Reflections from a Paperless Classroom

Example student lab page

Like many schools, this year my school went 1:1. Each of our students was issued an 11 inch Chromebook with a webcam. Our upperclassmen have the the older Samsung models with a front-facing webcam and our underclassmen have the new Lenovo N22/23 models with a flippable webcam. I am a “jump in head first” type of person so I decided to go completely paperless this year. I figured the worst thing that could happen is I would go back to paper. Now that I am halfway through the year (and still paperless!), I wanted to share what has been working well for me and where the snags have been.

Technical Details 

Last year I compiled packets for all of my units to replace composition books and single worksheets. This allowed me to scaffold good lab note organization and helped students organize their thoughts and papers. That made it easy to transition to paperless because I already had all of my resources compiled together. 
I played around with a few different methods for creating editable materials for students and finally settled on Google Slides distributed through Google Classroom. It is a little time consuming to make the digital packets but it is worth it to help my students stayed organized. It is especially helpful for my ninth grade students to have all of their worksheets and notes for a unit in one document. To create a digital packet, I convert all of my note pages and worksheets to image files, insert the image into Google Slides as a slide background and then add text boxes where my students need to type. The most time consuming part is adding the text boxes but it really speeds things up for your students if they do not have to do that part. Students add things that are hard to type (like drawings) to their digital packets by drawing them on a small dry erase board (a piece of graph paper in a page protector) and inserting a picture from their webcam. My students still take assessments on paper. 
Here is what one of my lab pages might look like:


Figure 1- Example Lab Page

I color code sections for my 9th grade students so they know which part is for their own ideas and observations (white), which part is practice (green) and which part is the take away point we come up with as a class (blue). My 9th grade classes are co-taught so my co-teacher will type notes on the SMARTboard during the class discussion as a visual cue for students.

What works well

There have been far more positives than negatives in this endeavor. The transition to paperless has been most beneficial for my 9th grade students for a few reasons:

  1. Students stay organized and it is impossible for them to lose or forget worksheets and notes.
  2. The ability to color code helps students take organized notes that are easy to study from later.
  3. It is easy to hold a discussion and simultaneously give students visual cues for notes from anywhere in the classroom with a wireless keyboard and mouse.

Where the snags are

The biggest struggles in the transition to a paperless classroom have resulted from students needing to document their work on whiteboards and then take a picture of it. I have had three main issues:

  1. My upperclassmen students in chemistry and honors chemistry do not enjoy the paperless experience as much because they have older Chromebooks that do not have the rotating webcam so it is harder to take pictures of big whiteboards.
  2. Recently Google removed the “add photo from camera” option from the whole Google Suite which has made it much more cumbersome to add pictures directly to the packets. This hasn’t affected my upperclassmen as much since they are a little more tech savvy and prefer to add pictures from their phones. My 9th graders have been struggling with this setback. Hopefully Google returns this helpful feature.
  3. I never have enough whiteboard markers. If you are a Modeler (or at least use whiteboards), you know how many whiteboard markers you go through. I go through at least twice as many now. I have students bring in their own but they lose them, forget them, or sometimes throw them at each other. Sometimes it feels like students spend more time begging their friends to let them borrow a marker than actually doing the work.

Final Reflections

I honestly did not know how going paperless would work out when I started this and I was fully prepared to fall back on my traditional paper packets. Overall, I think there are more pros than cons. I have certainly loved not spending time at the copy machine!

Is your school 1:1? How have you leveraged the technology in your chemistry classroom?

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Comments 2

Sharla Blakely | Mon, 07/30/2018 - 11:18

Do your students always write down and take pics to insert when they do problems, as well, such as stoichiometric calculations or balancing equations? Or if not, is there an add-on that you use for this to be paperless? This has been my struggle with trying to go paperless. 

Lauren Stewart's picture
Lauren Stewart | Tue, 07/31/2018 - 12:51

Hi Sharla,

My students would either write it down and snap a picture or type out their work (I preferred they did the former but didn't force it). It is definitely the most frustrating part of going paperless. This coming year I am going to switch to a hybrid model; notes will be digital, practice will be on paper. I think it is totally possible to have a paperless chemistry classroom (I did it!) but I'm not convinced that it is worth it to go 100% paperless. I will definitely be keeping all of my lab activities digital though! 

Good luck! Let me know if you come up with a good solution!