By: James Walker
Last year, K-12 teachers spent approximately $1.6 billion out of pocket on classroom supplies. These were the notebooks, the pencils, the tissues, and the chalk that their school districts could not afford; the items that made learning possible but took a significant chunk out of their own salaries.
What if there were a better way?
Although some classroom supplies, like facial tissues and hand sanitizer, will always be necessary, digital resources like smartboards and cloud computing are making many of the classroom fundamentals, like pencils and ruled paper, no longer applicable. With free, networked solutions like Google Drive, and with more and more classrooms encouraging computers and tablets, the college rule notebook and the number #2 pencil are now going the way of the slate and the McGuffey Reader.
Picture this: students sit in front of a networked smartboard, pre-loaded with a series of geometry questions. The same questions appear on the students’ tablets, and they use styluses to work out the calculations in long hand. Then, two students are called to the smartboard to demonstrate the calculations for the class, while the teacher uses a tablet to quickly scan the students’ problem sets and look for common errors to address in the next lecture.
This type of classroom can be run without chalk, without whiteboard pens, without staples and tape and thumbtacks. All you need is a fast wireless network, a few cloud programs, and enough tablet or laptop computers to go around.
Computers Vs. Pencils: Which Costs More in the Long Run?
Whenever educators start talking about cloud-based educational systems, somebody always asks about the cost. After all, when you can buy a pack of pencils for just a few dollars, why is it more efficient to use tablets and computers?
The truth is that investing in computers is the better economic solution not only for today, but also for the future. This generation will need to be more computer literate than any other. Students who do not know how to navigate computer systems by early elementary school are already behind.
Likewise, school districts worried about fitting chalk into the budget often find that it is easier to get computers into classrooms than it is to buy any other type of supply. There are plenty of grants to help struggling schools integrate technology, and many cities offer special buy-back programs to get used tablets and laptops to the students who need them. Of course, school districts also have the tried-and-true option of simply requiring the students’ families to purchase the devices themselves.
The Hidden Benefit: Time
There’s one more benefit of bringing computers into the classroom: you are able to devote much more of the class period to hands-on teaching. To quote a recent Tech Republic article: “The teachers that allowed the use of the Chromebooks saw a fundamental shift in the way they taught. Now that the students had access to content via the Internet, the teachers began to focus on teaching learning skills and how to apply facts and figures to real-world applications.”
That is to say: once you eliminate the work of passing out and collecting papers, or walking to the library to look at encyclopedias, you open up hours of time that can go back into developing learning skills.
There will always be the need for having traditional school supplies on hand. Even the most networked classroom will still need to buy things like ink to print out student artwork or post classroom rules. However, school supplies will be scaled differently and purchased more efficiently. Services like Amazon can have small shipments arrive monthly or bi-monthly and several sites now exist like ink technologies to help administrators order supplies at low prices. Instead of 100 packs of staples, you’ll need two. Instead of tape and glue, you’ll be teaching students how to cut and paste online. By doing so, you’ll be teaching your students the most important lesson of all: how to become critical thinkers, whether the subjects are taught with paper and pen or with networked screen and digital stylus.
James Walker is an avid designer and coder since he was 12, James writes and curates topics on both basic web development and advanced languages with a particular focus on mobile. Read his thought on tech on Twitter and his favorite articles on Google+.