Thing 29: Open Educational Resources

Because I already teach in an online environment, I was interested in looking at OER as a way to supplement our current courses, perhaps replace them with better content, or add to our course offerings.

Prior to this “Thing” I had heard of Ck12, and open licensing, but I wasn’t aware that there was a whole movement with it, and the reasoning behind it.  I found it interesting, but confusing in some aspects.

Some of the points that I found confusing/worth discussion are:

  • Paid vs. free sharing of resources.  I can understand if resources are made by a public institution, with publicly paid employees that the resources become ‘open’ or public.  This makes sense. It could also be a teacher, or organizations individual right to choose to share their resources openly, or to make resources available for collaboration. This is done in many of the other venues that we already shared (discussion groups, professional networks) and this provides another way to do so.  They are somewhat in competition with paid sources of resources (textbook publishers, Teacherspayteachers, TES, etc, and I wonder how that works. Are they similar quality?  How can free compete with paid?  Does this undermine the importance and quality of the work, bring more attention to the work that is being done if it is shared freely?
  • I am unclear on OpenEd and whether it applies to digital resources or paper (printable) resources that are shared. It seems to apply to both, and I was not aware of that.
  • I read the Creative Commons copyright information, and that makes sense.  Since we are educators, I’m wondering how that fits with The Teach Act and Educational Fair Use which I have heard of but don’t thoroughly know. I skimmed through this document and the other two links that I gave.

Anyway, after I read through and learned about OpenEd, I decided that I really wanted to look for resources that we could use to supplement our online courses.  Whether that is online courses, or units, or additional texts/videos etc.  The courses that we have are alright, but not terribly well aligned with New York State curriculum.

What I found is that, while there are a lot of resources, they are pieces are parts of things. They are far from comprehensive and would still take a lot of work to piece together units or cohesive instruction.  In many cases they are an activity, but don’t have the instructional pieces, etc.

I decided to focus on biology, as our biology resources are lacking.  Some of the resources that I found are:

  • Biology Corner – good, but a mix of classroom/paper, and digital resources. Again, not very well-aligned to New York State, but not bad.
  • Curriki – A very limited selection, often paper activities that are shared. Missing core instructional pieces.
  • Science Netlinks I would like to spend some more time looking at. Its not complete as it stands, but has some units/mini-units that are pretty complete, maybe to supplement or substitute for other units or use like a PBL.
  • This is a great directory of resources,

I guess this answers my question about commercial products v. free. They are much more comprehensive, and cohesive.  You are paying for someone, in many cases, to put those public domain pieces together and fill in some of the gaps. I think this is the case for the courses that we have purchased currently.

Textbooks and Instruction (not activities)

  • There are some great videos, especially Bozeman Science and Crash Course. These I already knew of, but they came up in some of the searches, so I guess they can be used.  There are also some open textbooks, that could be used in pieces that apply to our curriculum.
  • Ck12 falls into this category. We actually starting doing some work last year using some pieces from Ck12, but it is very work intensive to develop a whole class, and we ran into problems with some of the links.
  • There are several biology open texts listed here
  • A few other good textbook sources were available at this link (CNX), boundless, and here.

I think there is a lot of potential here, but it raises a lot of questions about how to integrate it into a LMS, or how to best use those pieces as we transition to other types of learning.

Thing 10: Connected Educator

As a teacher in the Rochester City School District, I have often been in “small schools” where I was the only science teacher, so it has been important for me to network outside of my school. I have rarely had much of a department, and when I did it was with other science teachers who were teaching DIFFERENT science courses.  However, in my current position I need to change my networking a bit.

I am fairly active in several groups, but I think the most helpful (most active) are a Facebook group for AP Environmental Science, and the science teacher listserves run by Oneonta.  These are great resources for a science teacher, and were fantastic when I switched from Earth Science to AP, to middle school, to Biology.   This year, when my AP students were reviewing I was able to share and receive review resources and information about what topics to emphasize with others in the group.   I was also able to share some tech knowledge about Google drive, etc.

However, now that I am teaching in an online program, I have not found a similar group for that.  What I am doing is science, but it is very non-traditional, and the focus is really not on the science, but on the virtual component.  It is not quite a blended class because I do not see my students daily, but instead weekly.

