The Paperless Classroom: Websites that Help You Go Digital

From kindergarten through high school, these tools will help reduce the paper trail.

By Nicole Schon

Posted

iCloud button on a keyboard

Let's face it—for most of us teachers, using paper is simply a fact of everyday life. From worksheets to journals, math problems to science reports, paper is a vehicle that helps document and facilitate student learning. Whether your classroom has a tablet for every learner, or a few desktop monitors, the sites below can assist in reducing paper clutter, making information more accessible, and improving communication. And for teachers in a 1:1 environment, these tools just may make paper a thing of the past.

Evernote

What if students could take notes that never went away? Enter Evernote—a highly effective and versatile system for capturing thoughts, pictures, videos, web clippings, and virtually any other idea you ever had. Whether you’re on a tablet, a mobile phone, or a desktop, Evernote allows you to capture your thoughts. It automatically organizes by date (and if synced to your calendar, by event). You can also self-organize each new page of notes into folders. Prefer to write notes as opposed to typing? Just snap a picture of your notes and upload the shot you took. What makes the design even more brilliant is the ability to search your notes for specific words or phrases—even those that are handwritten.  

Just imagine if the notes your young mathematicians took on converting fractions to decimals while they were in 5th grade were available to them instantly in 6th grade via a quick search. How many hours of review could be saved? And talk about a powerful digital portfolio. With Evernote’s ability to store large amounts of files, students portfolios could grow from year to year, and follow them throughout their school career—even if they changed schools, states, or even countries!

One tech-savvy teacher, Nicholas Provenzano, has even created an Evernote classroom. His website details the whys and hows of the tools he’s used with pupils, including successes and a few pitfalls.

Dropbox

For anyone who has to complete work on multiple devices (think a computer at home and one at school), Dropbox is a slick way to move work seamlessly between different machines. Basically a cloud storage solution, Dropbox allows you to save any file type into the cloud, so when you open the file again on a different machine, it's ready for you to pick up working from the same place you left off. This makes having multiple versions of a document a thing of the past.

What's more, Dropbox allows you to share individual files or entire folders with others, making it a great tool for sharing work between teachers and students. As a teacher, you can set up folders that class members can save work in–presto, a virtual turn inbox! And this brings an end to the need for flash drives. Because Dropbox is cloud-based, a student can go to the Dropbox website from any location, be it a library computer or a cell phone, and access their work.

What about organizing all those files, you ask? Be at peace. You can create folders to organize all the items you upload. What’s more, anything you upload gets a unique URL that can be shared with others. So, for example, if you wanted to post a link on your class website to a PDF of informational text for a research report, you could do that without having to upload the PDF to the website. Likewise, if you wanted to share a video with a colleague (which are often too big of a file to send via e-mail), simply upload to Dropbox, get the URL, and paste the URL into the e-mail. Et voila! The problem of too-large files goes away.

Once again, frontrunners in the classroom have documented their ideas and advice on applying these tools in the classroom. Visit School iPads to take a look at using Dropbox at school, including how to use it with a tablet.

Google Drive

While the original versions of this tool initially functioned (for most intents and purposes) as a cloud-based, simplified alternative to the suite of tools from Microsoft Office, Google Drive has blossomed into a full-fledged powerhouse for both creating and storing. In addition to allowing the creation of word processing docs, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms, the website interface of this tool allows virtually any file type to be uploaded, organized into a folder, and shared out with others via e-mail. Whether it’s a PDF, a movie, or a Word document, you can upload and store it in Google Drive.

Like Dropbox, each upload becomes it’s own website, with a unique URL. The capabilities of Google Drive go far beyond simple organization, and much has been written by educators about how it’s being used to digitize the classroom. Check out TeachThought for a glimpse into live classrooms getting the most out of Google Drive. As part of our educational technology PD video series, Lesson Planet has created a course that can help you learn how to use Google Drive in your teaching.

Use one or a combination of all three of these websites to make student work more accessible, easy to share, and virtually impossible to lose. Have some clever ideas yourself? Add a comment to this article to share your discoveries with others.