Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Resources

Here's a quick rundown of the resources I use on a regular basis:

CK-12: CK-12 is a nonprofit organization that creates and curates academic content. While they focus primarily on STEM content, they do have some Language Arts and history content. CK-12 offers text files, quizzes, videos, study guides, and other content resources at a wide range of levels. I love two things about the CK-12 texts - first, most topics are offered at basic/at grade/advanced level options, and second, all text is completely editable. You can download complete textbooks, put your own text together from individual sections, or create a book from scratch. I created my own textbook from section files that matched my course content, then edited them for content and age-appropriateness. Also cool - texts can be linked to online or downloaded as pdfs, files for Kindles, or files for tablets. I especially like those last two options - they not only save students the cost of a text, but the cost of printing a digital text.

My Open Math: Another great, versatile site with a wealth of resources. My Open Math can function on its own as a course management site, or can be connected to Moodle. Instructors can build entire courses (import pre-build courses, start completely from scratch, or somewhere in between) that include textbooks, videos, assessments, links, etc. I primarily use My Open Math for two things - to create online practice assessments (drawn from MOM's algorithmically generated question banks) for my students to complete during lab sessions, and to create problem sets for use in class - there is an option to generate paper versions of exercises created within the system. Despite the occasional glitch, the system is generally reliable and provides a decent variety of question types for most subjects. Arithmetic and geometry content is scant, but there are many algebra, college algebra, calculus, etc. options. As with CK-12, instructors can edit questions and use MOM tools to create questions. Highly recommended.

Tyler Wallace's Beginning and Intermediate Algebra textbook: An open textbook with student solutions manual and workbooks. An editable version of all files is also available for download.

Kuta Software free worksheets: Kuta Software sells a program for generating customized math worksheets, but also provides a rather extensive bank of sample worksheets free on its website. Topics range from PreAlgebra to Calculus.

Khan Academy: I use Khan's videos for homework assignments (previewing the next day's lesson) and additional help outside of class; I've also used the practice exercises as additional review for students.

Braingenie: A component of CK-12, Braingenie is a gamified tutorial/practice site for math and science. Students can complete practice quizzes for various topics and units; they can also join "multiplayer" quizzes with other students using the site.

Blendspace: This website allows teachers to "bundle" resources found on the web - media files, pdfs, links, etc. - and share lessons with students and other teachers. I've been using Blendspace to create sets of practice/review materials for the various topics I cover in class. The site is extremely easy to use, and blended lessons are easy to embed into Moodle.

Dr. John Rasp's Statistics Website: A collection of diverse data sets that can be downloaded as Excel spreadsheets. Great for real-life stats practice, linear modeling, etc.

NBC Learn: Again, mainly a paid service of the NBC network, but provides a section of educational videos that are accessible for free. Lots of STEM videos related to sports (my fave is on the science and math of hockey).

The Math Dude: Quick and Dirty Tips: Short, readable explanations of various math topics. Some interesting and fun seasonal/cultural math topics. Free, printable pdf worksheets on a variety of basic math topics. Good for review. Another free worksheet generator. Basic math - geometry.

Wrapping Up!

I put the finishing touches on my OER course this week, and I feel pretty good about what I've put together. While I consider this a work in progress, I feel like I can roll into fall term with my Math 4 course ready to go for my students.

I've really enjoyed this project, because it's prompted me to do things that I've intended to do for a long time. My students now have a text book customized to our curriculum, practice materials for every lesson, and a bank of resources to help them outside of class. It took some time to put all of this together - I knew that would be the case, but it took more time than I anticipated - but I consider it time well spent.

Given that I teach students at the developmental level, I'm always challenged to find materials that meet them at both their academic level and level of maturity. My students are adults - while they may need to learn skills that are generally taught in middle or high school, they don't want to solve problems about a kid saving his allowance for a video game. I had to wade through a lot of that type of material to find what I wanted, but I'm pleased to say that I was able to find resources that appeal to a more universal audience, or can be edited to make them more age-appropriate for my students.

My wrap-up video covers a few of the main OER resources that I used in constructing my class; for a more complete list, check out my next blog post.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Avoiding Monotony

I've spent this term creating my all-OER Math 4 course, and I've been pretty successful at finding good OER materials to use with my courses. I have a textbook and supplementary resources from CK-12 , worksheets available free on the web from Kuta Software and , exercises and videos from My Open Math, some resources I've created myself, and a number of videos (primarily from Khan Academy). I feel like I'm off to a good start, but I've identified two things that I'd like to work on as I move forward in this project.

The first concern came to me in a faculty meeting the other day. We were talking about tutorial videos, and one of my colleagues made the comment that, "the Khan videos are pretty good, but I can only listen to that guy for so long." The comment struck me because while I do try to use a variety of resources, I know that I've relied on Khan Academy for many of the tutorial videos I've posted for students - and required as assigned watching. As I've previewed more and more of Khan's videos for classes, I know that I've grown irritated by some of Khan's vocal mannerisms, frequently repeated phrases, etc. I'm sure that my students must, too. Since that meeting, I've been working on finding other sources of tutorial videos that are high quality and engaging, so that I can "mix it up" a bit with students, or at least offer them alternative sources of information.

The other thing I'd like to address with my course offerings are that I have sections of my course that are rich with a variety of materials tailored to my course, and other sections that due to time constraints or other issues I put together more quickly, using more "generic" materials. I'd really like to go back, fill in the gaps, and clean up these weaker units.

As this term winds down and I prepare for spring term, I plan to spend quality time on the OER blogs and repositories, looking for materials that will solve some of these problems for me.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Getting Started with OER

Well, ok, I'm not exactly "getting started" with OER, but I am excited to be getting started with the OER Fellowship. Having worked in alternative high schools and developmental ed for the past almost-20 years, I've learned to plan my classes in a way that accommodates a range of students - including those with limited financial means. That has meant looking for project materials, handouts, and texts that I and my students can get for cheap or free. The growth of online OER materials has been both a blessing and a curse - the number of high-quality, completely free resources is great, but doing the research and sifting through materials is time-consuming.

I currently teach in the Adult Basic Skills department; my classes are noncredit and tuition-free - a great deal, but it also means that students do not have financial aid to help with textbooks and other materials. For the reading class I taught previous terms, students were required to buy a $38 textbook, and for many students even this relatively inexpensive text was a burden. This term, I'm teaching math and I feel that it's really important for students to have a textbook. Students need a reference they can turn to outside of class, and they need problem sets they can do for practice. In addition, they need to develop the skill of reading a textbook because they will be expected to do so in future classes. For math, this is particularly important. Reading a math text requires a different skill set than reading a history, reading, or even science text; with a class text, I can teach students how to use the text.

This leads to my goal for the Fellowship: I plan to create a completely OER Math 4 (algebra) course for ABSE. My plan is to create a course covering basic algebra concepts (number sets and patterns, solving equations, functions, graphing, polynomials) and utilizing OER resources for text, practice exercise (both on paper and online), tutorial videos, and some assessment. I'd like to use a mix of materials developed by others and materials that I create. I already have several OER sources that I use regularly; I hope to find additional resources to add to my resource library.

I anticipate some technological glitches along the way, and I know that student access to Moodle and other online resources varies. I also know that I'll need to build time into my course to teach students how to access and use the materials I'll provide them. I have some concerns about my own time - I often have lofty ambitions for creating or gathering class materials that don't match the reality of my available prep time.

I'm really looking forward to concentrating on this goal this term. Here we go...