Sunday, March 24, 2013

Paperless Mission #5: Organize Your Files in DropBox

This is the fifth post in my Go Paperless! Challenge Series. If you haven't completed the previous missions, be sure to complete those first.
Also be sure to link up at the Go Paperless! linky.

Mission #5: Organize Your Files in DropBox

I routinely work off of multiple computers and devices. I have a desktop computer in my classroom, a work laptop, a work iPad, a home desktop, a personal iPad, and an iPhone, and from time to time, I'll use someone else's computer for something. Few things have frustrated me more than being on a computer and realizing that the file that I worked on was saved to another device and therefore unavailable. Flash drives got me by for a little while, but then there were always issues about remembering to save it to my computer and my flash drive, and if I changed something on one device, I'd need to remember to update the files on other devices. There was always a bit of paranoia, too, about whether the drive would get corrupted and everything on it lost. It just wasn't a good system for me.

Enter DropBox. I started using this platform a few years ago, and it has revolutionized how I manage my files. DropBox is an online file hosting platform. A basic (free) account gives you 2GB of storage with opportunities to earn up to 16 GB through referrals and social networking. There is also a paid version that gives you 100 GB for $9.99/month or $99/year. There are 200 GB and 500 GB paid versions as well, but that's far beyond my needs. I haven't even upgraded to a paid account yet!
Once you sign up for an account, you can download a version of DropBox to your computer that will automatically sync any files you save to it to your DropBox account online. From there, you can access your files from any computer or device with DropBox installed (there's an app version) or from any internet connection by signing in at

How I Use It

Over the last few years, I've moved almost all of my documents over to DropBox. Here are some examples of the types of things I keep there:
  • Curriculum documents - standards, pacing guides, state frameworks, etc
  • e-Books/supporting documents for textbook series
  • TpT creations and purchases
  • Assessments and activities
  • Clip Art Collections
  • Guided Reading resources
  • Photos
  • Desk Drawer folder - for all of the electronic stuff I would otherwise file in my desk
  • Much, much more!

I like having my stuff there for a variety of reasons:
1. Accessibility - no more worrying if something is on another computer or if I have the flash drive.
2. Back-up - since it's all stored in the cloud, I don't live in fear of a major computer meltdown. If my computer goes on the fritz, I'll still be able to get all of my stuff.
3. Constant syncing - If I'm working on a project on my laptop at school (which has DropBox installed), I can come home and switch to my desktop which also has DropBox. DropBox notices when you alter a document, and it will automatically sync those changes to your files across all of the devices as long as you have an internet connection. 

Evenote vs. DropBox

Evernote and DropBox obviously figure heavily in my paperless scheme, and it's definitely the case that there's some overlap between their features. I could, for example, save documents and attachments in Evernote Notebooks. But I think of Evernote as the replacement for my data and curriculum binders -- the place where I can put documents that I'm likely to need constantly and an archive of assessments. It's also a place for work that I'm annotating and evaluating. DropBox is more like my filing cabinet for all of the great activities I might need from time to time. I might pull something out and work on it, but it's more for storage.

Your Assignment

Make sure that you have a DropBox account. (If you haven't already signed up for DropBox, please use my referral link. We'll both get 500 MB of extra space!) Download the DropBox client on the computer(s) you use most, and begin to backup your files to DropBox. Empty out those flash drives and folders you have so you can get all of your work in one spot. Think of how you'll want to name your folders -- especially if you're consolidating documents from a variety of places. But getting your DropBox set up and ready to go will be a necessary step before your next mission on using GoodReader.

How's your move toward paperless going? I'd love to hear your updates in the comment section!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Paperless Mission #4: Create Checklists in Evernote

If you haven't already completed the prior missions, be sure to complete those first.
Also be sure to link up at the Go Paperless! Challenge linky.

Mission #4: Create Checklists in Evernote

I use checklists for everything -- keeping track of who has turned in assignments, what standards I need to teach during the term, etc., and those checklists are great at keeping me organized. But that organizational process breaks down when I start accumulating too many paper checklists. Either I can't find where I put the particular one I'm looking for, or I have to search through so many to figure out the data I'm looking for. It's a mess! But yet again, Evernote is saving the day for me with its checklist features!

In order to make an organized table checklist, you'll need to use the downloaded Desktop version of the Evernote platform. At this time, only the downloaded desktop platform seems to have the Table feature. My images show what it will look like on a Mac version; the PC version might be slightly different.

To make a checklist, create a new note. Then choose the "Table" tool.

