Tips for Going Paperless in the History Classroom

...or,  Here's what's happening in the fourth week of school in the History Room:

1)  Class Blog

Even before I went formally paperless in the classroom, I instituted a class blog.  This move was, if you will, the first step in my paperless excursion.  The blog grew out of a current events assignment that was originally recorded in composition notebooks.  Way back in 2006, I was starting to understand the necessity of becoming green in the classroom.  I began an electronic current events journal then, and have never gone back.  Check out our class blog at

The class blog can be a record of anything the class does; it needn't be dedicated to one thing only, like current events.  Class blogs can be valuable tools as exchange of information, ideas, and a way for your students to explore their own beliefs and ideas about a particular topic or idea.  It is also a safe, responsible and respectful way for students to exchange differing views on any topics, especially when the teacher establishes an expectation that students will comment on other's blog posts.  Blogging and commenting are invaluable ways for students to learn how to respectfully agree or disagree on topics, and how to articulate differing views to others. In the History field, especially, blogging helps students learn the artful skill of critiquing the ideas or methods of another, while not necessarily attacking the person who wrote it.

2)  Wikispaces has been an invaluable tool for our class.  When I decided to go paperless for good, I opened an account there and signed all of my students up with their own accounts so that we could use it all the time; and, we do.  Our class wiki is packed with resources, notes, collaborative projects, discussions, announcements, images, movies, google books, and on and on.  I can't say enough about wikispaces as a collaborative tool:

  • Whenever I need to hand out something, I upload it to the wiki. 
  • When the class begins a project, I upload it to the wiki, then open up a projects page where students can collaborate in real time, or whenever they can access the projects page.
  • We use the wiki for introducing new material, and for review for tests and quizzes. 
  • Students can post discussions, comments or notes from units that we are studying, which serves to help other students who are not stellar note takers.
  • Announcements are posted on the wiki to remind students of important dates or events.
  • Homework is posted on the wiki: this is invaluable for many reasons, to help with organization, for parents to remain informed of student work, for those students who are absent, to name only a few invaluable reasons.
  • Almost anything can be posted to or imbedded into the wiki:  I have embedded google books for my students to read for homework and discussion; I have posted videos, political cartoons, images, posters, primary source documents, links to other important sites, and...
  • The wiki is a fantastic tool for flipping classes.  Post an assignment (or a pre-assignment) to the wiki, add video or other commentary, then get ready to discuss in class the next day

I know there are other tools our there:  Evernote, LiveBinders, Schoology, Edmodo, Canvass, to name only a few.  Wikispaces is the tool that I started with about 6 years ago, so it's the one I know the most, and it has been the tool that has not disappointed.  It's easy to use, easy to create student accounts for and I have not encountered anything with it that I can't do yet.  That's not to say that the others aren't just as good; I am simply not that familiar with them.  If you use those other tools like I use the wiki in my class, then stick with them; just make sure to use them, and stop handing out reams of paper.

3)  Google Docs, Google Forms

These are almost self-explanatory.  I love Google docs for its sharing and collaborative features.  I also enjoy the fact that students can track changes when they edit documents they are collaborating on.  I have found that tracking changes provides me with the opportunity to observe, concretely, which member(s) of a group are doing what work.  This, alone, is invaluable in solving the age-old problem of group members who do not do their fair share of the work.  Tracking changes provides a record of edits made, and it tells me who did what on the project.

Google Forms allows me the opportunity to give a test or a quiz, without printing out hundreds of pages of material.  I can make up a test or a quiz, share it in a form with my students, and they take the test or quiz right in the form.  When they are finished, I have a beautiful spreadsheet with all of their answers. I can email grades and send the form back to the students.

4)  Google Books

Although not all books are available in this form, when I can find one available, it is so useful to share with my students (see the wiki in ).  The cost of education is skyrocketing, and with education budget cuts, it is wonderful to be able to have access to some materials for free.  I have shared some chapters from books, essays, short stories and journal articles with my students in this way.  I embed the free google book into our wiki, and we can all enjoy the reading without worrying about budgets or lost reading packets.

5)  Socrative

I am just discovering all of the uses of this wonderful tool!  It will probably replace the google form, soon, but for now, I use Socrative when I want to have a quick quiz to gauge where my students are, whether they are "with me" and understanding the content, or if I need to slow down and cover the material again.  The "exit ticket" function is a wonderful tool to use to gauge whether students understood the content of a reading assignment or purpose of a project.  I also use the "exit ticket" after some classes to ensure that all students understood the main idea of that class's content.  If not, then I know where to begin the next day.

6)  All important email!

Of course, I still use email to communicate some things.  I use this mostly at the beginning of the year, when I have students who are new to me, who don't know that they should check the wiki or the blog for announcements, assignments or other information.  It comes in handy when there are rare technical issues with any of the online sites.  Students will email homework or projects to me; likewise, I will email announcements or updates if the other sites are down or not working for any reason. (I know that Twitter is a great tool for use instead; I still struggle with a community that is skeptical of Twitter's value-this I am working on!)

7) Teachertube and Youtube

Although I usually embed everything to the wiki, sometimes it is just easier and faster to share a link to a video or project instructions that I have uploaded to Teachertube.  Sharing a video in this way is also useful for parents, who don't have access to the wiki.  I can simply share the link with them.

With my discovery of teachertube, I have moved away from using youtube, although youtube is still valuable, especially since its videos can be protected, which satisfies many an anxious parent.  I love the protected feature of youtube where people can see videos that you post, only if you share the link with them.

I have posted videos for my students and their parents in this way.  Sometimes I will share a useful video clip from a History resource, or even a movie, if I see that it will help my students understand a difficult historical concept or idea.  I have often video taped my students engaged in debate, delivering a speech, or testing out a catapult that they have built, and I will upload these videos to share.

8)  screenr

I am just discovering the myriad of uses of this little gem.  I have embedded several screenr captures for my students who are new to the current events website or the wiki.  If they forget a function or don't know how to do something, they can find my instructions on screenr, where I can narrate how a website or a function works. 

This tool can be used for many different things, as well.  I have found it most useful when I am away on a field trip and miss class:  I can capture, on screenr, specific instructions for the class to work on an assignment or project.  They can view the screenr as many times as necessary for them to get all the instructions.  No more excuses that the sub didn't provide the correct instructions!  Ha!


Stay tuned for more "Going Paperless" tips.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, and as usual, is probably way too long.  Well, that's a trained historian for you...I always find it difficult to be short-winded. 

Enjoy, and please add to the list if you use something that I didn't mention.  I am always looking for new and useful tools!

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