Paper and the 21st century classroom

Do you have any idea how much paper you use in a school year? I found out this week. Our principal circulated a memo kindly reminding us to be mindful about printing and copying too many sheets. He invited those who wanted to know what their personal consumption was to get their stats from him privately. I mean, those of us who are active in education know the realities of teaching. There are worksheets, test sheets and forms, just to name a few instances of paper use. Exam papers have several pages, and get longer in the upper levels. And if you have several classes (each with 25 students) that means a lot of printing and copying, right? Unavoidable but necessary? How much paper should an 21st century educator use for the classroom?

In my school we now know how many sheets we consume because our school got a smart printing system last year. Previously we had one or two standalone printer-copiers but we had a system where most teachers asked our school helper to make copies while they waited or taught. He had a heavy-duty machine that was fast and could handle large volumes. Then we picked up our copies when he was finished. Now we have “only” 5 printer-copiers and we have to make copies ourselves. We use our key ID sign-on any time we want to print or copy, meaning our consumption is recorded.

Now I know that I have printed/copied approx. 3200 sheets since September 2015 which is lower than the school average but still sounds quite high to my ears when I think about it. Especially since I have been using tablets and implementing mobile learning this year, I had thought my consumption would not be so high. I only have 3 learning groups, meaning I needed 1000 pages per class since September. Wow.

This just goes against all cells in my digital educator body. I feel I need to reduce this number next year while trying to find a balance between print and digital. There is still a lot of pull in the direction of print, away from digital. In my experience in the past few months, middle school students are still firmly in the paper-and-print world. The concept of the cloud was completely new to them and had to be taught. Most were not used to using email. Surprisingly many students prefer printed to digital worksheets. We also print reports of students’ work and test sheets are official documents that must be printed/copied and archived.  At middle school level, students are used to copying things from the chalk board. They are not used to archiving their digital material, or organizing their learning. They are, however, used to getting masses of sheets of paper, into which they dutifully punch holes and put into folders, never to be seen again. Sigh!

Of course, many teachers say it is better for students to fill out worksheets so that they won’t „unlearn“ proper handwriting. I agree that it’s important to write things by hand, but I just can’t justify printing 500 worksheets for a class of 25 when they are doing a lesson plan (where students get 10 pages each).

So where does that leave us? At the very least, we owe it to our planet and to our 21st century learners to aim for as few printouts and worksheets as possible. Butt seems that we will not be seeing a paperless digital classroom anytime soon.

What is it like at your school?