You'll have an option about how many rows and columns you want to insert. I recommend limiting yourself to 2 rows -- one as your header and one for the checklist. I think it looks better, and it's a little easier to edit and work with later on.

Once you're ready to insert your student's names, choose the "Insert to-do" button (the checkbox) into the second row of your table and begin typing. (Leave the first line for your header). Every time you hit "return/enter," it will automatically insert a new checkbox.

After you've typed your list once, just copy and paste it into the other columns. It will automatically adjust the width to balance the columns

I use this blank list as a template for each time I want to create a new checklist. You have to manually copy and paste the table into a new note -- there's no duplicate note function that I've found on any of the platforms -- but it's still a pretty seamless process. And once I've created the initial checklist through the Desktop version, I can use the checklisted table on any platform (web, iPad, etc.). I can check off boxes and add in text, but I can't add new columns on the non-desktop versions.

You can also create checklists on the web and iPad versions, but without the help of a table, it's much harder to have a multi-column checklist that's easy to read. The multiple columns are really useful for me with tracking information across a grading period. The single column is perfect for things like my to-do list, however.

How I Use This...

I've made a separate "Homework and Report Card Tracking" Notebook on Evernote where I keep all of these checklists. I use this notebook to look at data that I need for my class as a whole -- not just individual students. This is also where I'm starting to keep reports about guided reading levels and other whole class data.

Now, when I need to keep track of assignments that are turned in, forms I've collected, or any other material I'd track, I can just carry around my iPad and check-off the student's name. Tagging each note thoroughly means that I can always easily find the data I'm looking for, so it's been an organizational blessing!

Your Assignment:

Create a tabled checklist with your students' names. Play around with the table and checklist tools and think about how you could use this to streamline your paper use. Have some ideas? Please share them in the comment section. I'd love to hear how you're using this feature because this was a recent discovery for me!

In the next post in this series, we'll start to talk about incorporating DropBox into the mix. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Paperless Mission #3: Email Notes to Evernote

If you haven't already completed the prior missions, be sure to do those first.

Also be sure to link up at the Go Paperless! Challenge linky!

Mission #3: Email Notes to Evernote

Now that we have our notebooks built in Evernote, we need to start putting things in them. One of the best ways to do that is through email. Did you know that your Evernote account has its own email address?! 

Step 1: Find your Evernote email address.
Here's how to find it through the web platform:

In the upper right of your screen will be your username with a down arrow next to it. Click on it, and choose "Settings." This will open up your account summary.

There you'll find an email address that will have a format of

Step 2: Add this email address to your contacts on all of your email accounts and mobile devices.
I just named my contact "Evernote" and copied and pasted it in. Make sure that you add this contact to your school email as well your personal accounts and phone. Now that I have it set up, I find that I'm using it everywhere!

Step 3: Send emails to your account.
Once you have the address, sending emails is super easy.

  • Type your subject first. That will be the title of the note.
  • Use the "@" symbol to put the note in a specific notebook. (Without the "@" symbol, it will just go to your default notebook.)
  • Use the "#" symbol to create tags.
So for example, if I send a note that says "Informational Writing Lesson @Writer's Workshop #4W2 #lesson plans #mentor texts" it will create a note titled "Informational Writing Lesson" in my Writer's Workshop notebook with the tags "4W2," "lesson plans," and "mentor texts." It's important to write the subject in the order "note title @notebook name #tag1 #tag2" in order to get your note in the right spot.

One thing to note is that this format only works for existing notebooks and tags. It won't create new tags or notebooks at this time. Still, if the tag doesn't yet exist, the hash-tagged part will just show up at the end of your note title so you can add it to your tags later on.

If you want to add the email content to an existing note, use the format above with a "+" symbol at the end. Evernote will add it into the most recent note with the title of your subject. 

Ways this is helpful

1. Parent contacts - I'm supposed to keep a record of all of the emails that I exchange with parents, and given that my school email archives all messages after 3 months (and therefore makes it more difficult for me to access), I don't always keep up. In the past, keeping the emails meant printing each one to a .pdf file and saving it on my computer -- a tedious process that is easy to deprioritize. Now, I can just forward each email  to the appropriate student's notebook, add the tags #parent contact #email and I'm done. Easy-peasy!

2. Attachments - If you forward an email with an attachment, the attachment will be sent, too. This is helpful when my instructional coach sends me curriculum documents, rubrics, etc. 

