A willingness to embrace uncertainty and figure things out with her students along the way was part of what compelled English teacher Jona Neufeld to jump on the technological bandwagon and engage students by using digital devices and online programs this semester in her classroom at Marion Middle School.
“I have been working toward a paperless classroom for a while,” Neufeld said. “I personally have been using Google Docs for several years and have seen firsthand the excitement that takes place when students have technology to use as a tool to facilitate their learning.”
Neufeld has attended numerous in-services that showed teachers how to integrate technology into their classrooms. She is also part of the district’s technology team.
In January, she attended an iPad camp at Kansas State University with other USD 408 staff and during a session on paperless classrooms, she decided that she already had everything in place to employ it in her own classroom.
There was a mixed reaction when she told students her plans to change class format, she said, but those who were nervous about the change caught on quickly.
“Like with any new endeavor, there has been some real excitement along with some growing pains,” middle school Principal Missy Stubenhofer said.
Initially, some parents also expressed concern about the amount of time students were spending on the Internet at home, Stubenhofer said.
“Students are better at the unknown than adults are,” Neufeld said. “So many times I feel like I am the one holding them back from all they are capable of learning.”
The experiment started with a research paper done with partners. Using Google Docs students could type and compile research on the same page. When their paper was finished, they could share the finished product with Neufeld.
“Not only could the two students work together, they were both able to access the project anytime and with the click of a button it was turned in to me,” she said. “They did not have to waste paper printing it out.”
She said advantages to the paperless approach are that students can access class agendas, assignments, lesson information, and do all their work from home using any computer or smart phone.
Students can ask Neufeld questions and interact with each other on group projects outside of the classroom with greater ease.
Some students have also taken tests from home while they were sick, and if Neufeld has to miss class, students can just log on and work on their lessons.
“The only drawbacks are when the Internet goes down,” she said. “Even when it is only for 10 minutes, it takes up a significant chunk of time of our class period.”
Stubenhofer said a few students have expressed frustration with the exploratory nature of using more technology during class.
Neufeld said another difficulty is figuring in extra time for students who don’t have computers at home to complete course work in class. However, she also noticed students have stopped losing their homework.
“By going paperless I have had 100 percent of the assignments I give on the computer turned in,” she said. “The assignments I give on paper are often left at home.”
Although her classroom is not entirely paperless, she has shifted the majority of her seventh and eighth graders’ assignments to incorporate this approach since she started.
Textbooks and literature are still in book form. However, the school has created an electronic library for students and purchased several electronic reading devices to help facilitate the program.
“We need our students to be successful and literate using both pen and pencil as well as technology,” Neufeld said. “We have had a few projects that I felt would be more successful to use paper for since we started, but I really push to have as much online as possible.”
Students in her class are able to operate word processing, spreadsheet, slideshow, and drawing programs to complete class projects. She said students have stopped asking how to use programs and started inquiring if they get to choose a specific one to complete a project.
“I also love the fact that they are teaching each other when they find out something new,” Neufeld said.
She believes her students have become more focused in the classroom than they were before the change, because they know what they are expected to do and waste less time searching for misplaced assignments.
Other teachers in the district also utilize technology and a paperless approach. Stubenhofer said science teacher Kelsey Metro has her students use technology to check answers on test study guides.
“I have also seen teachers learning from and sharing with each other in regards to using technology in the classroom,” Stubenhofer said.
High school Principal Tod Gordon said teachers like Christopher Rome and Gary Stuchlik also use very little paper for assignment work because of their use of technology in the classroom.