Friday, January 8, 2016

6 Open Educational Resource Websites Every Teacher Should Know About

Even though I currently work in the US, I work a rural community in Vermont.  We don't have lavish budgets, and in fact some of our schools have serious deficits right now and things need to be cut. That always impacts the students somehow.  Why should our students have to suffer because of where they live?  Why can't they have the same access to education as wealthier schools? This is why I am such an advocate for Open Educational Resources (OER).  It shouldn't matter your zip code in order to receive a quality education. I am pleased to hear the new ESSA Bill passed in congress on Dec 10th, 2015 to  replace NCLB addresses equity in education, which seriously lacked in NCLB.   Students should have the right to access a high-quality education no matter where you live, and OERs can make that happen.

There are some really great resources out there on the web, but no educator has oodles of time to seek out those resources, so, I've compiled a list of 6 excellent OER sites where educators can find quality resources.

1. - Gooru's mission is to "honor the human right to education." I just love that.  It shouldn't matter your zip code in order to get a quality education and the people at Gooru have created a platform that does just that.  Gooru provides teachers with the ability to search for and create collections of resources (or lessons, or playlists or whatever other education buzzword you want to throw in there) that can be shared, remixed and reused by other teachers.  So basically, you can take resources from any of the below OER websites, Google Docs, YouTube, eTextbook, or really any digital resource and create student-centered lessons where you can create embedded concept checking questions and formative assessments to track student progress, collect data, and see when intervention is required.  Some of the features include setting a minimum score students must meet on the formative assessments before moving on to the next lesson; searching resources and collections in Gooru by grade and content area or by standard; using a whole collection or just pieces of a collection to create your own collection for your students; rating collections so the best ones filter to the top and the crappy ones get lost; and using your own digital resources to create your learning collections.  I like this because as we move towards proficiency-based, student-centered learning, it should be digital so that the resources can be easily updated as well as shared with colleagues.  Why keep all that great stuff you have a secret? By sharing resources, we allow ourselves to receive feedback to update and improve upon as well as generate new ideas from what we see our fellow teachers doing.  It's a win/win in my book! Rumor has it that soon Gooru will integrate with Google Classroom, which will be another major plus for our district since we are Google Apps for Education schools.

2. ck-12 - Looking to ditch your over-priced, out-dated textbooks for something, well, better and free?  This is the site for you and your school. The U.S. spends billions on textbooks, yet many students are still using old, out-dated textbooks they cover in brown paper bags at the beginning of the year to try to stretch another year out it.  No one likes looking at tired old textbooks, especially the teachers who have to deal with that ratty thing year after year,  secretly wishing students would destroy them so they have no other option but to get rid of them.  Thankfully, our government now realizes that in order to improve the quality of education, things need to be accessible for all schools, which means they need to be free. They believe it's time to tear down the barriers that limit the free exchange of information in education.   The Office of Educational Technology of the U.S. Department of Education has recently announced they are going to be steering schools toward OERs with their GoOpen initiative, hence why I am dedicating this whole site to Open Educational Resources.  They ask that schools pledge to replace at least one textbook this year with Open Educational Resources, and ck-12 is the place to do this. I know they have k-12 in their name, but this site is best suited for 6-12.  If your district implements 1:1 devices for middle and high school, then this site can save you big bucks.  ck-12 created the FlexBook concept, which allows teachers to create textbooks by reusing materials already out there as well as their own material.  ck-12 allows you to search for over 115,000 standards-aligned flexbooks already created on their site by standard, subject and grade. Teachers can then save the flexbooks to their library, share to groups or customize it by rearranging chapters, deleting chapters or adding their own chapters and materials.  Check out this short video to see how it works!

3.  OER Commons - OER Commons has OER in its name, so you know they are serious about Open Educational Resources.  They have an extensive digital library and a network of resources and educators.  They have over 30,000 educational resources! You can create groups for collaboration and save resources you find on OER Commons in these groups using folders and subfolders.   You can also search groups that have folders of resources already saved and organized saving you time and energy.  The network Hub feature is great for groups to create and share resources connected to a particular project or organization. I can see this being quite useful for schools and districts to house their OER materials in one spot for teachers to share and pull resources. Check out the videos below to learn how to search and create groups in OER Commons.

How to Search OER Commons
How to Use Groups in OER Commons

4.  Khan Academy - Khan Academy is a website that offers thousands of free high-quality, self-paced lessons for student-centered learning.  Through the dashboard, teachers can set up classes to monitor student use and progress. They have it neatly set up for you to search content such as Math, Science, Economics and Finance, Arts and Humanities, and Computing. They even have an SAT Test prep section! Unlike other OER sites on this list, the lessons are curated by the people at Khan Academy, so teachers do not have the ability to add their own content to Khan Academy and remix the content already existing on the site, but you can easily add a Khan Academy lesson to a Gooru collection or other learning platform to supplement your lesson or project.  I couldn't find one video that captured the essence of all that it has to offer, so instead, I'll post a picture of the man behind it all.  He deserves recognition. Now go to the site!  Wait,  finish reading this blog post first.
Sal Khan

5. BetterLesson - BetterLesson is another great free resource for teachers looking for classroom-ready K-12 lessons that align with Common Core Standards in Math, Science, and ELA.  I think this site will be particularly useful to new teachers or teachers struggling to come up high-quality content. Why reinvent the wheel when BetterLesson has it all done for you? 130 Master Teachers have shared their lessons for year-long courses, beginning with the first day of school!   Teachers can search lessons by standard, subject or grade-level.  You can also view all content from a particular Teacher.  Teachers can like lessons, download the resources and provide feedback for free. Unlike Gooru or OER Commons, users cannot remix the content, but you teachers can still use and rate it.   In order to access unlimited browsing, you simply need to create a free account.  In addition to downloading lots of free material, there's a space for teachers to create and share their own lessons.  To learn more, check out the video below.  It's not an exciting video, but it will walk you through exactly how to get started using BetterLesson.  

6.  Graphite - Graphite is a platform created by the people at Common Sense Media. Once again they do not disappoint and, of course,  it is free to use.  It is an educational resource rating system to help teachers find, use and share high-quality resources.  Graphite's goal is to help educators find the best apps, games and websites in the most efficient way.  Let's face it, we teachers do not have much time to go seek out the latest and greatest, but Graphite makes is so much easier for teachers to quickly search for and use digital resources.  Resources are rated by teachers like you as well as experts in the field. In the Common Core Explorer feature, you can search for those resources by CC Standard.  Currently, this feature is available for Math and ELA, but  Science, Art and Social Studies will soon follow.  In the Rating and Reviews section, you can search by type, subject, grades, price, skills, and purpose.   Or go straight to the Top Picks section to find a curated list of the best EdTech tools reviewed on Graphite.  If you want to see some lesson plan ideas, they have that too in their Lesson Flows section.  There you can find hundreds of innovated, technology-rich lesson plans uploaded by educators just like you! Unlike other websites on this list, not all the resources reviewed are free to use.  Some apps and games they review are paid, but they are very upfront about that.  It is still free to use Graphite to search for those resources and lessons.  Check out the video below to get started.


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