3. Blogging - I have a blogging notebook, and I frequently have ideas or snap pictures on my iPhone or iPad for future posts. Now I can easily find those in my Evernote notebook wherever I'm at -- no more having to track down the device with the right picture or the scrap(s) of paper I wrote the idea on.

What are some other ways you can imagine emailing notes to yourself? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comment section! And if you haven't already joined the Go Paperless! Challenge, what are you waiting for?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Paperless Mission #2: Build Evernote Notebooks

This is the second mission in the Go Paperless series! Be sure to check out Mission #1: Gather Your Tools. And if you're participating, be sure to link up at the Paperless Linky!

Mission #2: Build your Evernote notebooks

If you completed the first mission, you should already have an Evernote account. Evernote is going to be our cloud-based note-taking system. Before getting started on this mission, however, lets talk a little about the Evernote platforms as each has its pros and cons.

Mobile Device (iPad/iPhone, all types of Smartphones, etc)
+ Awesome for recording audio notes, pictures, and word processing type notes; allows photo/video attachments
- Limited options compared to other platforms; no ability to drag-and-drop to organize notes and notebooks

+ Great for organizing your work--you can drag and drop notebooks to create "stacks" (e.g., all of my student notebooks are in one stack); utilizes all of Evernote's features; allows all types of attachments
- More work involved in taking pictures depending on your set-up

Desktop Platform - you can download this to your desktop after you sign up
+ Runs faster than the web platform and has a smoother interface; allows offline access to Evernote and will sync with your account once you get back online
- Tethers you to your laptop/desktop

For this mission, I'd recommend using the Web-based or Desktop platform. (My screenshots are of the Mac desktop version).

Step 1. Create notebooks for each of your students.

You can have up to 250 notebooks in your Evernote account and an unlimited number of notes inside each notebook. At this stage of the process, even if I dedicate a notebook to each student, it's going to be a few years before I run out of notebook space and at that point, I could export my notes if I needed to back them up. I think it's important to have one notebook per student rather than just a single note because you'll be able to sort your work easier. In addition, individual notes can only store up to 25MB of information, and if you're planning to include photos and audio recordings, that could fill up quickly. Notebooks have no real limit. Notebooks will also make it easier for you to share work with parents because you could share the entire notebook -- not just individual notes. 

When creating your student notebooks, I would recommend using a standardized, easy to remember format such as school year - student last name, student first name (e.g., 2012 - Clooney, George). This will make it easier down the road when you want to start sending stuff to specific notebooks via email (a future tutorial).

Step 2. Create a notebook stack.

Stacks are simply collections of notebooks centered around a similar topic. Think of the stack of writing notebooks you lugged home at night when you collected student work in your pre-paperless era, for example. Same concept here. The stack makes it easier to keep your work organized so you don't have 26 different student notebooks cluttering up your screen. All you do is drag one notebook on top of another to create a stack. After finishing this process, here's how it looks on my computer using the desktop client (not the web-based):

Notice that the icon to the left of 2012-2013 students looks like a pile of notebooks in my shortcuts, and when I click on that shortcut, it has a white wrapper around the front rather than the plain brown cover. 

Here's how that stack looks on my iPad:

I can touch it, and it will take me to all of the notebooks inside.

Step 3: Create other notebooks

My notebook is still very much a work-in-progress, but I'm building notebooks for different subject areas/lesson planning. I also have a general notebook for homework & report card tracking where I'll keep data that I'd want to pull for the whole class at once, not individual students. I'm also building professional learning notebooks (I'll stack those eventually), a notebook for my blog ideas, and a default notebook for uncategorized notes that I can sort through later. For now, that notebook contains some of my school tech login reminders and some staff meeting notes. 

That's it for today's mission! Feel free to leave comments if you have questions -- I'll do my best to help. I'd also love to hear how you're using (or planning to use) Evernote in your classroom.

I'll be posting your next mission later this weekend, and if you're joining in the Paperless challenge and haven't linked up yet, it's not to late to join in the fun! You can find the original link up here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Paperless Mission #1: Gather your Tools

This is the first post in the Go Paperless Challenge! If you're participating, be sure to link up at my initial post. (We'll have other linky's along the way to do some progress updates as well...)

There are a few tools that you'll need to prepare to Go Paperless! Here's what I'll be using:


I've shared my love for Evernote in the past, but this is a tool that has so many features and so much potential. It can be accessed from any computer or mobile device, and it allows you to save notes, pictures, audio recordings, and more into cloud-based, password-protected notebooks. If you haven't signed up for an account yet, you should sign up at Evernote's website. Accounts are free, but there is a premium version available. As you're starting to go paperless, I would hold off on getting the premium account. I've had a free account for a few years, and I haven't ever maxed out my uploads, although I expect that to change as I start to use the service more. Still, at $45/year, the subscription service is a steal.


