How a Math Teacher Created a Paperless Classroom






Publication: Teach
Author: Kumka, Antonina
Date published: March 1, 2013

The question of technology in the classroom has been looked at for many years from various perspectives. It seems that everyone agrees that the use of technology becomes inevitable. In fact, the use of technology is becoming more and more necessary.

I have always embraced technology using digital projectors, interactive white boards, and course websites as part of my instructional tools. And like many of my students, I use digital devices in my daily personal life, but the enormous piles of notes and paper combined with the constant fighting with students to put their gadgets away, drove me to reevaluate how I could use those gadgets to my advantage. How could I reduce the notes I print on a day-to-day basis? How could I encourage my students to be more interested, independent, and responsible?

Currently, I teach a large Grade 12 Advanced Functions class-33 students, a full house. Every student has some type of electronic device that connects to the Internet.

On the first day of classes, I informed my students that we were going to work towards a "Paperless Classroom" and they were encouraged to use their own technology. The students were excited, but very apprehensive at first. They had never been told, "Use your smartphone to take a picture of the solution you wrote on the whiteboard and then save it in your files."They looked at me like I was an alien from another planet. Until then they'd been told to put their phones away in class.

We do not use any paper in my class. Students complete equations, homework, or tests on their individual whiteboards with erasable markers. They also love solving TIPS questions on whiteboards because they can think, write, erase, and write again. If they want to save their solutions, they simply take a picture with their devices. Similarly, lessons, questions, and solutions are written on the interactive whiteboard and later posted on the course website for students to download and study. To improve communication skills, I often provide students with some terminology and instruct them to explain the terms in a text message so concisely that the recipient-another student in the class-is able to identify the term.

For me, the challenge was to make Grade 12 Math more student-oriented, more fun, not so traditional, and to involve students in independent learning. Technology has certainly helped me achieve that. The students do not rely on my explanations as much because they are given a handout to read. They can also work in groups (not having to stare at the teacher the whole time). My students can work independently and I am there to meet their individual needs, observing, communicating, and being part of the class, not just someone with an ultimate knowledge of everything. Our class also has a Facebook group that students use regularly for discussions and questions, as well as a D2L (Desire2Learn) page for online practice questions. Technology, Internet, and social media have become a greater part of education, not just entertainment. The process of assessment and evaluation has changed too. The students write on their individual whiteboards to complete quizzes, snap pictures of their responses, and e-mail them to me. Again, no paper is handed out and I can enter any feedback on my computer and e-mail them back to students, which also minimizes the chances of students loosing their marked work.

Working with students who are university bound, I didn't face issues with implementation nor abuse of the technology. I wouldn't however, be as bold and introduce technology-based learning so widely for other subjects, unless there was abundant teacher supervision. On the other hand, this would also be a great opportunity to teach students how to use technology, positively to improve their learning skills.

"What if some students do not have Internet access at home?" I am often asked. In that case, I would speak to the students privately, not single them out and print out handouts for those students who may pick them up outside of class. During class time, however, all of the notes were still posted on the interactive whiteboard.

There are many ways to use technology in the classroom, and there are also inevitable challenges that come with it. Students today cannot imagine their lives without technology and will be looking for ways to use it, so why not guide them in the direction, where technology can be used pragmatically, in ways that will help them succeed now and in the future.

Author affiliation:

Antonina Kumka teaches Grade 9-12 Math at White Oaks High School in Oakville, Ontario. She regularly and eagerly attends PD activities and conferences, and works collaboratively with colleagues towards teaching innovations.

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