Pamela George, Mika Sonnleitner
The wastebaskets are empty. The only paper used by students, besides an occasional Kleenex, is a paper bag containing clues to a writing assignment.
Welcome to the paperless classroom of Pamela George, an eighth-grade history and English teacher at Gale Ranch Middle School in San Ramon. She believes that technology — not trees — is the best resource when it comes to storing and transmitting information. In her classroom, works created in computers stay there; nothing is printed out.
A grant from CTA’s Institute for Teaching (IFT) provided $5,000 to purchase a dozen iPads to accompany the 12 laptops already in her classroom. Now every student has a computer for taking notes, writing essays and copying assignments that George puts on the whiteboard.
During a recent visit, students were writing mystery adventures and then saving their work in Google Docs.
While the goal for the San Ramon Valley Education Association member was to “go green” and save paper, she believes students are better prepared for the workplace by doing all their work on computers.
Her school district’s foundation had said no to a similar grant request for iPads a few months earlier, so when she applied for an IFT grant, she feared her hopes might again be dashed. But IFT said yes, because the plan was well organized and included great student engagement.
Her colleagues thought teaching paperless was a bit crazy. “You have to change your mindset and your way of doing things. It’s been a huge adjustment, because I’m used to printing everything out and having piles,” says George. “It’s easier for the kids, because they use technology for everything. If I get stuck on something, I have a whole room of little experts here to help me.”
The weaning process
Student Michael Echsner likes using technology. “It helps the ecosystem,” he says. “It’s nice not to be wasting things. IPads are expensive, but they will save money over time.”
Just as George found weaning herself from paper challenging, some students, like Mikaela De France, admit to finding the transition a bit difficult. “I was so used to writing notes, and I’m not a good keyboarder,” she explains. “But I’m adjusting.”
At first students wrote in paper notebooks in longhand and then transferred information into their computers. But George weaned them from this habit gradually during the first weeks of school, and students now type essays and information directly into the computer.
“They learned it gets easier, and they really have no need for notebooks,” says George of the transition. “Everything can be done digitally. They will never have to turn a piece of paper in to me again. They don’t have to worry about losing their homework. Now it’s their world.”
George is grateful to CTA for providing her the opportunity to create one of the first paperless classrooms. “It’s been life-changing for me and my students.”
CTA’s Institute for Teaching recognizes school change needs to be teacher-driven and should be based on what is working in our classrooms and schools. Find more information at www.teacherdrivenchange.org.