SHS English class goes green

SANDUSKY In Amy Gunselman's English classes at Sandusky High School, the sound of pens scratching on
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

In Amy Gunselman's English classes at Sandusky High School, the sound of pens scratching on paper has given way to the clickety-clack of fingers on keyboards.

Her classes are going green.

Gunselman said she was using close to 1,100 sheets of paper a week in preparing lessons and creating handouts for students when she decided something had to give. After doing the math, she realized her classes were going through more than 50,000 sheets in a year.

"I would bet that I alone am responsible for burning through close to 100,000 pieces of paper, together with my students, in any given school year," she said. "I saw an opportunity to save some money here at SHS, do my part to help the environment, and meet the needs of the students who are missing class for any prolonged period of time."

After witnessing the English teacher struggle with alarmingly large stacks of paperwork and listening to her vision to 'go green,' library media specialist Mary Dahlmann suggested buying flash drives and going online.

Gunselman said the steps were simple: obtain flash drives for 110 students, familiarize herself with the technology and software, then set herself and the students up online with some of the available Web sites.

Since March her English classes have been doing all of their classwork, quizzes and homework on free, interactive sites that give them immediate feedback and track their performance. She connects to the Web sites and via projector and SMARTboard to present her lessons.

"All of our classwork is done on the computers," she said. "I started out calling it a 'paperless' quarter but was immediately questioned about how an English teacher could have a quarter without any papers ... so, to avoid misinterpretation and to sound a bit trendier, I decided to call it 'going green' like the rest of the world seems to be trying to do."

"It's a lot easier. I'd rather do all my classes online," freshman Tiffany Crawford said. "It's too easy to lose papers."

"I was really amazed at how tech-savvy the students are already are," Gunselman said. "They needed very little assistance after an initial introduction."

Dahlmann and Gunselman found grammar quizzes, e-books for novels, tutorials and writing labs online, free of charge.

"(The sites) are really easy to use," Dahlmann said. "She can customize tests; the kids can do their own writing and turn in their flash drives to be graded. It's working out really well."

Gunselman said as a teacher, her frustration lies with students who are missing classes.

After going "paperless," she said she was able to keep the absent students "there."

"My students who find themselves detained at either the Center for Cultural Awareness or the Juvenile Detention Center are keeping up with their assignments and not falling behind even when they are not able to attend class regularly with their classmates," she said. "I've already had a student who isn't at school log on this morning and complete an assignment."

Sandusky mother Mary Fuqua said when her son Brock was out sick, they feared he'd fall behind.

"He was out with strep throat, so I e-mailed Amy for his assignments, and she responded back verifying everything he needed was online," she said. "He signed on and picked up class notes, instructions and made sure everything that was due was turned in before he came back. He went back to school and didn't have to worry about anything. He just went to class."

The initiative also works great for those forgetful few whose dogs "ate their homework."

"I like it better because we don't have all the papers that can get lost," freshman Ben Dickman said. "It's better than bringing all the books home."

As long as Gunselman is near a computer, she can pop in a student's flash drive, go through their work, provide feedback and not have to worry about losing papers herself or hauling stacks home to grade.

Aside from a few password-related problems, scheduling computer time and the 11 minutes it occasionally takes for students to log in, Gunselman said she is pleased with the results and support the concept has received from the high school, as well as board member Jeff Krabill.

"Since fourth quarter is my biggest quarter for formal writing assignments, the research paper and grammar, I'd say that by going paperless from March to June, I will have saved somewhere close to 25,000 sheets of paper," she said. "I spent no more time preparing for this than I have ever spent preparing at any other time in my teaching career," she said. "My lessons are actually easier to prepare since I don't have to worry about paper jams or lines at the copier."