With the heightened focus on global environmental issues and the increasing pressure on the worldwide community to conserve our natural resources, there has been a growing push and focus for schools and businesses to “go green”.
This has led districts to encourage schools to reduce the amount of paper they use as much as possible, a philosophy that ecologists call “reducing your carbon footprint.”
This emphasis on ecological responsibility has stymied school districts around the country, as schools have always traditionally relied a lot upon paper. Between textbooks, note taking, quizzes, tests and the memos, curricula, and professional development, it is challenging to imagine how a school could function and still reduce their carbon footprint. According to the website Recycle Now Schools, paper waste for primary school is about 99 lbs per student, per academic year. This amounts to an average of 300 tons of paper that gets wasted every year per school. That number refers to schools just in the United States, and just the Primary school level. This is an egregious misuse of natural resources.
This issue is of real and global concern. How are we to encourage recycling and instill in our students the responsibility to the earth, while we are blatantly wasteful of its resources? We must model best practices for them, by instituting policies of “going green” within our own buildings first. Fortunately, advancements in educational technology have made a reduction in paper use possible.
One major consumption point of paper is in traditional textbooks – an issue that is easily resolved. I was part of a pilot program in our middle school where myself and a social studies teacher wrote our own virtual, interactive textbooks. It was structured so each chapter was compiled separately, with built in summaries, homework assignments, concept reviews and assessments. The social studies interactive textbook contained pictures that the teacher had taken herself on vacation at some of the locations being covered, such as the Acropolis in Greece and the Colosseum in Rome. As the class progressed through the units of study, each new chapter was pushed out to their tablets, which made the transfer easier to manage and did not take up too much memory. The ELA textbook had writing prompts, essays and quizzes built in, which could be written and submitted right from the tablet computers.
The results of this year-long program were astounding. Not only did we save the school money on textbooks; not only did we reduce our carbon footprint by approximately 39,600 lbs. of paper for that year; but the hallways were cleaner and the lockers were less cluttered! An unanticipated side effect of this program was an 100% improvement in the executive functioning skills of the entire grade in terms of bringing their materials needed to class.
Another benefit of the program was the enthusiasm with which the students approached their work – they were constantly anticipating their next class and assignment. Parents appreciated that there was one less heavy textbook for students to drag back and forth, and possibly lose. Since the students loved using their tablets, there were no “I lost my homework” excuses offered, as the tablets were always at hand. In fact, the only challenge we faced was how to facilitate the students charging up their tablets so they kept a charge until the end of the school day! In keeping with the philosophy of our new environmentally friendly mandate, we even designed solar powered charging stations to help the students’ power up.
Converting paper textbooks to online versions is just one example of how schools can make the switch to sustainability without sacrificing quality. Many school districts have embraced the 21st century/blended learning model of integrating technology into the classroom. Administrators should prioritize and encourage efforts that support waste reduction through educational technology. It is time to shift the paradigm towards more “green” ecologically friendly environments. The future of our students depends on it.