Dropbox is an online file hosting server. A basic (free) account will give you 2GB of storage, and there are ways you can expand your storage by connecting to your Facebook page, following @Dropbox on Twitter, etc. You can also earn 500MB for each friend you refer. If you use my link to sign up, you'll get the extra space as well. They have paid accounts available for up to 500 GB, but I haven't needed to use that...yet.

I use Dropbox to store all of the files that I would want easy access to. The beauty of Dropbox is that it allows you to access your files from any computer or mobile device, and for someone who switches between computers and mobile devices constantly, I appreciate how easily I can access my work.


This is one of the few services that you'd have to pay for as it's a paid iPad app ($4.99), but honestly, this is probably the best paid iPad app I've used. This app allows you to read and annotate pdfs, webpages, and other documents on your iPad. One of the best things about it, though, is that it integrates well with other sites like Google Drive and Dropbox. Even if you only have one iPad in your classroom or just an iPad for yourself, I would highly recommend this app.


If you're planning to have your students complete assignments digitally or turn in their work online to you, this is a great platform. You can create groups, calendars, assignments, and quizzes in a secure teacher-moderated environment. Did I mention that this service is free and works on any computer or mobile device? I'm an Edmodo-newbie, but my district is going to be switching over to using Edmodo, and I'm excited to be learning about it. I'll share all of the tips and tricks that I learn along the way. 

Your Mission

If you haven't signed up for or tried out any of these services, then this is a good place to start. I'll be writing tutorials over the next several days and weeks that use these tools as I begin to go paperless. 

Have you started to cut back on your paper clutter? What other tools are you using? Be sure to share in the comments section!

The Paperless Challenge Linky

Do any of these scenarios sound like you?
  • You can't seem to find the curriculum document you know you've printed 1,000 times, so you print it again because that will be faster than finding it.
  • You've broken more than 1 plastic rolling cart because of the number of papers, books, and materials you've hauled back and forth from school.
  • You hate grading papers because it takes you 5x longer to handwrite comments than it would take you to type them, plus you start to feel like a broken record after a while.
  • You panic every time you need to pull student work for RTI or parent-teacher conferences because it's in so many different places.
  • You've had to scrap a lesson plan because the copy machine was out of paper and there was no hope of getting the materials together before needing to do the lesson.
If you can relate to any of these scenarios--and there's no judgment here, because they're my life story--then you should consider joining me for my new blog series about going paperless.

Whether you want to go a little more digital, and therefore use "less paper," or you want to go all the way toward having a virtually paperless classroom, then this series will hopefully have something for you.

My Story

I'm a fourth grade teacher in an International Baccalaureate school in suburban Atlanta. I've always loved teaching with technology, and my school is moving toward having 1:1 iPads in 4th and 5th grades. I've been really excited about using the iPads (I was part of the pilot for the district), but I know that I haven't been using them to their fullest potential. Take, for example, exhibit 1: my dining room table as I prepared to do report cards.

Or exhibit 2: my desk in my classroom.

Or exhibit 3: the pile of papers behind my desk...

I'm not proud. In fact, I hate it. I see it and just feel like I'm a complete mess. I'm a person who really likes to be organized, so it's especially troublesome for me that I can't get these things under control. 

Meanwhile, as one of the technology experts at my school, I'm preparing for to teach a class about some of our apps at a staff development day next week. The focus of my presentation will be two specific apps -- GoodReader and Evernote -- and the more I learn about these apps, the more I'm realizing their potential. Hence, my decision to go paperless. I don't think I'll be able to get rid of all paper use in my classroom (nor would I necessarily want to), but I'm planning a massive cutback, and I think I finally have the tools to get me started.

Join Me

Later today, I'll be posting a "getting started" tutorial with your first challenge in the Paperless Mission describing all of the tools you'll need to begin this process. You don't need to be teaching in a 1:1 setting to implement all of the strategies that I'm going to suggest--there will be options to make things work for you. In the meantime, what's your story? Share the reasons you want to "Go Paperless" in a blog post, and link up below. When you do, please include the Paperless Challenge image (below) and link back to this post. And let's use the rule of 3 -- reply to the two people who post before you and one person who posts after you to encourage each other in this paperless endeavor!

