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?