This school year, I made a conscious decision to go paperless. Last year I carried around my computer to every class, a planner and a pen. I constantly lost the pen or the planner. I used a LOT of paper. On top of that, if I wanted to check when I completed a lesson, I’d have to flick through my planner, find the task then find when I started and fished. I dreamed of the time when I could do a search of my planner. If I was sick, I didn’t know what I would have been teaching that day for a sub because all of my plans were at work, inside that folder. I was an ICT teacher that was carrying a paper planner around, not really the best example to my students or the other staff. Surely this could be done digitally?
I knew there had to be a better way. So I stared to work out ways to digitally manage my work. Our school fully implemented Google Apps this school year, so I went full steam ahead with Google Calendar. I inputted every class I teach, every meeting I attend, every assembly I’m at and anytime I have a work related event on. I sync this with my iPhone and with iCal on my personal computer. Hey presto, I’m now super organized, wherever I am, whatever device I’m using. I know what I’m teaching when, I know if I have cancelled classes and I can even set reminders for specific classes with a few quick clicks. For example, a reminder to me that a classes homework was due before the class. Or a reminder to mark homework before a class starts. Or a reminder to a student to complete a task they haven’t finished. I can do all of that while sitting in my office. Or if I get an idea before I go to bed at night on my personal computer. Or even while on a train on my iPhone.
The other way I utilized Google Calendar this year was with my parent teacher conferences (PTC). I created appointment slots on my calendar. Then I posted links at the school office and links in the school newsletter letting parents know they can book a conference with me online, from the comfort of their own home. Previously for middle and high school PTC’s I’ve had to carry a paper schedule around with me and students would have to find me, then ask me if they can book a time on my schedule. In the kindergarten and junior school, the specialists post a schedule on their classroom door and parents come and make a booking. The hard part about this scenario is that I teach in both the kindergarten, junior school, middle school and high school. So I would have to be carrying my schedule in the middle and high school which would not allow parents in the kindergarten and junior school to make bookings. Having it online streamlines the whole process and gives a lot more flexibility to the parents and students. They can see at anytime if I am free or not and how best to schedule their appointments.
I then needed a way to plan my lessons. I teach each students from K4 through to Grade 7 once a week, along with four periods of middle school options classes and two periods of yearbook classes. This is a LOT of classes to get through in one week and quite difficult to work out a way to plan it, that works for me. Coming from a classroom teachers position, it was a totally different way of planning with many short lessons per week needed to be planned rather than longer chunks of time or set reading/math groups.
Last year I did all of my planning in my planner. I made a page (which turned into pages) where I would list all of the lessons I planned to teacher to a specific grade, with a box next to it to write in the start and finish date of each project. I used this more for long term planning purposes. Then I had a calendar section in my planner where I had a weekly overview per double page. At the bottom of the double page I would write down the lesson I planned to teach that week to each grade.
This system worked but it was time consuming. I found I was doing a lot of double writing. Whenever I made a mistake I would have to cross things out and write over the top of them the lesson I planned to teach in the limited space I had left. If I wanted to add a more detailed description of a lesson I’d have to scribble it in a margin. And rearranging lessons was a nightmare!
So I planned to do this all on my computer. This would make the doubling of information much more tolerable with copy and paste. I would also be able to search, expand a description, add notes to lessons, delete and archive easily and many other advantages of having work in a digital format. I just wasn’t sure how I would do it. Then I found the solution, Evernote. I had been using Evernote to stay organized for about a year. I had lists of Christmas present ideas for my family, I had list of songs I liked, I had to do lists, shopping lists, etc. I had taken away all of the sticky notes I used to use (physical and software versions) and merged them all together in one neat package, Evernote.
Evernote is very simple software that organizes your notes. A simple word processing tool that also collates and saves your notes for you. A good thing about Evernote is that all of your notes are together in one place. The best thing about Evernote is that you can download and run this software on any device you choose. So just like Google Calendars, I use Evernote at work on my Macbook, at home on my personal Macbook Pro and on the run on my iPhone.
I utilized the stack feature so that I have two main stacks in Evernote, private notebooks and work related notebooks. In the work stack I have two notebooks, one for school related notes (to do lists, things to share in future meetings, substitute plans, etc.) and another that I have named lessons. In the lessons notebook, I have one note per week of the school year. Inside that I have a list of all of the classes I teach in age order. Underneath each class I write my lesson in. This is constantly updated, usually straight after a class so I know what to teach the follow week. So when I show up to a class, I can open up my computer or get out my iPhone, go to the lessons notebook, click the week we are in and I have my lesson plan outlined. I’ve been doing this for fifteen weeks now and I find this an excellent way to stay organized. I have a searchable list of all of the lessons that I have taught. I can copy and paste if a class is cancelled or if it carries on for longer than expected. I can adapt my lesson plan straight away to add what was actually taught in the lesson as opposed to what I planned to teach. I can plan weeks in advance without worrying about having to cross something out. It is the ultimate organization tool.
An interesting side note, I was telling a friend from Tokyo International School about Evernote and how I use it to teach. He started to use and it loved it, so showed his administration how he was using it. They liked it so much that they bought premium accounts for all of their staff!
If I am ever at work and I need a word processor, I reach straight for Google Docs. If someone sends me a Word file or PDF as an attachment and I need to save it, then I upload it straight to Google Docs. If I need to make a marking sheet or a form/survey, I go straight to Google Docs. I think Google Docs is amazing, the real time collaboration and having everything in the cloud really sells it for me. Now if I need to access a file or a schedule or a form, all I have to do is find a browser, any browser, and I can access it. I can be at home in Australia on my parents computer, I can be overseas in an internet cafe, I can be on my phone in the faculty room.
People grumble about Google Docs, they say it’s not fully featured. They say the formatting is a nightmare and they criticize their tables. But for me personally, I haven’t found a thing that I have needed to do that Google Docs can’t do. And if I there was something I couldn’t do, I would do it in Pages or Word, save it as a PDF and upload it to Google Docs anyway! Plus the other thing I like is
Working with Google Docs also alleviated my need to backup my computer* because if it crashed, Google would have all of my documents in the cloud. It saves me having double and triple versions of working files. It lets me easily and efficiently share and collaborate documents with students and colleagues. It let’s me review revision history. I couldn’t be more impressed or recommend it enough.
I am the master of customization. I need my machine customized to my needs on all of the computer I use. Nothing frustrates me more than constant pop ups, re-entering passwords over and over, my special gestures not working, foreign keyboards, etc. One part of my computing that I customize a lot is my browser. At work I predominately use Firefox, so I have it synced with my Firefox account on my home computer. Firefox describes sync as “a service that lets you synchronize your bookmarks, history, passwords and open tabs with another copy of Firefox – like one on another computer or on a mobile phone”. By syncing my browser at home with my browser at work, I have access to all of my shortcuts in my bookmark toolbar, I have my full history so I can search it if I need it, all of my passwords auto fill and I can access the tabs I am using across devices.
Of course, I use other services too such as Gmail, Diigo, WordPress, etc. but the main ways I reduce paper and teach from the cloud are through Google Calendar, Evernote, Google Docs and Firefox Sync. I use them everyday because they help me to avoid wasting paper, keeping all of my work organized and make my teaching easily accessible from anywhere I am, at any time. And the best part about it is that all of these services are free! So give them a try yourself and let me know how it goes.
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*I still backup my computer, I’m just not as worried about it because there is not that much on the hard drive that I need if I lost it now that majority of my work is saved in the cloud.