I also had a subscription to NSTA magazines (Science Scope and Science Teacher for middle school and high school). They are wonderful, but expensive, and again not terribly relevant to my current position.  NSTA also has discussion groups that are available free, even without a subscription, but they aren’t very active.

When I noticed this gap, I tried to broaden my resources to include some additional resources on virtual learning or online education.  I searched for Facebook groups related to online education, but really didn’t find very much.

I searched for blogs, and found some blogs that were related to at least educational tech/blended learning, although not strictly virtual/online courses.  I know that I won’t follow them or go back and check on them regularly. I was trying to figure out a way around that. I ended up adding a chrome extension ( that creates a customized start page.  On that page I could add those websites and get updates.   Hopefully that will encourage me to stay up to date.

I tried to do the same for a few twitter hashtags related to online learning. I don’t use twitter regularly, and am trying to put it in one place so that I am more likely to see it.



If you know of discussion groups, facebook groups or other forums for virtual learning/online education I would be interested.



Thing 14: News Literacy

I have tried to use news articles on and off in my science classroom for many years, but I have not always found it it be as effective as I would like.  One year I won a grade to ScienceWorld magazine, which helped make it more appealing and entertaining to students, but still was hard to integrate as well as I pictures.  I have also used Newsela, which was great for differentiating. Without a paid subscription I needed an additional assignment to go with it, as I could not see the scores/use the assignments in Newsela, but I liked the differentiated reading levels available, and the range of articles.  I wanted students to make connections between class activities and real-life, as well as improve their literacy skills.  Lastly, this year in teaching AP Environmental Science I included an news article assignment. They had to find a news article related to each topic, summarize, include vocabulary words, and then do a short analysis. The analysis portion they really struggled.  Almost every student said that every article had no controversy, no bias, etc.  I would like to change this assignment for next year, and this gave me some good ideas about how to do so.

I think, even within a science class, there is some bias and some room for interpretation. In an AP level class, students should be able to recognize.  Even if the websites are fairly reputable, there are different organizations and political interests involved, and there are sides to consider.  Students also got bored with this assignment (it became repetitive) as the year went on.

I would like to adapt this news article assignment to include some of the resources that were included in this lesson.

I think news literacy is very much overlapping with media literacy and one way to improve the assignment to reduce boredom would be to include podcasts in addition to news article. These could include:


  • – I have never seen this before, and I was very impressed with the included quizzes, graphic organizers, and guided questions. This would be a way to change the news article assignment.  I was very impressed with the search capabilities on this website as well.  These quizzes or graphic organizers could perhaps take the place of the summary.
  • Other science news podcasts.
  • I just saw a news story recently NPR is supposed be launching a new podcast for kids next week and that, or other kid’s podcasts might be good.

News Literacy Introduction

  • I would like to start with a small assignment on news literacy, perhaps including the video shown in this lesson.
  • Since they are science articles, although they do cover science topics, also making sure to explicitly analyze graphs, data, maps, etc.

More scaffolding on the analysis portion

  • Rather than ask open-ended questions, I think I need to ask more directed questions and tasks such as having them do the fact-checking challenge or reinvent current events described in the Edutopia article.  This could take the place of the analysis portion of the assignment.
  • Lastly, this source had a clear process for examining an article.

Over the summer I hope to refine the assignment to include these changes discussed here.   I think these will help with the news literacy portion of the assignment.  I still want to work on them making connections between the news and the class topics, and finding the assignment valuable. I think that I may give narrower choice of articles, or find articles for them. I have suggested websites and guidelines, and I wanted them to find something of interest, but sometimes they found articles that were not really on topic.  I’m still thinking about this part. Suggestions welcome!


Thing 8: Screencasting and Screensharing

Since I teach in an online environment (meeting with students who are taking virtual courses) I have done a little bit of screencasting before, although I have never done screensharing.

I want to try some of the screensharing options.  We have also had some training and looked at using Zoom for videoconferencing/screensharing.  However, I have not used this yet.  There is a bit of a learning curve for students, which is difficult to get by, especially at this point in the year when routines are pretty well ingrained.  I think for next year I would like to set up to use the videoconferencing/screensharing options earlier in the year.  We have to be careful that the tools that we choose are not blocked by the district and that nothing needs to be installed by students.