I look forward to hearing your stories and joining you on this paperless challenge!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The One and Only Ivan

I try to read the Newbery Award winner each year, and this morning, I finished reading Katherine Applegate's beautiful story, The One and Only Ivan.

I knew very little about the story going into it, but a few of my colleagues had been raving about it, so I had high expectations. The story did not disappoint. The One and Only Ivan tells the tale of a western lowland gorilla who lives in a shopping mall as part of a circus-themed display. While he's close friends with a stray dog named Bob who has made his way into the mall and an elephant who is also part of the circus act, his life is largely characterized by loneliness. He's never really had the chance to live among other gorillas, and he realizes that he and his elephant friend, Ruby, deserve a better life than what's available in the shopping mall. It's a touching tale of love and understanding and the sometimes misguided ways we express that.

While most of the events in the story are completely fictitious, there was a real Ivan who lived in the B & I Department Store in Tacoma, WA for nearly thirty years before eventually being relocated to the Atlanta Zoo. I live in Atlanta, so I've seen Ivan a couple times, but he passed away last fall. You can learn more about the real Ivan at Zoo Atlanta's website. They also have this amazing YouTube video of Ivan at the Zoo.

I would highly recommend this book to teachers and students, but I have to give a warning if you're considering this as a read-aloud. I cried off-and-on for the last third of the story and went in to full-on sobbing mode when I finished the book. It was so touching and beautiful! Even though I know what's coming, I doubt I could hold it together in front of my students in a read-aloud. I'll probably introduce this in a book talk, but the students will have to read it independently from there. I should also point out that it's a very quick read. I'm a slow reader, but I was able to finish this in 2-3 hours.

If you haven't yet read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, you should definitely give it a read. I promise you won't regret it.

What children's books have you been reading lately? I'd love some recommendations for next reads in the comments!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Currently March

Really? It's March already??? February sure did go by quickly!

I'm linking up with Farley at Oh' Boy 4th Grade for this month's Currently.

Listening - my daughter has moved beyond her Yo Gabba Gabba! phase, and she is now obsessed with Elmo. I don't let her watch much TV, but I have to say -- there's something pretty cool about her watching a show that I used to watch (and love) when I was a kid 30+ years ago.

Loving - my student teacher started role-reversal yesterday, which means that she is responsible for all of the teaching, planning, and grading for the next two weeks. I still have to oversee her work, but that is SO much easier than having to do it all myself. I'm sure I'll start to stress out about it towards the end once I process how little time I have left with my students, but for now, I'm happy for the break.

Thinking - my daughter turned 18 months old this week, and I'm blown away by all that she can do. Her vocabulary is growing out of control! Just in the last month, she's learned to say "Night-night, Mommy. I love you!" which gets me every time. She's also started to call her books by their titles when she wants me to read one to her. It's always an abbreviated title (e.g., "Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom!" is just "Boom Boom!" and "Moo, Baa, La La La" is just "La La La"), but it's very clear which one she's talking about. It's fascinating to watch her grow and learn.

Wanting - On Monday, every teacher in my building is getting a new iPad to prepare for our 1:1 roll-out. The following Monday, we're doing staff development on different iPad apps to use in the classroom. I'm teaching the class on the Evernote and GoodReader apps, so I've been doing lots of research and work for my presentation. As I've learned more and more about those two apps, I've decided that I'm ready to go paperless in my classroom. I have so many ideas about how to do it at the elementary level, and now that we're also adopting Edmodo as a school, I think I'll be able to pull it off. I'm going to be documenting everything about the process, and I plan to share lots about it in the coming weeks. I'm super excited about it!
Needing - My daughter is allergic to our dogs. She's had eczema and food allergies since birth, and while we've been able to keep that under control over the last year, I'm worried that she's developing asthma. She loves the dogs (and they love her), so I'd hate to get rid of them, but I can't keep up. They shed everywhere constantly, and I know that's aggravating her allergies. I either need a maid service to help me with the thorough cleaning once a week, or the doggies may need to go live with a relative. I feel like I'm constantly vacuuming, and it's exhausting.

Like: Awards - Not for me personally, but I like watching the Oscars every year, and I'm looking forward to watching more of the nominated films that I didn't get to see before the awards.
Love: Apps - I'm so amazed by all that an iPad can do. I'm over the moon about our 1:1 program.
Hate: Apathy - It infuriates me to no end when people don't care one way or another -- especially about important things that impact others.

So that's March! Be sure to link up with Farley over at Oh' Boy 4th Grade, and if you're visiting me for the first time from her blog, welcome!!!

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