Thursday, July 19, 2018

I'm NOT going paperless. Here's Why...



I should start by saying that I consider myself a somewhat tech-savvy teacher.  I embrace new technology and I am often the first in my building to experiment with the latest digital learning tool.  However, last school year I noticed that digital technology seemed to be taking over my classroom.  I started to reflect on my digital teaching practices more closely and I’ve decided that I will not be going completely paperless in my classroom.  Here’s why…

Information Processing

The pencil to paper connection is vital in the note-taking process.  When note-taking in my classroom, I want to encourage students to be processing information not just receiving information. Swiping an iPad or pecking away on Chrome book just isn’t the same as processing and organizing information on paper. Take this study where participants took notes using laptops and others used pen and paper.   Students who used digital notes did not perform as well on conceptual questions compared to those using pen and paper.


Meet in the Middle Tip… Structure lessons so that students can take notes on paper- including doodle notes and other visual note-taking techniques.  Allow students some class time to take photos of the key ideas in their notes using their phones at the end of the lesson to share on a digital classroom platform (such as Schoology). 

Screen Time

Kids (and adults) are glued to screens more than ever before.  Pediatricians have recommendations for limiting screen time for young children, but there aren’t any hard and fast rules for teens and young adults.  Ask any parent if they think their child needs more screen time and you can guess what they will say!  This article points out the health consequences of looking at screens for hours each day.

I recently offered my classes a choice between a digital project and a paper poster-style project.  I was shocked when nearly all of my students chose the later.  What was their reason? “We use computers in every class almost every day.   It’s more fun to work on paper since we don’t get to do that in other classes.”  This led me to my plan book where I started calculating how much time kids were plugged in during my class.  Let’s just say it was eye opening!  Now, I shoot for around 30% or less of screen time during class each week.

Meet in the Middle Tips… Swap screens for sketches.  Try incorporating more opportunities for students to create their own visuals to support their understanding.  Try having kids find images online that support their own notes and pictures.  For example, have students search for a 3 x 5 diagram that shows the topic being learning such as layers of the atmosphere or the process of photosynthesis.  Set criteria and a time limit for searching. Then have students use the images to improve their paper notes.  
-       Trace or copy the diagram to improve memory.
-       Print the image and then annotate around the diagram with labels and connections to the lesson.

Effective vs. Easy

Not all use of classroom technology is effective; some of it is just easier.  In our everyday lives we often use tech to streamline our work and improve productivity, but if you look closely at how devices are used in the classroom- you might be surprised to find out that often times more technology does not equate to more learning.  An friend of mine once said, “Just because kids are quiet and behaving, doesn’t mean they are learning.”  This is solid advice for new teachers who might see digital learning as an easy way to manage behavior.

Meet in the Middle Tip… Try being more critical of your tech use and willing to unplug or revise when a digital approach doesn’t significantly improve instruction.  Refining your use of devices in planning will allow you to best balance student exposure to both tactile and digital versions of your subject content.  The SAMR model created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura is a helpful tool for evaluating your digital teaching resources.   Great teachers are self-critical, always looking to refine and improve their practice.  This article gives 8 examples of transforming lessons through the SAMR model.

    Digital Disconnect

A vast majority of secondary students communicate digitally with their peers.  This article gives some shocking stats about social media use and makes some interesting points about the impact of social media on social skills. Students need time to develop appropriate face-to-face social skills. The classroom is an ideal place to model respectful interpersonal skills and if we fill our periods with digital learning, we are taking away from valuable time needed for face-to-face discourse practice.


Meet in the Middle Tip… Collaborative use of technology allows students to work in teams for digital learning activities.   We need to be careful not to isolate students with devices, but instead use instructional technology to bring students together.  Sharing devices and having students collaborate in person during a digital project can provide the best of both worlds.  Consider the importance of verbal communication skills during a job interview or while problem solving on the job.  Teaching our students how to articulate their ideas clearly (in person) will certainly serve them well in the real world! 

Looking Forward...


As I approach a new school year I plan to continue being the same tech-savvy teacher I’ve always been, but to also approach digital learning with a more critical eye.  It is vital that the instructional tasks I use to teach students about science are not only engaging, but also effective in developing both digital and tactile problem solving skills.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

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