By Teachers, For Teachers
Each year, the world produces more than 300 million tons of paper. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paper typically found in a school or office environments such as copier paper, computer printouts, and notepads, comprise the largest category. Mitigating the use of paper with the goal of being paperless has long been a classroom management goal for schools. Every year, a prodigious number of classroom management lesson plans center around the dwindling rainforests, the shrinking world forests, and the ever-growing waste associated with paper.
Now, beyond the moral and ethical persuasiveness of a paperless classroom, there is compelling evidence that it is finally persuading educators that the time is right to eliminate paper from the classroom:
Three years ago, I wrote about going paperless in your classroom, but much has changed. Today, replacing paper with a digital distribution is common. Newsletters go home via email. Homework is posted to classroom websites. Student portfolios are rarely manila file folders. In fact, many education experts predict that the printer will soon disappear as a critical tool in the classroom.
Here are four easy approaches to remove paper from your classroom:
A digital whiteboard is when you project an online whiteboard to your class screen and then use it as you would the one that hangs on the wall in your room. Some teachers wonder why they would do that. It isn't available when the computer is off; it requires setup; and what if you want to write a formula? In truth, today's digital whiteboards are much like your traditional board. You have a variety of pens, colors, and shapes. You can easily insert images to support the lesson. You can project a website that ties in with your teaching. Probably the best reason to use the digital version of a whiteboard is that everything you write on it can be saved and pushed out to student 1:1 devices, LMSs, or digital portfolios.
Popular choices range from free to fee and may or may not require a login. Many LMSs (like Canvas) have built-in versions available alongside other classroom management tools. Here are some of my favorites:
Assigning a book to your class that everyone must then purchase is not only expensive, it's inequitable. For some, those costs challenge a family budget. If you have a book you want students to read, check to see if it's available on one of the many online free libraries and let students know they can use it there. Ebooks have no concern about the "Latest edition" because they're automatically updated. Ereaders are often free from the ebook provider (like Kindle) and PDFs can be read on almost every platform.
Here are some of my favorites:
Most LMSs (Learning Management Systems) make it easy to trade paper for digital. The good news: Most schools now use LMSs, be they Google Classroom, Canvas, or another. Through your LMS, you'll find it easy to:
If you're new to an LMS, start with these four activities. Check back next year and I'll have more ideas for you.
Exams used to be pages of black-and-white paper. There was limited space to write an answer. The test might be two-sided and good grief -- don't forget that second side! If you make a mistake and your eraser wasn't up-to-snuff, the teacher might not realize you knew the answer. The final indignity: If your lead broke -- or the entire pencil -- it could ruin everything.
Now, exams are increasingly available online. That means you access them from the Internet (or a dedicated server). Space for an answer isn't limited to a little square with lines on it, and erasures are a simple backspace. If the computer stops working (akin to a broken pencil), the teacher fixes that for you. With a minimal amount of set-up time, almost any quiz can be offered digitally. If you haven't tried this before, look into Google Forms and Socrative. You'll be surprised and happy.
Online exams require no print and no day-ahead preparation. Because there is so much variety in these, they can be formative or summative and pretty much everything in between.
These four ideas are far from what most adults remember in the schoolroom of their childhood. Still, they are only a start. What paper-to-digital ideas are you using in your school?
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 25 years. She is the editor/author of over 100 ed-tech resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in ed-tech, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on ed-tech topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning. Read Jacqui’s tech thriller series, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days