The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: January 25, 2010

My first semester as a teacher – part 7

…continued from here

There were some really bright moments during my first semester too.  I remember the first time my grade 10 class was completely silent.  They actually quieted down and we working away diligently on one of my many worksheets that year, and then one student blurted out, "Oh my god we are quiet! I can’t believe it!" and broke the spell.  It was really nice while it lasted though because I felt like it was possible to feel successful.  I don’t know, but for some reason in my first few years as a teacher, I felt that silence in a classroom was critical to being successful, I’m less convinced now.

I also remember when one of my students who was extremely challenged learned something new in my class.  He was actually a nice kid but very disobedient because he was always bored.  He towered over me at 6 foot 4 inches and was in the 300 pound range, so he was physically intimidating.  He struggled a lot in school, and by the age of 21 had amassed 0 credits in high school.  His big accomplishment in math in my year?  Realizing that the symbols shown to him in a math question were instructions to do something.  I was so proud of him when he told me in class his discovery and the pride in his voice was evident.  Sometimes the small things stick with you.

There was also the time we played Math Jeopardy in class with my really low achievers and at the end of the class one of the students said, "I really learned stuff today!  Let’s do this again tomorrow!"  and two of the other students agreed with her.  Almost all of the students participated nicely and I really felt like I had engaged the class.

When my 10th grade students asked where I was going to be going for the Christmas holidays, I felt pretty good about that too, because it meant that despite their misbehaviour, they were curious about me.  Curiousity about a teacher in NYC is pretty close to respect in my books.

I also had a couple of laughs although not in front of the students when I could help it.  As part of a game, I asked the students to guess which city in Canada I was going to be visiting during the holidays (the correct answer was Vancouver).  One of them said, "Winnipeg?" then "Toronto?" and I was pretty excited, these kids knew their geography!  Unfortunately another student said, "Connecticut?" and it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud.

more

Using less paper in class

One of my students today pointed out that we have used hardly any paper all year.  In fact, the only paper I have handed in their class was the required course outline and two tests for a total of 10 sheets of double-sided paper.  I just mentioned to someone that I could be completely paperless in my teaching if I could find a way for the students to securely do tests online and include essay style responses.  Maybe a classroom set of tablets would be the answer to that but they are pretty expensive.

So what do I do differently than when I first started teaching?  Why do I use so much less paper now?

Well when I first started as a teacher, everything was either an exercise from the textbook, or a worksheet of some sort.  I have 4 binders full of worksheets I used a lot during my first 3 years as a teacher.  I even had an administrative assistant help me organize my resources.  I’m considering digitizing my resources so I don’t lose them, but I’m less sure that this is necessary.  Handing out a worksheet to every one of your classes almost every day uses a lot of paper.  I had 35 kids for each class, 1 sheet per student, 5 classes a day, so 105 sheets a day, or about 19,000 sheets per year.

Now I don’t use worksheets at all.  We do mostly project work, students working in groups to complete the projects, and I use a standard project format and assessment criteria which the students access online.  If students ask me for the "requirements" for the project, I’ll either write up some specific criteria and share it via our class website, or I’ll refer them to the more general list of "requirements" for projects.

I also give a lot less tests than during my first years as a teacher.  I find this accomplishes a few things.  First, I have to create a lot fewer exams, so I have more free time.  I still assess the students on every unit, just not always using a test.  I also get a bit more instructional time with my students.  If a unit takes 3 weeks, that means 9 classes, I get an extra class per unit, or about 8 or so lessons back during the course of a year.  That’s not insignificant! I have more quizzes for the students, but these are self-grading and online.  Obviously, not giving as many tests and having quizzes be entirely online uses a lot less paper.

I also realized that because I rely on my laptop so much, for lesson plans, resources, etc… that I no longer carry around a pencil or a pen to class.  In fact, all year I’ve had to borrow pencils and pens to do attendance from the students.  So another way I’ve saved paper over the years is by moving away from paper lesson plans and moving toward electronic lesson plans.

What can you do to reduce the amount of paper you use?