Saturday, April 19, 2014

Students Teach Teachers the Power of Paperless

If you read my blog with any regularity or follow me on Twitter you know I've transitioned to a paperless classroom this year. I've been lucky enough to have students who are willing to be on this new adventure with me. My well-intentioned plans don't always work perfectly when deployed in a BYOD classroom of 25 students. We've decided that there are too many benefits to the paperless model to let a few technical difficulties get in our way. Teacher and students have worked hard, together, so that we can benefit from the opportunities that mobile technology provides in a paperless classroom environment.  If it weren't for my students and their enthusiasm I never could have come so far... and I truly believe there is much much more my students and I will get to learn as we continue on our adventure together.

It only seemed right that when I had to opportunity to share my paperless successes at a professional conference, students should lead the way.  At the Blueprint Institute for Educational Excellence my students were excited to have their chance to show teachers how they prefer to learn.  They even gave up their afternoon on a sunny early release day to do it.

I wanted to be involved in this conference because I felt like my voice could really be heard and people would listen to what we had to say.

It was interesting being on the flip side of the card, and teaching teachers things they didn't know.

I liked in more than presenting to a room full of peers! The teachers really were there to hear what we were saying, not because they had to be (like most students during peer presentations) so I really felt like what I was presenting mattered.

First, I met with the student volunteers individually or in pairs and asked what they wanted to share with teachers about the paperless classroom. Not surprisingly, each student had a different reason for liking it.  We put it together into a presentation. Students were excited to share their ideas.
Our plan was for the students to show examples of their own notes and work to help explain why paperless was a better way for them to learn. To the students' delight, 25+ teachers and education leaders attended.
 I snapped this picture while the kids were presenting.  Notice how they used their nervous energy to decorate the whiteboard in the background for the occasion.

They listened as 10th graders explained how paperless access to resources is more efficient than receiving handouts in class. They showed how much easier it is to maintain a digital notebook than a spiral or 3-ring binder.  They discussed how completing work in the cloud was better because there are no papers to lose and teachers and students can see and edit same document in real time, even when neither is in school. Finally, they shared their enthusiasm for the way a paperless classroom allows them an easier way to learn about the ideas of their classmates through collaborative apps. Here's the ebook version of what we put together for the workshop:
After the formal presentation phase, the workshop broke out into four groups that tried out four different examples of paperless class activities we have done this year.  The students tried to choose activities that were simple enough to teach beginner techies but powerful enough that they felt there was a significant impact on learning when they experienced it firsthand in history class. The breakout groups generated fantastic discussions between teachers and students about teaching and learning.

After about 35 minutes of experimenting and discussing, the groups shared out their results.  There was a talking Franklin Pierce thanks to Chatterpix, a short answer quiz where the best answer got the most votes with Socrative, some Educreations explorations, and (my favorite) an eQuilt made with Paper and Padlet.


After the workshop I asked the students whether they thought the teachers in their breakout groups learned something new to bring back to their classes.

I think they were really impressed that we knew how to use the apps, which was actually new for them. In my group, the teachers saw simple tasks, such as drawing and posting something in a new way.


The teachers in my breakout group seemed to learn a lot more about technology that they were already familiar with. We also gave them feedback on what we thought could work well in their classroom.


This student voice in teaching and learning has played an important role in the way I operate my classroom day-to-day. Bringing student ideas to professional conferences like this can really expand educators' understandings of how to best reach their students.  Administrators and educators should strive to include student voice in policy change, curriculum design, and lesson and project planning.  And kids are grateful for their teachers!

We, as students, really do appreciate everything they do to make our lessons more interesting and different, whether it be through the use of new technology or not. It definitely helps us when they attend meetings like these, so thank you to teachers!