This assignment did prompt me to make a new video that I have been meaning to make walking my students through how to do one of the ‘virtual labs’ where they often get stuck.  Hopefully this will help eliminate some of the confusion and allow students to progress more readily through their coursework.  I did find it necessary to make a script first and to do a practice walk through before recording, although I have helped students with this lab MANY times.

I hope it is helpful, and I may make a couple more. It really wasn’t too difficult once I got started, although I did have to redo it once because there was a lot of background noise during my recording.

Thing 7: Audio Tools

I got stuck on this ‘thing’ for audio tools because it fit really well with a particular problem that I was trying to solve at work, and thought it would fit will for this assignment as well. However, I was not really successful with that.  So I got sidetracked for a long time, with little results.  Then I changed gears, and will share what I did instead.

What I wanted to do add audio narration to Google Slides. It is so simple in PowerPoint. You can click “insert audio” “from computer” and record what you want to say. PowerPoint will even put a ‘play’ button on your slide.

I thought that if PowerPoint did this so easily, Google Slides must be able to do it as well – wrong!  You cannot directly add audio into Google Slides at this time.

The options are:

  • Use screencastify (or another recorder, but this seems to be a preferred one) to record yourself going through the slides and narrating. This is creating a video of your screen, and you can narrate.
  • Create an audio file using Vocaroo, or any other recorder, and link it. But when the link is clicked it will open in a new tab.
  • Create a ‘video’ in YouTube, but ignore the video portion, and only use the audio.  That is based on the directions found here.  This actually worked pretty well, but is still difficult and awkward compared to what I was hoping.  You can see my experiments here

I already have some experience with the voice typing features in Google Drive. It’s fantastic!  My son really struggles with writing (both the physical act of writing, and organizing and getting his ideas down on paper).  What he can express verbally is so far above what he can express in writing.  He has used this feature at home to complete some homework assignments and it has been very successful. It is difficult for him or for any other students to use in a classroom setting because of the logistics of using a microphone (even built into the computer) in a classroom.  I also have a friend (adult) who struggles with writing. I just mentioned this to her today and she wasn’t aware that it was available. She is looking forward to trying it out!

In an effort to actually complete something successfully for this assignment, I decided to focus on flipgrid. This was actually a last minute change because of a post in the AP Environmental Science Teacher Facebook Group that I am part of. I looked a FlipGrid when I read through this assignment, but was having trouble thinking of an application. Then I saw this post yesterday.

screenshot 2

And then I saw this post where students were given a review sheet on a certain topic and had to create a 3 minute video on that topic to capture (and review themselves) the highlights.  Here is that flipgrid

I love these ideas! These are so creative, and so much more engaging than many other end of the year and review ideas.  I could see kids getting really involved. I could also, however, see kids getting self-conscious. Maybe to do it in groups? Or not have their face on camera?

Lastly I tried one of my own. I took an assignment that I already use, but changed it from a written assignment to one that students would answer in video format instead. I like it. It leaves a lot more flexibility and fun. However, you would have to make sure that students are not embarrassed and are willing to participate, monitor the noise level, and make sure you have webcams/microphones.


Content Curation

I read Curation by Joyce Valenza, as an overview of curation, and Why Should We Teach Content Curation Skills? as well Developing Digital Literacy Through Content Curation. These are more focused on what curation is, and on curation as a skill for students. I think content curation is a key skill to teach students. These platforms make its easier for students to organize web sources, and to add a short description, or keep track of their research.

With internet research, there are so many sources of information available at our fingertips, but it is critical that students, and adults, learn how to sift through and process that information.  Content curation seems to me to be an intermediate steps, similar to taking notes on note cards and then organizing the note cards.   Content curation involves looking at the available sources, choosing the best resources, organizing them, and possibly summarizing or annotating.

For students this could be a final product, or an intermediate step in a research process, or even a modification.  Perhaps some students could create a research paper, while others create a Pinterest board or other set of curated links with a short summary or explanation.

