Sam Patterson: Teaching in his paperless classroom

paperless classroom

Trees love Sam Patterson. So do his students.

One reason his students love him: He believes in people. Check it out for yourself on his Google+ profile.

Another reason: Sam isn’t your typical teacher. He teaches English without textbooks. Largely without paper.

Sam (@SamPatue) is the Dean of Advising and Outreach and English teacher at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, Calif. He created the #PATUE Twitter chat (Palo Alto Technology-Using Educators) that’s held at 5 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesdays.

He answered some questions about teaching in his paperless classroom for Ditch That Textbook:

1. You blog at mypaperlessclassroom.com. How paperless is your classroom actually, and what are some tools you use to make it happen?

My classroom still creates one or two paper-based assignments every week. I blame the fact that we have no 1:1 program.  Homework is more paperless than class work.

Tools: document camera, networked scanner, Livescribe pen, a good learning management system (we use Schoology, I hear good things about Canvas)

2. At what point in your career did you feel the need for less paper and more digital? What motivated you in this way?

I started a concentrated push two years ago, in my eighth year of teaching. I needed to learn something (I am addicted to learning) so I decided to try to figure this paperless classroom thing out.  It is a fun learning project because the tools are constantly evolving.

3. What do you personally see as the future of textbooks? What direction would you like to see them go? How long do you think it will take to get there?

Teaching English language arts in a private school setting, I ditched textbooks.  I think that textbooks will continue to be giant difficult-to-deal-with entites, even electronically.  The culture of the textbook is broken.

4. You just recently wrote a blog post about doing essay critiques using screencasts with a document camera and a Livescribe pen. This is genius to me. Tell me a little more about how students respond to this and how effective it’s been.

The response has been good.  The kids say it is more useful that just written comments, they actually review the comments, and it is less stressful than meeting with me one on one. It gets pretty high marks for effective; I still struggle with delivery.

[RELATED: 5 lessons from my paperless classroom failure]

5. Why do you think that some teachers are less receptive to moving from antiquated, traditional teaching techniques to newer ones (digital or otherwise)? What can we do to help teachers see the benefits of these newer techniques?

There are a millions whys.  I have worked with the National Writing Project for years, and the issues you see with teachers learning and adopting new ways of treating writing in the class mirror the challenges with tech integration.

Both involve serious risk and as teachers we live in a culture of performance that tells us we don’t have time to fail.

6. In your Google Plus profile, you talk about believing in the unconference model. Tell us what that is and what you think people can gain from it.

Unconference uses “open space technology” to create a participant-driven series of simultaneous conversations.  A great example of this is #edcamp.  Edcamps create a context and the participants form the content on the spot, conversations instead of persentations.  Many more voices have the floor in an unconference model.

7. How has Twitter changed you as a professional and as a person? What can educators gain from Twitter?

Twitter is an endless opprotunity for amazing discussions and resource sharing.  I have been building my Twitter PLN for just over a year and I am closing in on 1,800 followers.  I have gotten there by building relationships on Twitter.  I have hundreds of people who are willing to talk to me about tech in education.  When a conference goes well I meet 10 people.  So Twitter this year has been like going to 180 networking events.

8. If a less technologically-savvy teacher wanted to take a step in the right direction toward a paperless classroom, what are a couple basic first steps he/she should take?

1. Get the tech you have working well, screencast your current lessons, use the tech a bunch before you try to do something important on it.

2. Get to know your local tech wizard. Buy them coffee and follow them on Twitter.

Have you tried any of Sam’s techniques? How do you conduct a paperless classroom? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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