Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

January 1, 2011

Reduce Waste. Increase Productivity

Reduce Waste. Increase Productivity

Kristen Drake poses with two of her students on Halloween. Kristen reinforces her commitment to the environment with her choice of costume, a recycling bin.

Through an online program, students complete homework assignments such as the one pictured above from home or from any computer with Internet access.

There’s no need for paper when the whole class can participate in games and exercises on Drake’s whiteboard, where she projects various activities during class.

Student Voices
"I absolutely love the computer games, and we use Microsoft Word to do our writing. We take our quizzes on a website called Quia. I can't really choose which is my favorite because I like everything."
— Maya S.

"We get to learn in a fun way and not waste paper."
— Ashley V.

Two of Drake's students work together on an online critical thinking game.


One thing you will never find in Kristen Drake's (GA '06) classroom is a paper trail. Instead she has blazed a new paperless path at Vanderlyn Elementary School in Dunwoody, GA, that is leading students to greater academic gains. Since creating her first website in 2000, every concept and skill taught in a typical second-grade classroom has a computerized review program available to students, parents and teachers alike. This makes Drake's classroom far from typical and more like the road less traveled, one headed in the direction of eco-friendly innovation and student success.

Teachers at Vanderlyn Elementary School historically have had access to several computers donated by the PTA. Lacking Internet access, however, many teachers discarded them, believing they were obsolete. Feeling these overlooked resources still had much to give, Drake salvaged several computers for her classroom. Now the majority of her students' writing is in a word processing program on those very machines rather than on paper. Since her students are comfortable working on the computer at an early grade level, their transition to computer-based middle school and high school work assignments is eased.

Another significant benefit Drake has witnessed from computer assignments is immediate feedback and rapid results. Learning the score, questions missed, and correct answers directly after completing an assignment means a process that once took an entire class period can often be finished in a matter of minutes. Her spelling tests, which are created through the website, announce the word aloud from the speakers on the computer, so the child may type the word.

Since students don't have to wait for their peers to get paper and pencil, for the words to be repeated or for others to write the answer, the tests can be completed in two minutes, compared to 15 minutes in a traditional classroom where the test is presented orally. Drake spends less time at the copy machine and grading papers and more time working directly with students. More importantly, she receives useful data immediately from online software programs, so she can instantly identify which questions were missed most often and which students have not mastered the skills. As a result, Drake can quickly individualize instruction by reteaching based on their data.

For the 2008-09 school year, Drake took paper conservation efforts to the next level by making all homework available online, saving approximately 12,000 copies or roughly 25 trees*. During the summer of 2008, Drake created more than 500 English/language arts assignments in an online program purchased by her county. At the time, she taught language arts to third-grade students. Her students received homework assignments ranging in levels from second through fifth grade. By the end of the first semester, all of the students in her language arts classes completed all homework assignments through the fifth-grade level. At one point, 25 percent of the students voluntarily completed double the homework!

For the 2009-10 academic year, Drake taught all academic subjects and created online homework assignments for math as well. For the last five years, 100% of her language arts students passed the state's criterion-referenced reading test. Her students' success in a virtually paper-free classroom is now the focus of a case study for DeKalb County's Going Green, a system wide recycling program.

Drake is eager to share her work with colleagues, and she has trained educators at several schools and conferences. To pass on her passion to eliminate paper, she created an in-depth website for teachers to learn how they too can implement a worksheet-less classroom in their own schools. Not only has her worksheet-less classroom paid off to her own students, Drake's work is paying it forward to ensure future generations of students an eco- and achievement-friendly classroom.

You can visit Kristen Drake's website at

*The Environmental Protection Agency's website


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