Teachers at Button Gwinnett Elementary on Thursday forgot all about grade books and marking up homework assignments with red pens.
Instead of making hundreds of copies of worksheets for daily activities, teachers instead pulled out shaving cream, books, Matchbox cars and candy as part of a fun, educational, hands-on lesson plan for the day.
Two years ago, Merilee Cox, BGE’s curriculum coordinator, founded a school-wide project designed to enhance classroom learning experiences and also eliminate paper waste. As a result, she started “Paperless Day,” an event that all 40 teachers at the school participate in twice a month, which allows teachers to involve their students in projects that require limited paper or no paper.
“There is a tremendous amount of research that supports kids doing hands-on activities,” Cox said. “We have recycle bins throughout the school. We’re just trying to instill that in them at school. We’re just kind of setting the example here.”
Second-grade teacher Summer Buerger said she sees the positive impact the program has on the students in her classroom. Students who normally wouldn’t stay occupied with a worksheet often become so focused on paperless projects that it’s sometimes hard to transition into a new lesson, Buerger said.
But as long as her students are spending quality time learning, she is happy.
“These things [projects] they’re involved in, I look around and I don’t see a single student not engaged,” she said. “The kids love it. I would rather do things like this.”
For a language arts lesson, Buerger recently pulled out shaving cream for kids to smear on their desks. She called out vocabulary words and the children spelled the words out in the white film.
“Kittens, ride, dinner, surprise,” the teacher called out.
After the giggling subsided and the students had “written” the words on their desks, Buerger called on students to spell the words aloud. When incorrect answers were given, Buerger gently corrected the students and had the whole class spell the words aloud together.
For the math lesson, students broke pieces of Hershey’s chocolate bars to demonstrate fractions.
Although she sometimes uses pieces of construction paper for activities, Buerger tries to keep the paper use to a minimum and aims to have a creative lesson for every subject of the day.
Aside from the twice a month event, students are also encouraged to recycle throughout the day, starting with their breakfast milk cartons and ending with tossing extra papers into blue recycling bins.
Katavia Howton, 7, said she knows that recycling is important for the future of the Earth.
“[Recycling is important] so you can use it over again,” she said, while trying to avoid touching her clothes with shaving cream-covered hands.
“In addition to cost [saving measures], there is a whole other environmental side,” Cox said.
The curriculum coordinator said some students get so involved that if a teacher pulls out a piece of construction paper to write out instructions or teach part of a lesson on “Paperless Day,” students will scold their teachers.
“It is their most favorite day,” Cox said. “They go home talking about it and they always are looking forward to the next paperless day.”
Cox is convinced that the students aren’t the only ones who love to do it. After seeing various projects —including gelatin with worms for one science project — she said the teachers are just as motivated and involved to learn as their students.
“The teachers just continue to impress me with the things they come up with,” she said. “It is just getting them really, really involved.”
Both Cox and Buerger hope the lessons aren’t something that just get children the grades they need to pass, but positive knowledge they will take with them into the future.
“It is something that saves toner, paper, cartridges, etc.,” said Buerger. “[But] it is important for them so when they have children when they’re older they can still see the green grass … learning to not be wasteful is a very important thought for them.”