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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Paper in the Classroom: Get Over It!

How often do you start a class by asking students to take out paper and pencil? What if you decided to go paperless for a day, a week, or even longer? How would your teaching practices change?
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Editor's Note: This tip comes from our NEW Think Green: Tips and Resources for Earth-Friendly Learning Projects guide.

Shelly Blake-Pollock, a high school teacher from Maryland, reflected on those very questions last year on his Teach Paperless blog. He was motivated to rethink his reliance on paper when his school went to a one-to-one student-to-laptop ratio. One blog post, "I Was a Paper Junkie," quickly went viral. Via Twitter (TeachPaperless) and the blogosphere, he launched the TeachPaperless crusade, challenging fellow educators to give up their attachment to paper for Earth Day 2010. By April, more than a thousand teachers around the world had signed on.

Reducing paper use delivers some obvious environmental benefits. Preventing a ton of paper waste saves from 15 to 17 mature trees, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and recycling a ton of paper saves enough energy to heat an average home for six months. Those facts can be useful discussion starters to raise awareness among students or fellow teachers. (Check out the Environmental Protection Agency's Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools page.)

But giving up paper also offers a golden opportunity to rethink and remodel some old-school teaching habits. Shifting to online workspaces such as Google Docs not only saves paper but also opens new opportunities for collaboration and just-in-time feedback. Having students post on blogs instead of in spiral-bound journals turns the reflection process into a conversation. (Read about how schools are using Google Apps Education Edition in this Edutopia article, "Improving School Communication with Google.") Recording student brainstorming with a Web 2.0 tool like Wallwisher creates a more enduring -- and shareable -- artifact of student thinking than old-fashioned sticky notes. Educator Steve Katz has started a collection of paper alternatives to capture more ideas. Naturally, it's a collaborative online document. Check out his nifty table of substitutions, and then add your own!

If you want more tips and lesson plan ideas, download our Think Green: Tips and Resources for Earth-Friendly Learning Projects guide right now. It's Free!

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