Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Day: December 23, 2009 (page 1 of 1)

Paper use in schools

So a while back I posted a link to an survey I conducted.  I didn’t have an enormous amount of respondents, but I’ll share the results with you.

First it should be noted that there is some selection bias.  Actually probably LOTS of selection bias, given that this survey was conducted entirely online and that people who read this blog, or found the link to the survey through Twitter are probably pretty IT savvy.  That being said, you might still end up being surprised with the results.

There were two questions on the survey.  

1.  How many sheets of paper (approximately) do you use in a day?
2.  How many teachers do you have in your school?

The lowest answer to the first question was 1 single sheet of paper a day (good for you!) and the highest was 75.  The lowest answer to question number 2 was 6 teachers and the highest was 170.  The 11 respondents used a total of 326 sheets of paper a day, or just over 26 sheets each.  Probably this is pretty good, I would expect that a typical teacher probably uses more.

According to these results, a typical school in which these respondents work uses about 2000 sheets of paper a day, or about 360,000 sheets in a school year.  Of course there are thousands of schools in Canada and the US (where most of the teachers who responded probably live), 96,000 or so in the US (or 120,000 depending on who you believe) and this means that more than 34 billion sheets of paper are used each year just in the United States.  Assuming that each sheet costs a mere 5 cents (photocopy paper at Office Depot apparently costs 38 cents) a sheet, then to provide paper to every child in the US each year for school costs about 2 billion dollars a year.

For comparison, providing each child in the US with a $100 laptop (recently available on the market) would cost about 8 billion dollars assuming even the little kindergarten children get one.  In other words, we could pay for a laptop per child in the US in 4 years by stopping using paper in schools.  Oh and that laptop can also replace the paper…

Of course if the people surveyed are far from standard, then maybe schools actually use twice as much (or even four times as much) paper, in which case the amount of time it would take for the savings from not using paper to turn into laptops would be reduced to half (or even a quarter) of the time estimated.  In other words, we could potentially turn billions of pieces of paper into every child in the US having a laptop.

Now I’m using US numbers here for this calculation (because the supporting figures are easier to find) but it shouldn’t take you long to realize that this is probably true of any industrialized nation with similar expenditures on paper.  Perhaps we can use some financial arguments to persuade our legislators to put some good tools into the hands of our students?

Personal Learning theory revisited

I personally think people learn through an unconscious process called experiential learning.  They hypothesize about how the world should work, collect data, compare the data they have collected to see if it fits in their theory, and then revise their theory if they feel enough evidence has been found.  In this theory, as described by Kolb (1984), people construct an understanding of the world around them using what they know as a basis.

Each piece of knowledge people gain has to be fit into their personal hypothesis.  At first, people will "bend" their hypothesis to make facts fit which seem inconsistent, but eventually if enough contradictory data is collected, people are forced to revise their ideas.  This is part of the reason why students have so much difficulty learning topics for which they do not have any background; they are constantly required to create and revisit their hypothesis, and to build theories about the information they are receiving "from scratch".  "Ideas are not fixed and immutable elements of thought but are formed and re-formed through experience." (Kolb, 1984)

It is crucial during this process that the learner feels comfortable to make mistakes.  Although it is possible that an individual learner will have a theory which fits all the facts as they are collected, it is much more likely that conflicts exist between their theory and the data.  As the Lewinian experiential model suggests, observations of what one has learned or not learned are a critical aspect of the learning process (Smith 2001).

As drawn from the work of Vygotsky, situated learning suggests that "experience in the activities of the practice" (Kolb, 2005) are integral to the learning process.  Without learners being embedded within a community of practice, their ability to make connections, draw conclusions, and verify hypothesis will be greatly hampered.


Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as The Source of Learning and Development, Case Western Reserve University, retrieved from on December 2nd, 2009

Kolb, D.A., Boyatzis, K.E., Mainemelis, C. (2000). Experiential Learning Theory: Previous Research and New Directions, Case Western Reserve University, retrieved from on December 2nd, 2009

Kolb, A.Y, Kolb, D.A, (2005) Learning Styles and Learning Spaces: Enhancing Experiential Learning in Higher Education, Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2005, Vol. 4, No. 2, 193–212. 

John-Steiner, V., Mahn, H. (1996). Sociocultural Approaches to Learning and Development: A Vygotskian Framework, Educational Psychologist, 31(3/4), 191-206, retrieved on December 2nd, 2009

Smith, M. K. (2001) ‘Kurt Lewin, groups, experiential learning and action research’, the encyclopedia of informal education, retrieved from on December 4th, 2009