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In these days of underfunding of public schools and having to struggle to decide between making cuts to teachers or to school days, what are some of the small things that we in the trenches can do to help in our own little way to address the budget crunch and save some money at the individual school level? Thanks to modern day electronics, we think that one of the best answers to this question is: Go paperless! Canby’s Technology Innovation Grant helped us tremendously by furnishing enough iPad II’s for every student in both of our 5th grade classrooms (as well as we the teachers), to have a personal iPad II loaned to us for the entirety of the school year. Were we able to go to “paperless,” really?! Well, perhaps not. But we were close! And much closer than we would have gotten without the iPads.
As we have not yet managed to get the iPads going home with kids (lack of internet access for them at home is the number one reason, as well as iPad safety in conjunction with siblings, etc.), we have still been required to send a printed homework packet home with every student, nearly ever week of the school year. We are currently on packet number 26. Although we always copy them back-to-back, these packets generally take 4 or so sheets of paper each. So, 26 packets x 4 sheets of paper x 60 packets (at least one student asks for a new one mid-week because they can’t find the first one they took home), becomes roughly 6,200 sheets of paper spent on homework alone. So “paperless” is actually a bit of a figure of speech after admitting to that!
However, one must take into account the fact that every single teacher in our building is required to use approximately that much paper because of our homework policy, and we are not the only school in the district to have homework packets. Therefore, using that as a baseline, compared to the rest of our colleagues in the building and across the district, I believe that we could be considered to be “paperless” classrooms. We do not copy worksheets (except in very exceptional circumstances) for reading, writing, science or social studies. The copies made for math class have really been minimal this year, as well. We have figured out ingenious ways to get documents from teacher to student and back to the teacher again. When saying, “we” have done it means that the teachers have figured out one or two ways to make it happen and the students have figured out an endless myriad of more ways to make it happen!
At the beginning of the year, we used EdModo to send assignments out to all of our students on a regular basis, as well to have them turned into us. An example in reading was asking students to use a table in Pages to put together a reading log for the month of December. Their goals on the log were to identify and use text features (bold print, captions, etc.), as well as visualization to help them comprehend what they were reading. So, they made up an electronic reading log and then each day during silent reading, were required to use the final 5 minutes to fill it in. They took pictures of the text features with their iPads, made notes on the photos, inserted them into the reading log, and then explained how the specific text feature they had chosen was helpful in developing their comprehension of the text and/or why they thought the author had chosen to include that text feature. They also used different drawing apps (WhiteBoard, Screen Chomp, Doodle Buddy, Art Rage, Explain Everything) to draw what they had visualized as they read, in addition to going to the internet for photos to include, and then inserted these pieces into their reading logs to help explain what they visualized and how it helped them understand their reading.
In science and social studies students were able to show their understanding of the content and informational text reading and research skills in new, innovative, and practical ways. An assignment to demonstrate understanding of a food web involved talking about a diagram of a food web on Explain Everything while using a laser pointer to describe who eats which on the food web. This recording was then uploaded onto EdModo where the teacher could listen and watch to see if the child really understood. Also, students video-taped themselves investigating the physical traits of the head of a salmon to identify the type of salmon, talking about what they were noticing while they were poking and prodding and reading a booklet about differences between types of salmon. As for the teacher, pre and post tests were made simpler by the easy format (and scoring!) of the quizzes on EdModo. EdModo also allows kids to turn in recordings from Explain Everything, which makes for some more creative assignments. For social studies and science, students downloaded traditional worksheets answering questions about the content. However, below their answer, the kids inserted pictures of where they found information in a textbook or other source, "proving" that they can, in fact, find important information. Sometimes also revealing to the teacher why or how they misinterpreted information. In general, the highlighting and note-taking features of some of the apps, especially Notability, have made it easier for students to engage with informational text. Almost every reading passage, illustration, chart, diagram, etc... the students come across during class is now 'theirs', on their iPad where they highlighted, wrote, circled, etc... on it. Not in the recycling bin.
As illustrated above, EdModo is a great app, but it has its limitations. Mainly, it was hard for the teacher to see kids’ assignments because of the 'smallish format' dictated by the fact that kids could not turn in pdfs, but only images (screen shots of their documents). Also, because we couldn't zoom in or make notes on the documents, record-keeping was easy, but feedback was limited. So when we discovered Showbie, we found true love, especially in writing class! Showbie’s drawback after EdModo was the lack of a grade book that helped you keep quick track of who had turned in which assignments, as well as the grades each student had earned, but the benefit was how easy it was to open documents, give feedback on them, and return them to individual students! And there are lots of grade book apps out there that are a nice compliment to Showbie. No longer did we have to take writing samples home in our bags to grade. They were right there, completely available and just waiting for corrections and comments, on our iPads! We had a veritable plethora of colored pens and in-app gimmicks to employ as we corrected and jotted notes of encouragement and suggestions. This was teacher Eden, without a doubt! And saved us reams and reams of paper, as it was all worked out electronically; first, middle, and final drafts alike.
When we look at Trost’s copy numbers on a district-wide scale, it becomes clear that our school has made progress toward becoming paperless. From being second only to the high school in how many copies we made 4 years ago, we have become the school in the district that has used the very fewest copies so far this year! We believe that technology has made all the difference, and have no doubt that our classrooms have played a definitive part in it. It is hard to see a future where schools will have reams and boxes of reams of copy paper in a storage room or the cost of all the ink still in the budget when most work from writing to math to reading instruction, can be done, corrected, re-done, graded, turned in, and tracked electronically! We continually get better at this, as do the students, and we are confident that we can get to the point where “paperless” is no longer a figure of speech, but reality for our classrooms. Thank you, Canby School District and the Technology Innovation Grant program for this amazing gift.