Flexible Texts

I don’t really think of myself as a renegade, but for the past eight years, I’ve enjoyed the relative freedom to structure and pace my instruction according to my students’ needs.  Considering the population I teach—pregnant and parenting teen girls—I see this ability to respond to students needs as essential.  Their transience and attendance issues, not to mention the host of other baggage they move in with, mean that I have to be flexible when it comes to lesson planning.

That’s why I’m pretty excited about a project I’m working on ebooknow, with the blessing of my district Science Instructional Specialist, to design and format an online FlexBook for my biology class. The FlexBook uses Open Education Resources (OER) from the CK12 Foundation at www.ck12.org.   I’ve already got a web presence for the class via Haiku Learning Management System, and we have a 1:1 campus, so an online text seems the next logical step.

The CK12 site is rich with math and science resources and includes a huge database of lessons, multimedia objects, assessments, and text logo_ck12_largematerial.  There are also a few resources for history and English, but it’s clear that math and science are its current strengths.

So far this month, I’ve put together a customized FlexBook text for a unit on genetics and am now putting finishing touches on a DNA and RNA unit.  I’m impressed with what there is to work with at CK12; I’ve only scratched the surface of biology topics available on the site.  One bonus is that you can upload your own documents or other elements, or you can edit or add text directly to what’s offered.  I’ve looked at a few online sources in the past couple of years, but few come close to the quality of CK-12, in my opinion.  Of course, more and better sites will undoubtedly emerge in time; they always do.

Pregnant students—or any students, for that matter—don’t need to lug around a 15-pound biology text.  With the FlexBook, students can access the text on their laptops, or they can print the chapters as they like and make notes or paper airplanes with them (just thought I’d see if you were paying attention there—I don’t encourage paper airplane construction, except in physical science class).

In case you’re similarly interested in OER’s, here are some sites you might want to check out:

  • Net Texts. This is a comprehensive source of lessons and other content for science, social studies, math, and English.  I’ve had an account there for a couple of years and have watched it evolve into a top-notch source.  NetTexts-flowchart_0In fact, if my district hadn’t already put their seal of approval on CK12, I might have gone with this one.  They also have iPad and Android apps, which is handy.
  • Creative Commons. Authors grant certain rights to use of their work through this organization; this is where open education begins.
  • Achieve OER Rubrics. This nonprofit educational reform and assessment company provides several detailed rubrics for helping districts and educators evaluate the quality of OER.
  • OER Commons. Another high quality collection of resources, which you can mix and remix to suit your needs.  You only need to give credit to original authors, and you’re free to add your own.
  • Project Gutenberg. Great repository for thousands of free e-books, most from the 19th century.
  • MIT Open Courseware. One of the first OERs available, this site has resources provided by MIT professors.  Resources are college level and quite complex.  It’s MIT, people.
  • Khan Academy. No discussion of OER would be complete without mention of Khan Academy.  Most useful resources are in math, finance, and history.  Some people swear by these videos; my cat loves them.  Who else can stay engaged by a 20-minute video of someone’s hand writing notes about quadratic equations on a blackboard?
  • MOOCs. Not a site, but a concept.  Massively Open Online Courses vary tremendously in quality.  Whole courses, free and accessible.  You get what you pay for?

Educators are the best people I know for sharing resources, so the OER concept should really take off in K12 environments, and maybe higher ed as well.  I predict that resources will continue to improve and expand to meet most classroom needs within a few years.  The interactive and multimedia elements are already there to engage students and reinforce concepts.  Textbook publishers who have had an iron grip on educational dollars at all levels for decades will have to reckon with this force.  They’ll need to adapt to this new, open climate; they’ll have to learn to play a new game or take their precious 20-pound, $200 tomes and go home.

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