This blog post isn’t about how to use a new edtech platform, nor is it about sharing reflections on current tends in education, it’s about reducing paper use, and drilling wells in Africa. Using Google Apps to reduce paper use isn’t a novel concept, in fact, I wrote a blog post about this topic years ago when I was teaching in a portable, the birthplace of my Twitter handle and blog name, but a recently completed literacy unit really struck a chord.
Last year, in partnership with Julie Cassidy (@juliecassidy7), the teacher/librarian in my school, we planned a novel study unit incorporating several web-based platforms such as Evernote, Google Docs, Tik-Toki, and Prezi. By the end of the unit, we were both very pleased with the results, but this year we decided to streamline our use of cloud-based apps during our study of the novel A Long Walk to Water.
Julie and I took turns reading the novel to my Grade 7 students, chunking the reading so that it took about 2-3 weeks to complete the book. Rather than passively listening to the story unfold, each student created a Google Doc, and took notes based on several thematic elements in the story, i.e., survival, family, war, perseverance, and grief. These notes would later be used to create a collage showcasing these elements. This art activity accounts for the only paper used during the unit.
Google Classroom was used for the remaining two activities. Prior to reading the novel, I created five Google Docs, each containing a table with twenty cells, one for each student, and attached it to an assignment in Classroom. It’s important to note that the “Students Can Edit File” option was selected as I wanted all students to contribute to the same Doc. Also of note, is that each cell was numbered from 1-20. If you’ve ever attempted to have more than just a few students collaborating on the same Doc, you know it can get messy rather quickly. I find that numbering each cell, and assigning each student a number, keeps things tidy. At the top of each Doc was a different topic related to the story. We wanted students to conduct research on each topic and present their “fact” on the table. The end result looked like this:
Classroom was also used for the culminating assignment. Students selected from one of three topics to research and write a report. The instructions were added to a Doc along with a rubric and graphic organizer, and Classroom was used to assign the Doc to each student. Students were instructed to write their report on the same Doc that was assigned. This time, I selected the “Make A Copy For Each Student” option as I wanted each student to create their own report. Students also used EasyBib, a Google Doc Add-on, to create a detailed bibliography.
Perhaps we saved the best for last. Water for South Sudan is an organization founded by Salva Dut, the main character in A Long Walk to Water, so I contacted them though email and Twitter requesting a Skype chat to learn more about their organization. My request was granted, and students were gathered to listen to Marie Cinti, a representative from the organization. Students asked some challenging questions and we learned a lot about well drilling and current issues facing South Sudanese people.
Now, back to that thing about paper reduction. After about one month of rich literacy activities and authentic discussions providing greater global perspectives for my students, we only used about 30 sheets of paper, total.