Thursday, April 18, 2013

Step 2: Curating and Sharing Open Educational Resources

Okay, let's assume you have found some great educational resources for our classroom. Now what? defines curate as "to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation..." I couldn't have said it better myself. You must collect and save these resources, then organize them in a way that makes sense to you. 

I would like to stress the "sharing" component. Teachers often do things in isolation and re-invent the wheel. Especially with the Common Core and new science standards, it's essential for teachers to be more social and share resources with each other. We're all in this together.

There are many tools out there for curating resources. I have long used the social bookmarking site Diigo for this purpose. (See our prior post on social bookmarking in the classroom.) It's great for collecting resources, but not so great at sharing. A lot of teachers currently use services Google Drive, Evernote, and/or Edmodo to share resources with students. Their drawback is the limited types of resources they can handle (for now at least). I went searching for a way to curate and share all types of digital resources. I have found the perfect solution in Learnist. 


Learnist is relatively new service and clearly modeled after Pinterest. In fact, it is often referred to as "Pinterest for education". Users create "digital learning boards" on varying topics. They can then add endless digital resources ("learnings") to each board. 

It is very easy to add and organize content in Learnist, either directly on the website or through a browser bookmarklet. Learnist allows you to add a wide variety of content: PDFs, websites, blog posts, Google Maps, YouTube videos, simulations, Google docs, and Google forms to name just a few. The cool part is that all resources are viewed within the Learnist site. You can even click through presentations and complete surveys. You can even add entire Google Drive folders or link to other Learnist boards. Pretty much every digital resource I have collected can be organized and shared!

Check out my Learnist profile page to get a sense of how I am currently using it. So far, I have created a few learning boards for various science units and projects and have started to add materials to these boards. I gave Learnist a test drive recently to share resources with my students for their roller coaster energy project. They seemed to like it. 

Some Learnist features and classroom applications:

Re-position learnings in a board. 

As you add "learnings" (the various resources you collect) to a board, you can rearrange their order. For example, you may want the most important information at the top of the list. 

"Marked done" feature

As you look at the resources in a board, each one has a checkmark at the top right where you can check off a resource once you have looked at it. Imagine you have a board that includes five resources for students to look at. This feature is helpful for students to keep track of resources they have already looked at.  

Re-add learnings to a different learning board. 

This is probably my most favorite feature of Learnist. Not only is Learnist my favorite tool to curate and share educational resources, but it's also an excellent place to find resources! You can search for content and find some great resources being shared by other teachers. For example, I found a learning board created by another teacher on renewable and non-renewable energy. Each resource in that board has a "re-add" button that allows me to quickly and easily add that resource to one of my own learning boards. 

Each board can have multiple collaborators.

Multiple teachers can share resources together on a single board. These combined resources can then be shared with all of their students. Another great potential of Learnist is to have students use it. This is a great way for students to collaborate on group research projects.

Learnist is social

Learnist provides many sharing opportunities. You can "like" resources and "follow" other users. If your students decided to use Learnist to curate their own resources, they could "follow" you to get quick access to your materials. 

Suggest learnings

Learnist users can suggest possible "learnings" to other users. I have already had a student suggest a website for me to add to one of my roller coaster physics board! 

Learnist iPad app

Learnist recently came out with a free app which makes viewing resources on an iPad a breeze. Students do not need an account to view your resources. You are also able to add pictures from the camera roll to a specific learning board. In the future, I expect you will be able to share even more. 

Learnist Resources

How to use Learnist on the Web

How to use Learnist on the iPad

Special learning types that can be added to Learnist

Using Learnist in the high school classroom

Why I love and use Learnist (and why you should too)

My 10 favorite Learnist boards built by teachers
These learning boards created by teachers range from Ancient Civilizations to Speech and Drama)

Step 1: Finding Open Educational Resources

(Some of the information in this post came from a session at the iCon 2013 conference.)

Thanks to the Internet, there are endless resources out there for you to integrate into your curriculum. The first step is to search for these open educational materials (OER). Materials can include videos, songs, podcasts, handouts, lesson plans, digital textbooks, simulations/interactives, websites, handouts, primary source documents, etc. Keep in mind that not all resources can be accessed using an iPad! Many of the simulations and interactives in particular run on Flash. These must be accessed on a computer.

The list below is just a short list of what's out there. If you know of other sources, please leave a comment and share them!

OER Commons

This site offers educators a place where they can connect and share resources with other educators. OER Commons offers a vast database of teacher-created curriculum. The content is vetted for credibility and provides citations for reference. Users can sign up for a free account, share their own work, and access and curate their own content via their account.

YouTube EDU

Despite a lot of junk being on there, YouTube has a LOT of excellent educational videos. YouTube Education further weeds out a lot of the garbage and still manages to provide thousands of educational videos that can be narrowed down by grade level and topic. 

*Two popular collections of YouTube videos are Khan Academy and Ted Talks. Click on the links below to visit them directly.


"Create lessons worth sharing around YouTube videos."

Khan Academy

MIT + K12

MIT + K12 is an MIT project that has MIT students create videos to explain math and science concepts for K-12 students. The videos are engaging. They demonstrate the science taking place through experiments while explaining the concepts that are taking place.

Gooru is a "free search engine for learning". We shared this great search engine previously, but it's worth mentioning again. Search results contain millions of 5th-12th grade resources in math, science, and social studies. These educational resources range from videos and interactives to lessons and assessments.

CK-12 Foundation

The CK-12 Foundation offers FlexBooks, full digital texts that students and teachers can access on multiple devices. FlexBooks are available in PDF, MOBI and ePub formats. This gives many different devices access to rich content. You can create your own from scratch, use others "as is", or compile different FlexBooks together to make your own.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg has a collection of 42,000 free ebooks. These books were all previously published, but their copyrights expired and can now be shared for free. Project Gutenberg offers a variety of file formats for users, so they can be read on iPads as well as other devices.

It's important to note that any works by Shakespeare do not have line numbers. However, you can add your own! It's a bit time consuming but teachers will then have their own copy to use every year.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress gives access to many digital "primary source" resources including photographs, historic newspapers, sound recordings, maps, and manuscripts.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Finding, Curating, and Sharing Open Educational Resources

We have all heard about the future of "21st century" education: student-centered, project-based, technology-based, and more "authentic" learning experiences. One of the best models of this future is the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia, PA. Chris Lehmann is the founding principal of this progressive science and technology high school. He is quite the insightful leader and once said, "Technology must be ubiquitous, necessary and invisible." (Click on the links to read more.)

As we move toward the future and implement more technology into our planning, instruction, and assessment, it is important to keep this in mind. One of the biggest hurdles for teachers is finding educational resources online. With the introduction of the iPad and other tablets, the initial focus was on interactive textbooks created by publishers. These "ebooks" are cool and flashy but very expensive. The next phase was for teachers to create their own digital textbooks. This can be done but is also very time consuming. Considering we are all in the process of implementing the Common Core and new science standards, the content of these books is also very much in flux and subject to change. The current trend is to use OER - "Open Educational Resources". The "open" implies free resources that can be used by educators and shared with their students. 

The next few tech tips will go more in depth and suggest possible methods for each step:

  1. Finding open educational resources 
  2. Curating and sharing these resources