies of everything the day before class in case they wanted to print them out on their own.  Is that cheating in a paperless classroom?  Maybe, but I felt like I had to give the students that option.  Almost no students chose to print anything out though.

Sometimes there is no substitute

Sometimes paper is just the best option.  This week I introduced new vocabulary to my Spanish 2 students.  They normally get a paper vocab sheet with the words.  They use that sheet as a reference when we do different activities and I’ve seen them use it for an easy way to study during lunch or before the quiz.  This week they just got a digital copy of the sheet.  I think it definitely impacted the way they studied and learned their vocabulary.  I wasn’t very pleased with assessments results associated with the vocabulary this week.  The students definitely seemed weaker without holding that solid reference sheet.  If I ever did decide to make the move to a 100% paperless classroom, this would be my biggest concern and condition to consider.

Just do it

Kind of like a diet or a lenten resolution, there were some times throughout the week where I just thought I could cheat or cut a corner here and there.  I could have the students write down those answers and turn them into me on paper real quick.  I could just make a classroom copy of this or that.  But this was a challenge/game for me, so I just did it.  And for the most part, everything was just fine.  I think the biggest obstacle in creating a paperless or paper-lessened environment is the decision to plan it that way.  It requires a decision from the teacher to go that route.  It becomes like a discipline behavior.

Worth it?

Sounds like a lot of work or willpower for the teacher.  So is it worth it?  There are certainly benefits to a paper-lessened environment.  I never took home anything to grade — every piece of assessment data I had was on my computer in one form or another.  Easily organized and accessed.  I used digital assessments (on Canvas LMS) vs. regular paper quizzes and that allowed the students to get immediate feedback.  They knew their score before I did.  Which makes sense since it is their score.  Physically less photocopying and printing makes my tech guy happier with the budget, so there are monetary concerns if you look at this large scale.  I also found that doing things this way made it easier to get things to students that were absent.  Normally I have a little table in the corner with handouts, and when I student is absent, they come and ask for a handout that they missed and we search through the piles until we find what they need.  Everything was online for everyone all week, so there was no lag in the distribution of materials.

Future Implications

I can’t go full on paperless.  At least not until the students get more accustomed to that lifestyle.  I only have them for about 50 minutes of their academic day.  When they leave me, they have to go into classrooms where paper exists, so it isn’t helpful to them to put them through that shock just for the heck of it.  But I am going to try and be paper conscious and create a paper-lessened classroom, with less photocopying and printing.  And I’m going to promote this with other teachers to try and create that environment everywhere.  Once the students learn to learn without paper consistently, we can talk about a truly paperless classroom

A funny thing happened on the way to the paperless classroom

I’m going to add this anecdote as a post-script to this paperless classroom blog.  It’s an interesting little thing that happened with my Spanish 3 class of mainly junior students.   Using Doctopus (a truly lifesaving Google Script), each student had a personal online Google Doc where they needed to take notes over Argentina.  I introduced the notes in class but students were supposed to read and take notes on their own outside of class and come back in two days ready to discuss and talk about the information.  As they got settled in to their document and to the online notes, one student asked why they just couldn’t work on this all together.  They had previous experience using Google Docs and Presentations to collaborate with each other and take group notes, and they wanted to know why they couldn’t just do that.  I explained that for future activities that we were going to do, I wanted each student to have their own individual copy of the notes.  I said that I would be checking their personal note sheet to see how they did—but if they wanted to find a way to work together they could.  Then I kind of stepped back.

First they tried to share their personal note taking sheets with each other, but I had blocked that option.  So then a student created a new document and invited the class to all be collaborators.  They worked together to take notes on that document.  Then they went through those group notes and copied them into their personal note taking sheets.  I watched them work through that and thought how transformative that was.  It was completely something that didn’t and couldn’t exist with only paper and no technology.  And it turned out great.  The notes they took were very good and the students were ready for the tasks we had in class later that week.  Certainly they did it because “it was easier” but I choose to focus on the fact that they wanted to collaborate and figured out a way to make it work.

Lesson Planning in the Cloud

My school district utilizes a program that allows parents and students to check updated grades and lesson plans on the internet.  We are required to update lesson plans so that parents know any work their child missed throughout the week.  But the program where teachers input their lesson plans is incredibly tedious, especially for teachers that teach multiple sections of the same subject.

Last year, instead of typing all of my lesson plans into this archaic program, I created a GoogleDocs document with my weekly lesson plans.  Then I just copied that shared link into the parent communication program so that parents could find the most up-to-date lesson plans.

As great as that turned out to be (having the ability to update lesson plans in real-time), I wondered if something else would be better for this upcoming school year.  I stumbled upon a free web program called PlanbookEdu, which lets users create lesson plans online.  These plans can be shared through a link or directly embedded in a webpage.

The layout of the lesson plan templates of PlanbookEdu were very similar to the table I created in GoogleDocs, but it was cleaner and crisper.  I was able to create as many cells, or “courses”, as I wanted.  My husband (also a teacher) used PlanbookEdu to create a lesson plan template for all of the hours he teaches (1st hour, 3rd hour, 5th hour, etc.)  I elected just to set mine up for the courses I teach (Spanish 1, Spanish 2 and Spanish 3).

Right now I’m just using the free version of PlanbookEdu but the Premium version seems reasonably priced and includes some enticing perks: ability to upload documents for downloading to the lesson plans & the ability to share lesson plans with anyone on the web.  I will have to move to the Premium version to share these plans with parents, but for only $25 a year, it seems worth it.

I really like what I’m seeing with this program so far and think that it’s a great program for any teacher looking for an easy way to keep track of lesson planning and scheduling “in the cloud”.