Going Paperless With Google Apps and Docs Teach

When you're new to a school, you tend to hear a variety of stories as students and teachers want to fill you in on what happened in recent years. The story that most frequently recurs is the one about the paper shortage. 

paperless classroom
See video below.

As most people tell it, last April or May found teachers and students without paper. (Administrators have told this story differently.) To me, it's a bit silly, sorry, and opportunistic. I'm focusing on the latter because I can see the value of going through fewer reams having worked with 1:1 devices at my previous school. 

Reducing Paper

I've already started preparing for the day when paper is deliberately reduced and the technology transition is in full swing – it's coming. The transition to a paperless classroom, for me, has been a long one. This is partly because of the inconsistency among student devices and my knowledge, however lacking sometimes, of different ways to make it happen.

I recently found interactive exercises on DocsTeach, which is provided by the National Archive. I vaguely remember finding these activities about a year ago, but this time I actually played with them a bit. 

As it turned out, there are activities with sets of documents questions and text boxes where students can respond to questions. These responses are emailed to wherever the student chooses (more about how I manage this below).

The paperless potential and the interaction with documents got me thinking about what it would look like from assigning the work to receiving and providing feedback in a paperless setting.  

Here's what we did.

Share to Classroom With the Extension

1. Go to the activity.

Once the Google Classroom extension is installed in Chrome, you are ready to share resources to classroom.

2. Select the class.

The nice thing about the extension is it allows you to assign resources to a particular class.

3. Choose the type of post.

Like posting to Classroom from within, the extension allows you to choose from different types of posts, like announcement or assignment, to name a couple.

Completing the DocsTeach Activity

1. Go to docsteach.org

Be sure to share the Web page of the activity. This keeps the activity reset and fresh. In other words, don't click to begin the activity and share the resulting link.

2. Choose an activity.

This activity is a simple flow map style analysis with stops along the way and opportunities to answer questions. 

3. Click on the prompt(s).

When students click on the prompts, they expand and shade the rest of the activity. With so much information at our fingertips, little touches like this help keep  our students focused. It's likened to using a piece of paper or ruler to guide your reading when eyes may wander.

4. Open the documents needed to answer the question(s).

Each document can be clicked and enlarged for analysis. This is an image of the Zimmerman Telegram. It is still in code, so further details are available when clicked or touched. 

5. Type a response to the document-based prompt(s).

For the prompts among the documents, this activity saves responses and includes them with the final submission. The New Deal map activity, for example, makes note of map decisions and includes an attachment of the map results for each submission. 

6. Write a final response for submission.

The final response is often a summary of the analysis guided by a common historical question. 

Keep It Neat With a Gmail Filter

Receiving so many responses can get messy. I like to keep my inbox neat by employing filters that bypass the inbox and collect messages under a label (folder).

1. Go to settings to make a filter.

2. Make a filter with a customized address.

As long as the username of your email address is somewhere to the left of the @ symbol, most emails will still work. What's nice about filters in Gmail is the ability to add a custom piece to your address that will be acknowledged by the filter.

3. Send all emails to a specified label.

Now that your custom email is decided, set messages to the custom address to skip the inbox and go directly to a label. I labeled this one DocsTeach.

4. Responses will organize by common subject lines.

When the DocsTeach assignment is sent, it automatically completes the subject line. This is an added bonus because the submissions will be grouped by subject line under the label.