Live Green and Earn Points


Going Green in a Digital Classroom: Small Steps Can Make A Big Difference

By Green Schools Program |
A biology and marine research teacher at South Broward High School in Hollywood, FL, tell us about a green classroom success:

How do you show the effects of green actions to people? Here's one great way!
A teacher at South Broward High School in Hollywood, FL, tell us about a green classroom success.
WRITTEN BY: Biology and Marine Research Teacher Monica Ridlehoover

Several years ago, one of my ninth grade Marine Research students at South Broward High School was throwing a piece of paper into the recycle bin when he noticed that some paper had also been carelessly thrown into the garbage can. He commented that throwing away so much paper was a “waste of good trees”. Seizing the opportunity as the perfect “teachable moment”, I decided to put aside that day’s activities in favor of a real-life lesson on the consumption of natural resources. This lesson would not only change the way we all think about the quantity of paper used in school, but it would also change the way I administer and grade my classroom assignments, even today.

After a brief class discussion on the different ways we use paper in school, I placed the students into groups and asked them to calculate how many pounds of paper they each use in my class throughout the year. I provided them with electronic scales for weighing the paper and let them work through their calculations as I wrote the following words on the board: ReduceReuseRecycle.

After weighing paper, crunching numbers, and some very lively discussions, the groups finally agreed that each student used approximately four sheets of paper per week; equating to almost 1.5 pounds of paper per year from work done in my class alone! Even more astounding was the fact that each student consumed over 8 pounds of paper per year in all of their classes combined. Needless to say, we were all inspired to take some action.

We worked together for the remainder of the period to create an action plan for reducing paper usage throughout the year. The students decided to take small steps such as using both sides of their papers whenever possible and using the back sides of old assignments as scratch paper when doing math homework. One student even suggested that I reduce the amount of homework I assign! While I can’t blame him for trying, this option was definitely not on the table. I was, however, inspired to do my part for this impromptu project.

After doing some background research, I was able to set up a digital classroom in which all assignments could be turned in and graded online. I also created a secure website and blog that enabled the students to share ideas for their various projects and participate in guided discussions on current events related to the oceans. This type of shared learning would have been virtually impossible to do on paper. While there were a few glitches along the way and I always made sure to accommodate those students without home internet access, this leap into the digital classroom was surprisingly rewarding. There was a noticeable improvement in interest and enthusiasm from all of the students and the overall quality of their work improved significantly.

What was the environmental impact of our action plan? Better than expected, indeed! At the end of the year, we once again crunched the numbers and we estimated that we reduced our overall paper consumption by over 50% in my class. More importantly, the students were able to realize the actual difference they made by implementing a few small steps toward reducing paper usage. As their teacher, I saw something quite different. Sitting before me was a class of 9th grade students newly empowered with an intrinsic desire to make a difference in our world.

How much paper do you think you go through in a year, and what ways can you reduce that? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Recyclebank Green Schools Program awards grants to schools in order to fund environmental projects that empower youth to green their own communities. For every 100 points donated to an accepted school, Recyclebank donates $10 to that school.

Under the guidance of Monica Ridlehoover, South Broward High School students are building underwater robots to help monitor several different environmental factors related to the area's waterways.

Learn more about the Green Schools Program!

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  • Elaine F. 5 years ago
    I know two of my kids like to draw a lot and use up a lot of paper. I go through their old unwanted drawings and use the other side for scrap paper.
  • 7 years ago
    buy school children a thumb drive and have them put all school papers on it to avoid printying
  • 7 years ago
    We have decided to save paper by not printing out invoice. Instead we e-mail them which saves not only paper but ink as well. When a client prints to much of a job that extra paper is used a scrap paper or donated to the Humane Society to line the litter boxes. I recycle as much as possible to save our precious earth.

    I want to thank Ms. Ridlehoover for teaching your students about recycling.