Platforms For When You Leave the Textbook

With the prices that textbook publishers charge cash-strapped schools to use their materials, I predict that textbooks will not last the next ten years. I've been told by one colleague in another school that one particular textbook they use in high school science costs over $200 per book. Couple that with having to replace them every three years or so and textbooks can end up being a huge expense for schools. Yes, they are succinct, packaged, highlight specific vocabulary, and scaffold up to more cognitively challenging tasks. However, for many teachers though, the book ends up being the curriculum rather than supporting the curriculum at a somewhat mechanized pace. In short, it ends up "teacher-proofing" the curriculum and it becomes hard to deviate from it, the pace, or its activities.


Online learning platforms are changing all that. Where the thought of piecing together resources to help build content understanding from a variety of sources may seem that daunting, a number of creators have helped amalgamate content that can be delivered and monitored even before coming to class. This also can free the teacher up to meet with students that struggled with content lessons and provide class time to enrich some students that have shown competency or compacted out of others. If you're a fan of flipped learning, these have great uses.

CK-12 is a non-profit company that aims to increase access for K-12 schools. Once signing onto the dashboard, you will be given the option of creating "class lists" that have a sign in code. Simply direct your students to the link, use the classroom code and you're ready to rock and roll.

The dashboard in CK-12. In the Q&A forum, students ask clarifying questions to each other about lesson concepts which helps me identify lessons for upcoming classes.

If you look at the dashboard above you can assign readings or suggested material in the "Shared resources" tab, or go to the "Assignments" tab and assign specific lessons (many of which have comprehension quizzes) that are to be conducted before or following a lesson. What I really like about CK-12 is that by clicking on the progress report, I know how students did on a particular lesson which helps me group individuals (like those who got below a certain %) for remediation or suggest to others differentiated or extension activities. 

The reports tab. A mouse click identifies comprehension scores so I can hone on individuals that seemed to struggle with concepts and provide more individualized instruction. 

I have many online online contacts that love Schoology. Like CK-12, teachers can invite students, create class lists and track progress. I think what makes Schoology attractive is that it has a calender to help students get organized with regards to due dates of assignments. I have not used this yet, but may try this next semester in place of CK-12 to compare the two.

The dashboard at Schoology.

Khan Academy
I got my five year old daughter on Khan Academy and she loves it. I haven't taught math in two years, but Khan Academy has improved the amount of content, lessons and tracking abilities for teachers and our MS teachers are using Khan Academy for math instruction. There are roughly 900 math skills to master and it makes sense to do them sequentially although I mastered the fourth grade curriculum before the third grade curriculum.

My daughter's progress on Khan Academy. I can see what I need to practice with her and what skills she's mastered. 

Coincidentally, I'm reading Sal Khan's book right now, "The One Room School House" which is fascinating although the thing that resonated with me the most is how he advocates for mastery learning, meaning students should learn 100% of the content and skills before proceeding. This is inherent in Khan Academy's pedagogy as you must get a certain number of problems correct in a row before achieving a "level up" on that skill. This is a strong point as we often think of a student that earned an 75% or "C" as satisfactory. However, would you want the doctor who is operating on your parent's heart during surgery to have 75% mastery in medical school? How about the mechanic who serviced your plane before that long transatlantic flight?

The Bottom Line
Leaving the comfort of a textbook may be a leap of faith for many teachers, but the start of a new semester after the holiday may be a good time to try something new and invigorate what has become a boring routine. My advice is to start by setting up a "practice" class yourself wherein you can log in as a student. Some platforms are very similar as well. CK-12 verses Schoology. Khan Academy verses ALEKS. Talk with other teachers and share your success and hangups with each platform. Our MS math teachers are collecting data on the success of ALEKS and Khan Academy in grade 7, and I'm really eager to hear of the findings next spring.

Still, they cannot replace a classroom of teachers that provide help and activities for mixed ability students. Don't become overly reliant on it, or relegate classroom time to only having kids work their ways through tutorials. Provide direct instruction, tiered instruction, learning centers based on differentiated interests and hands on activities and labs. Setting a classroom culture of learning will help minimize problems of classroom management which will help pave the way  for students to become self-directed learners.

Related Posts
Making Flipped Lessons Meaningful
Implementing Math Stations
Khan Academy Steps Up It's Data Use
Challenge By Choice


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