Back in August, I set myself a goal of nearly paperless teaching. For several reasons, I have not been able to go completely paperless, but I am certainly using less paper this year than previously.
I still usually print out quizzes and tests, though I have made forays into online quizzes. These have been difficult to make in the school’s learning management software, Blackboard, while other formats that other teachers around the country have used successfully (e.g. Google Forms) have been blocked by the school’s network. In addition, I print out photos of student work and their reports/presentations, for inclusion in students’ portfolios. My students also maintain an online portfolio, but are required to have a binder portfolio for their engineering courses. I also sometimes still print out homework assignments, since I believe that students who have a piece of paper in their hands are more likely to complete the assignment.
While ‘paperless’ would be an inaccurate descriptor of my teaching this year, ‘lesspaper’ is an invented adjective I can absolutely apply. I am printing and copying much less than last year. I also make sure to direct students to recycle rather than trash any paper they do use up.
For Earth Day last week, I pledged with 1500 other teachers worldwide to teach completely without paper for a day. I had limited success in that I taught my two courses without paper (caveats below my description of how I taught paperlessly)!
- In Principles of Engineering (POE), Thursday is quiz day. Since migrating a quiz to Blackboard has been difficult, I kept the quiz in its original Word document format. I placed these digital documents before class onto each student’s computer. When the students arrived, I asked them to eliminate wrong answers from multiple choice questions and type answers to open-ended questions directly in the document. They then saved the document with their names and submitted them electronically by e-mail or through the ‘digital dropbox’ on Blackboard.
- After completing the quizzes, POE students worked (without paper) on building and programming their marble sorters.
- In Algebra II with Trigonometry (A2T), we began with each student completing a different warm-up challenge of solving a trigonometric equation–I posted twelve different equations on the classroom chalkboard, the classroom dry-erase board, and a few individual dry-erase boards. This was a nice change of pace, students standing up and moving around the room at the start of the period. They also liked that each student had his own question to answer.
- After the warm-up challenge, my A2T students investigated transformations of sine and cosine waves, with an online GeoGebra applet and an adaptation of the activity described here by Jessica (with thanks also to David). They completed the assignment and turned it in by e-mail/dropbox.
Now for the limitations, due to encountering the unexpected realities of daily teaching:
An advisory session with my homeroom students, normally scheduled for Wednesdays, was at the last minute postponed to Thursday (Earth Day). I had already photocopied the standardized lesson on Wednesday before being told of the postponement, so I went ahead and used those papers to guide my advisory meeting. It did not seem worthwhile to waste the already-copied papers by placing them directly into the recycling bag, in order to come up with a new non-paper activity. The same day, another teacher was out sick, and he had left a paper assignment for his class, which I watched for one period. So I handed out that paper to his students. Finally, a student cut my class that day, and our school only accepts hard-copies of cut slips or other behavior referrals, so I did print out a cut slip for that student.
As you can see, it’s difficult to cut out paper entirely for even one day! But I am happy about the successes I have had in lessening paper use in my classes, for Earth Day and throughout the year.