As a teacher, we constantly curate content when we choose to give our students resources (diagrams, readings, websites) to use for a class assignment. However, these curation tools allow us better ways to present these resources to our students, and perhaps to walk them through a sequence of lessons.

I decided that I was going to make a collection of AP Environmental Science review resources, as the time for AP Review is approaching, and I want my students to have some resources to use on their own to review the areas that they determine they need the most work on.

I have already used Pinterest quite a bit personally, and I wanted to use a new resource. However, after spending a lot of time trying out some of the other resources. I returned to Pinterest.  Still new, I guess, since I have never used it in this way.   Here is a brief summary of some of the other resources that I tried:

  • I like the ability to annotate and tag, but I couldn’t put the resources in any order, or put any thing except links (images, documents, etc).
  • I was having a hard time understanding how students would know what the links are. It just made a “board” but no descriptions or annotations that I could find.
  • Educlips: had potential, but I just didn’t find it user friendly; seemed to have a large learning curve.  I might explore this in the future.

I decided that the features that I was looking for are as follows (and I could do almost all of those in Pinterest):

  • Ability to add different types of items (pictures, google docs, links, etc)
  • Not blocked at school
  • Ability to organize those (can sort into boards and sequence the boards; can NOT sequence pins on the board)
  • Ability to annotate or describe what each item is.
  • Bonuses:
    • can embed in a website without needing a separate login
    • includes a picture or icon for each resource.

I created a few Pinterest boards.  One is general AP Environmental Science Review (overview and mixed topics).  Then I plan to create a board for each unit with key resources and links.  I only did one as an example (shown below).

I will share these with my students as we get closer to the exam. I have not decided yet if I will allow them to add resources to the boards. I think I may, so that we build a set of review resources.  These could also be shared professionally with other AP Env. Science teachers/classes.

Alternatively, I could ask students to create their own board (perhaps jigsaw one per unit).

I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out later in the year!



Thing 4: Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling- It is not about the Tools…It’s about the Skills flickr photo by langwitches shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

For this activity I explored a few of the tools that were given (there were so many!).  I played around with PowToon, but I ran into some problems along the way.  I also played a bit with Moovly.

These were really cool, but they were much more time consuming than I thought. It really took quite a bit of pre-planning to determine what I wanted to make, and the have all the graphics and text ready. I wanted to add a graph but had trouble doing that.  I think it has a lot of potential as a tool to re-tell a story or to teach a concept.

My original idea to make a short video explaining a concept. I was going to make a video explaining petroleum formation, but had trouble finding all the graphics that I needed and didn’t have a clear view of what I was making.

I think this could be a tool for a teacher, such as myself, in an online class to make a quick video but I think these may be better tools for students to use to create summations of their knowledge or to tell a series of events.

My students and I were just recently talking about Love Canal, and they were not familiar with the events surrounding Love Canal, so I created a timeline of the events surrounding Love Canal.  I was not able to embed it, so it is linked here.

Timeline of events surrounding Love Canal

I could definitely see choosing one or two of these tools and teaching students to use it in order to summarize their learning on a topic, to do a research project and present their information or to make a timeline.

I think it would be important to limit the use of one tool at a time and to give students some structure to learn the tool. I would have to choose one and make an exemplar in order to learn it better myself. It is a way to allow students to practice parts of the writing process (ideas and details, organizing information and telling a coherent story) in a more interactive format, or a way that may appear more ‘fun’ or to have less pressure. At the same time, it helps them build technology skills.

I think the storyboard idea, or the timeline idea really helps to organize information to to break it down into sequence and main ideas, which are important skills for a student processing information.

I would like to have students create a timeline or a storyboard/infographic for some type of topic at the end of the unit, or in place of a research project. These tools could be used for almost any topic. They are so broad!

Thing 3: Twitter

I was interested when I saw this topic for a PD. I am pretty active on Facebook, and do belong to a few groups that are very valuable for PD (National AP Environmental Science Teachers, Kesler Science Professional Learning Network).  These are similar to the listservs that have existed for a long time, but there are even easier to access and faster.

