The school year has come to a close, and I finally have time to blog again! This year I experimented going paperless in my science classroom by using digital science notebooks- an online version of the classic science notebook that I set up using GoogleSites. I’ve already blogged about setting that up, so I won’t go into the details here, but I’ve received so much interest from teachers about digital notebooks that I plan on making some how-to videos this summer, so stay tuned! What I’d like to do in this post is start sharing my thoughts on how the digital science notebooks worked (especially in light of my goals from the beginning of the year), and how I’m planning on improving them for next year. There’s a lot to reflect on, so I think I’ll post it one nugget at a time.
#1: Digital organization is much easier (most of the time)
My first reason for going paperless was to help students stay more organized, without consuming class time with menial tasks like sorting papers into binders or gluing sheets into notebooks. To accomplish this, all of my “handouts” were Google Docs, which are easily shared with students using Hapara. My students had three folders on Google Drive which contained all of their documents: Science Class, Science Lab, and Science Homework, and could access these documents either directly through Google Drive or through their digital science notebook on GoogleSites. So opening up a document wouldn’t take longer for students than passing out a stack of papers. Each time we completed a unit of study we did a little clean up with their folders to put all their documents in a sub-folder, which would take about 5 minutes in GoogleDrive. The biggest digital advantage over paper is that students never lose documents- so that excuse becomes totally obsolete. Another handy benefit is that students who are absent in class get the documents digitally anyway, so they can get caught up even before the next class.
On the teacher side there is a nice organizational advantage as well: no more time wasted at the beginning of class collecting assignments. Since GoogleDrive tells you when the document was last edited, and Hapara shows you this data for your whole class at a glance, it’s super easy to “collect” docs and see which students have missing assignments. For projects and assignments that students might edit and improve, you can also tell right away when they’ve made new changes to the document:
One simple improvement for next year is the way I named student’s documents. I used the Hapara feature of including the student’s name automatically in the document title, which makes searching up a specific student’s document a cinch, but I should have also included a number at the beginning of each document title (01, 02, 03, etc). This would make documents appear chronologically in on students’ digital science notebooks, which unfortunately only lists documents in alphabetical order. Numbering the docs would not only make new documents easier to find, it would maintain a clear chronology of learning for students to see, much like a paper science notebook would.
The main drawback is when computer issues get in the way. Occasionally a student would have trouble connecting to the Wifi network, or their laptop would need to be charged, or their computer would take a long time to log in. Little snags like this can be annoying- do you pause the lesson to help solve the student’s technical problem, or continue on without them? Since this is my 6th grade students first time in the 1 to 1 program, they aren’t extremely tech savvy yet, so often I would choose to wait and help them out. But next year I think I need to spend more time developing students responsibility and critical thinking around technology. For example, bringing your laptop charger to my class is just as important as bringing a pencil used to be, so I need to make that expectation clearer from the get-go with a technology agreement and prepare for the inevitable day when a student still forgets, which will bring me to my next reflection about technology rules…