For a high school French teacher looking for a creative approach to verb conjugation, new lesson plans are only a website away. The same is true for a biology teacher covering a unit on mammals, or a history teacher trying to spice up a lesson on the Gettysburg Address.
Educators are beginning to embrace the type of open source content championed by software programmers by sharing their expertise online: lesson plans, classroom activities, and homework assignments.
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One of the sites teachers are using is Share My Lesson, which offers more than 256,000 classroom resources for grades K-12, ranging from in-depth lesson plans to presentations and test prep—many of them uploaded by teachers, and all of them available for free. The National Archives, Project Gutenberg, and other organizations have also contributed content. Launched in late July by the American Federation of Teachers, the site already has more than 72,000 registered users accounting for more than half a million downloads.
"I wish I had this when I was teaching," says Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, a national teachers union representing 1.5 million educators. "I used to get up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. and think, 'I don't like what I'm teaching today,'" and then create a new lesson from scratch.
Rather than brainstorming new ideas in the early morning hours, or tweaking old lessons on the fly, teachers can search Share My Lesson for content categorized by grade, subject, and topic, Weingarten says. The site sorts lesson plans and teaching content by format, including audio, video, images, documents, and interactive content.
Giving educators a place to share content they created is important, because it shows teachers they are trusted and respected as experts, Weingarten says.
"It's not just the publishing companies who know what needs to be taught. It's the teachers who are closest to the kids," she says.
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"For me, I've had 13 years to build my curriculum ... I can use Share My Lesson to supplement it," Williams says. "But I can imagine for a new teacher, when you're just starting from bare bones, what a wealth of information [this is]."
As most states move toward the Common Core State Standards, both novice and seasoned teachers will need new lessons aligned with the standards' project-based learning approach, rather than memorization drills to prepare students for standardized tests.
"It's a fundamentally different way of teaching than No Child Left Behind," the AFT's Weingarten says, adding that many of the resources on Share My Lesson are Common Core-aligned.
With the new standards just around the corner—or already in place for many districts—the shift has some educators on edge, says Williams, the high school French teacher. Teachers know they need to change their lessons, but don't know what the new plans should look like, she says, noting that now they can go to Share My Lesson and get Common Core lesson plans vetted by the AFT.
"I'm teaching five different levels of a subject, and now every lesson has to be Common Core aligned … It does seem daunting to change everything you're doing to meet this new standard," says Williams, who is taking a leave of absence from her teaching position to help AFT train teachers on how to use Share My Lesson. "It's a sigh of relief to know there's somewhere I can go."