However, I am not experienced on twitter.  My district and department is beginning to utilize twitter.  I haven’t really used twitter and didn’t really ‘get it’ so I wanted to use this to explore and better understand.

I took this opportunity to set up a twitter profile (@SciRochTL) and check out some of the hashtags that were mentioned here.   I liked finding some new ideas, and some new contacts.  I followed my school and my department, and a few of the other suggestions.   I was particularly interested in some of the tweets related to blended learning and online courses, as that it my field at the moment, but not something we often have a chance to discuss outside of our department.

By clicking on a tag, or searching for a tag, I was able to uncover new ideas.  I could see it being a resource.  To me it was summed up in this quote.

Facebook = people you know, but don’t always want to know more about Twitter = people you don’t know, but want to get to know — Andy Sparks on Twitter

However, I was left with several questions.   I hear of twitter ‘chats’ and I’m not sure what this is.   I found this article that is pretty descriptive, but I still can’t quite picture it.

I also don’t see the advantage. I often hear that Twitter is a good starting point, and that is is better for professional resources than Facebook. However, Facebook has groups where files can be posted, questions can be posed to just that group, etc.  Facebook also has the capability to save posts or links.  I couldn’t find either of these capabilities in Twitter, and I am not sure that I see the advantage, but I’m willing to check it out further.

I was also having trouble completing this assignment and/or thinking about utilizing Twitter professionally since it is blocked at work.  I could see it as a resource to learn about new methods and new classroom ideas, however.

I did look up using Twitter for professional development and found some resources, which I am including below.  So I guess I answered my own question – I just need to go do it!

twitter for professional deveopment


Thing 2: Photo Fun

I have played around with several of these tools on my own, but enjoyed the exploration of a few new ones, and of thinking about ways to use them in class.

I was not aware of and I found this photo that would be great teaching the parts of a flower, or even provoking discussion prior to doing a lab. I loved that when I downloaded this photo, it already came with the credit and citation on it.


Many of these sites (both social sites and photo sites are blocked at school, so this made it more difficult.  I could work on this assignment at home, of course, but if I thinking of using this for school, I would like to use something that could be accessed at school. If not, it would take more planning ahead to access pictures at home, etc.

I could see using photos to help explain a concept, provoke interest, or even for a student who had missed class. They are also great discussion starters to practice skills such as inferencing and to bring concepts back to real life, so that they don’t only exist in textbooks or diagrams.

I was not familiar with BigHugeLabs and I think this could be a lot of fun.  It could be useful to make fun, attention-getting posters or bulletin boards, but students could also use this for an assignment. They could use this to make, for example, trading cards for a particular kingdom, or even types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic) using photos they found. Students could also make trading cards or movie posters for famous scientists, for example.  This would be a great way to get students working with digital photos as a project.

The ideas to use instagram in your classroom on a blog could also be used in a classroom blog, website, or newsletter and would be great ideas and great uses for classroom pictures. My son’s class uses Bloomz to communicate with parents, and the teacher sometimes takes photos and shares them through Bloomz. It is fun to see what is going on at school, and to have the prompts to talk to him about the class activities.  Although this post is labelled for instagram, it certainly wouldn’t have to be.

This assignment also reminded me of a few other related photo/mapping assignments that I have done with my classes.

I have given my students in AP Environmental Science a mapping project where they have to build up a map and add environmental events and photographs. This is working well so far. Here is an example.  This could be expanded to include more photographs.

Years ago I did a project on weathering and erosion using this website, which has photographs and data on a real rock wall, built of all different types of rock, from all over the US (or the world?)

Lastly, I really liked the “Dear Photograph” project. The concept behind this project is to “Take a picture of a picture from the past in the present.” See an example here. This seems to be done mostly in terms of nostalgia and relationships, which might lend itself better to history or English.  I am still  pondering where this could be applied.

I also had fun playing around with but I’m not sure the application yet.  I used (I think) to create this “Polaroid” and “Postage Stamp” of a faraway place.  Students could then write about the geology/weather/climate/wildlife in that place.

I could see looking at changes in the land use and even the landforms if good historical photos were available, but I had trouble finding a good source.


photo credit: Ted LaBar Musk Ox via photopin (license)