Post date: May 8, 2014 6:48:25 PM
I've just finished a new lab that I'm very excited about. This post isn't about the lab but instead how it was made. It leads me to a topic I've wanted to write (rant) about for a long, long time.
Teachers are terrible at sharing. We should do more it. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
When I started teaching I was amazed how difficult it was to find resources to use for my classroom. I had the nonsense that came with our textbook but that's it. I ended up subscribing to Roger Taylor's website for $75. That helped a ton but left me wondering why that stuff wasn't out there free. It wasn't even create by Taylor but by teachers at his workshops. Why weren't they sharing?
Turns out it wasn't just them. There recently was a thread on AtoZTeacherstuff about whether it was okay for a substitute to keep a copy of a lesson a teacher had them do. This turned into a whole discussion on sharing of lessons and materials. It was fairly evenly split but many people claimed that teachers should charge for anything they create.
I largely blame the disgusting TeachersPayTeachers** website. I'm not against the idea of creating things for profit. Really, I'm not. I'm actually a huge fan of Ayn Rand. However, the only reason TpT exists is because good teachers don't share good materials. Most of the stuff on TpT is absolutely awful. I've seen worksheets based on picture books selling for $2. I saw a 10 question multiple-choice Revolutionary War quiz for high school with perhaps the least rigorous questions ever selling for $3. I saw a menu for Middle Ages assignments for $1.50. I get that teachers don't always have time to create their own stuff but profiting off of selling bad worksheets is disgusting. Kids are going to be stuck using those things. If teachers knew what was out there (preferably for free!) they wouldn't fall into this trap.
There are other reasons why I hate TpT that I'll rant about later (notice how they do not default to listing free items?) but I mention it here just to again lay out my premise that not enough sharing is happening.
So, here's why sharing matters and why this new lab would not exist without it.
Four years ago a colleague of mine created a lab for the Age of Exploration. He based it on the idea of the TV show Digging for the Truth. Students would examine a series of artifacts to tell the history of a sunken ship. I never used it. I looked at it many times and it just never quite clicked for me. I held on to it hoping one day to use it. A couple years later I saw a show on Nat Geo about a sunken pirate ship called the Whydah. I found the article from the magazine and copied it. I never used that either.
At some point this year it hit me to use them together. I could turn the sunken ship lab into a hunt for the Whydah. I never could have made this myself. His PowerPoint skills are far beyond mine. The effect in the lab of being underwater is quite stunning. So, using my colleagues lesson as a base I started to fill in the gaps. I took out a couple artifacts, added a few different ones (that were graciously shared* by the internet) and changed the words on the barrels to match what was found on the Whydah.
When it was all done it needed something. It had an adequate intro (graciously shared by the producers of Digging for the Truth) and cool effects but needed an extra touch of HYPE to hook my kids. I started working on my own intro. I found a dramatic, mysterious song (graciously shared by Freeplaymusic.com), and overhead photo of Cape Code (graciously provided by some photographer online) and a video of an underwater dive (graciously shared by some guy on a trip to Cancun via Youtube) and mixed them together to create an intro that, without a doubt will hook my kids. By remixing these different media that other people had chosen to post publicly for free I was able to do far, far more than I ever could have done alone.
We live in a remix era. Videos are remixed on Youtube. DJs, who write none of their own music, are some of our most famous musicians worldwide. As an artist, and yes lesson design is an art, I love seeing what others do with my work. I love getting emails from Saudi Arabia telling me that a teacher there used my lesson with her kids. Could I charge for it? Sure, but at what cost? I would not be the teacher I am today without using the efforts of others. Shouldn't we all share our lessons so that even greater things might exist?
If you are hoping to do so you can check out BetterLesson.org and/or Sharemylesson.com among other free sharing sites. Those two seem to be off to a good start in encouraging teachers to share.
*Graciously shared means I took it because it existed. I didn't ask. They didn't technically share. They made it available and I used it to better the education of my students. That's the point!
** You will find some of my work on TpT. I am not a hypocrite, everything I post on there is free. I post it there purposefully to show what people can get without paying. I hope to continue to post there in a futile attempt to undermine their very existence.