Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.
The COVID-19 pandemic upended elementary and secondary schools in many ways, including how students learn. The sudden need for remote learning meant that many districts without a one-to-one device infrastructure quickly moved to get computers or tablets into the hands of students.
Fast forward to today. In-person school is back, yet many teachers continue to rely on digital tools and new techniques to instruct students.
As a result, districts are reassessing their need for physical textbooks. Considering their high cost, this is understandable. In the year prior to the pandemic, public elementary and secondary schools in the US spent close to $2.5 billion on textbooks alone.
When you factor in how quickly textbooks become dated, and the availability of free teaching materials online, it’s not a surprise that schools are questioning if physical books are even essential and are asking teachers to develop curriculum for their classrooms.
Textbook companies have dozens of experts involved in crafting and updating books, and teachers may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of developing curriculum. Here are some tips and resources to get you started.
Rethink how you teach
Students expect to learn using digital tools, so embrace the technology, and let it guide how you teach. Digital tools are especially good at flipping the classroom from being lecture-centric to being interaction-centric. This is done when a lecture is replaced with students consuming multimedia learning materials at home or during classroom study time and coming prepared to discuss and debate the material in class.
Look for high-quality digital materials
Half of the students in a recent Project Tomorrow survey say they are not engaged by their current teaching materials. Paper textbooks can be expensive and boring, especially for the TikTok generation. Look for multimedia materials that illustrate lessons and engage students, including those from movies, sitcoms, animations, late-night shows, memes and other sources.
Start with a digital framework as you’re developing curriculum
To add structure to curriculum development efforts — and make your job easier — start with an existing framework that can be adapted to your own needs and those of your students. For example, Poptential provides free packages for various social studies courses that are standards-based and can be modified or enhanced with additional teaching materials.
Use quiz banks wisely
With the availability of online materials, students have gotten very good at sniffing out pre-made tests and quizzes. Don’t assume that online tests are secure. Instead, use those multiple-choice resources to help students check their understanding of the material as homework, and write test questions that assess critical thinking.
A number of open education resources that have free material are available for teacher use. Some of the better sites include:
- WeAre Teachers, a community of about 3 million educators who share resources and tips.
- Openstax, an educational technology initiative of Rice University with the mission of improving educational access.
- US Department of Education, which provides information and resources for teachers on literacy, writing and math.
- Library of Congress, the research arm of the US Congress that offers classroom materials from its digital collections.
With all the distractions fighting for the attention of students, the most important thing a teacher can do today is to make students want to learn. Developing curriculum that is engaging and entertaining will help provide the motivation they need.
Fred Fransen is CEO of Certell, the maker of the Poptential family of free digital social studies course packages that animate the classroom and create independent thinkers. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought. Fred can be reached at Fred@Certell.org.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.
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