Monday, September 22, 2008

Call For Action: Going Green in the Classroom

When I was a teacher, I had a digital classroom-style curriculum. Every student had a computer. We took as much time discussing online as we did discussing in class. And most content was gathered through student discovery and sharing through the web as opposed to teacher instruction. I modeled this based on what my experience told me was the way students preferred to learn, through a discovery model enriched with the collaborative, productive technology.

There was one powerful thing with this digital classrom that I wouldn't have thought possibly in my wildest dreams. The class came up with an original social awareness project and created a high amount of class unity. We did this by going paperless.

Let me start by saying this was not easy and wasn't 100% successful. Especially for me, the photocopy-addicted louse that I was. Suffice it to say, I love materials. Lots of handouts that give graphic organizers or differentiated assignments. Handouts to help students manage time or work for visual learners. Handouts to make obscure concepts like theme and style become more concrete. And while students in general like the bevy of resources at their disposal, they did kid me about killing too many trees.

It was in one class that a student suggested that we go paperless. And after the appropriate amount of "Betcha can't do it Mr. Abbey!", we as a class decided to go paperless. No printouts. All assignments would be made as word documents or pdf's and put online. Students would not be allowed to print off drafts for their essays... they all had to be done, edited, and submitted electronically. Resources for our research projects would be kept on the computer. Tests would be done online. You get the drift.

For the most part, we were successful. I did note some students who printed things out outside of class at first, and there were times where I printed out an email to read it (one of my telltale signs I'm a digital immigrant). But, there was a sense of pride among the students in the class that we were doing something truly green. We coupled it with a look at the Daniel Quinn book Ishmael and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and experimented with keeping the classroom lights off. The fun part of the assignment was the challenge for the students, and therefore the sense of actual accomplishment when they were finished. This was the mythical "Quadrant D" activity that the rigor/relevance framework calls for.

My challenge is for schools to take the initiative and go paperless. At least, in some segments of the school. Do a cost analysis of what ink and paper cost you, and then try investing that in computers. It not only saves money and environmental resources, but also is cutting edge and addresses digital natives. It requires teachers to be creative, to not depend on the photocopy master. It requires us to focus on current event resources... what is happening in the news today that supports the curriculum. It moves us from static learning (filling in a worksheet with pre-determined "correct" answers) to dynamic learning (collaborating and creating meaning with others digitally).

What are your thoughts?

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