Oh Dear, Here Comes Amazon


Amazon made a big announcement last week that has potentially significant implications for the K-12 schools environment. As I’ll explain in a minute I think this is very bad news – an outcome that I’ve been warning about for over seven and a half years.

So, here’s the news from Amazon:

Amazon Enters Teacher-Created Resource Trade With Ignite

Back around eight or nine years ago I was writing in support of and in favour of websites such as Curriki (there’s a link in the list of useful sites on the right hand side of the blog page that’s been there all that time). This was also a site on which teachers exchanged lesson plans, exercises and other resources, but for FREE.

Here is the article I wrote on this blog seven and a half years ago. This was the time when Teachers Pay Teachers came on the scene and started to make a real impact with stories of individual teachers earning phenomenal sums from selling their education resources:

My Blog Post – May 2012 – Selling and Buying Lesson Plans

In that article I raised some of my concerns. The article about Amazon raises the serious point about the breaches of copyright that have clearly raised their head in the intervening years through sites like Teachers Pay Teachers. When textbook writers or the producers of online curricula gather materials they go through a carefully worked out process of taking permission for the use of original texts, artwork etc. None of these niceties are likely to have been followed by teachers selling lesson plans. Amazon are implying that their selection processes will eliminate this issue.

In my earlier article i highlighted that this was only one of the issues. As well as the ideological questionability that goes against the ethos of educators as natural sharers of knowledge, skills and abilities there is also the fact that teachers in schools do no (or today certainly should not) work in isolation. Even in a stand-alone private school anywhere in the world a teacher is likely to be part of a department and will work in collaboration with their fellow subject experts to prepare lessons.

Today there is a far greater emphasis on cross-curricular learning. in these circumstances lessons and plans come together as a result of multi-disciplinary brainstorming, planning and ideation. If an individual teacher then takes those plans and sells them online, the trust and collaboration breaks down.

Further, particularly in the private sector,  schools will consider that the lessons developed and delivered in their school or schools are part of an evolving, original, unique and proprietary schema of learning. All the teachers and leaders in the school work together to create these to meet the needs of their pupils within the context of their school’s vision, mission and values. In these circumstances it is highly questionable that any individual teacher should consider they have a personal right to take that material (or some part of it) and sell it elsewhere for personal gain.

When I was directly engaged in teaching my lesson plans were not rigid, carved in stone edifices.  Rather, they were a set of guides and structure that I had prepared to work backwards from the learning needs of my pupils, in my classroom at that time. From one delivery of a particular topic to the next I might produce very different plans because i was working with a different cohort of students. In applying my personal knowledge of the class dynamics I would select or design activities and exercises that would work best with them. One class might be very lively and need calming with some introspective activities, whilst another pursuing the same learning goals might be more reticent and need some activities to draw them out of themselves.

Finally, lesson plans and classroom resources are not meant to be simple blocks of knowledge and facts to be delivered to the students. This satisfies only the first, or at most the second level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. Further, today’s best teachers are always designing their lessons with a view to weaving in opportunities for pupils to acquire or build upon Twenty First Century skills as objectives with at least as much relevance and importance as the ‘syllabus to be covered.’ How can that be done in a cookie cutter ‘for sale’ lesson plan?

I continue to believe that the selling of lesson plans is bad for education and bad for teachers as a whole and ultimately bad for pupils and their learning. If we want to find ways for the best teachers to enhance their earning potential I believe there are far better ways that serve both them and the wider educational field. That’s for another day.

Open Educational Resources

It’s possible that this might be the very best time, ever, to be a teacher, to be an educator who wants to facilitate learning, to prepare students for their best possible life and to develop in the habits of lifelong learners.

One of the things that has, in my view, changed the environment in the last five to ten years is the massive explosion in the volume of available resources that teachers can use to support the learning process – especially when those resources are high quality and free! This is exactly the kind of thing that Clayton Christensen was writing about in “Disrupting Class”. these are the kinds of changes that mean we’re not looking at incremental change, but rapid change on a massive scale that strips away old assumptions about what it means to be an educator anywhere in the world.

There are so many examples that I continually come across. A few weeks ago i shared the way in which Sal Khan’s new Silicon Valley school was openly sharing all curriculum material, lesson plans and processes with any other school that wanted it – as part of contributing to a culture of mutual openness, sharing and collaboration. Great educators have long known that shared resources become better resources as more people contribute to them, mould them to local circumstances and the unique needs of their learners. Or, they simply bring something of themselves to make the material better.

There are no end of potential sources online for freely usable resources – perhaps the most obvious being Pinterest and Youtube. However, I wanted to share a very valuable link here. It has links and a brief summary of eight of the best sources currently available for open education resources. Whilst it’s slightly US centric (linking a lot of the available resources to the US Common Core Standards) this doesn’t preclude the material from being tweaked to suit those educators working with students towards other curricula.

THE Journal – 8 High Quality OER Collections

Enjoy, and teachers please feel free to let us know if you use any of these, how effective you find them and any other sources you would like to recommend.

Get Students Engaged

It’s a while since I’ve renewed my recommendations for the Curriki website. It’s been around a few years now, and has become a phenomenal community for teachers to share, exchange and trade lesson plans.

Especially if a teacher is finding that his or her students need something ‘different’ and are not all responding well to some lessons, it can be a great source of ideas for alternatives the teacher can take, adapt and try.

At the following link, Curriki have shared a free eBook of 20 teacher resources to get students engaged:

Curriki – Free eBook

Selling and Buying Lesson Plans

A long time ago, I shared here on the blog about the Curriki website where teachers from all over the world upload lesson plans to share. There’s a link to the website in the list on the right of this blog. Well, here’s a thought-provoking short read about teachers who are ‘selling’ their lesson plans, including one Kindergarten teacher who has made a great deal of money.

Mashable Article – Lesson Plans

This raises a few questions in my mind and I would be interested to have others’ views;

  1. If lessons have been prepared in the context of a teacher’s own job and work within an institution, especially when often produced in collaboration with colleagues, can a teacher legitimately consider they have an ‘ownership’ that they have a right to sell?
  2. Should any teacher believe that someone else’s lesson plan just ‘lifted’ and applied verbatim in their own classroom really provide effective learning? Surely, the whole process of creating a lesson plan is to create a structured approach to what you intend to do with your students at that point in time, keeping in mind their strengths, weaknesses, development areas as well as your own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Do websites like this encourage teachers to take potentially sloppy short cuts?
  3. The education profession has a long history of educators at all levels (school and college) sharing for intellectual and professional development. However, such sharing was always based upon reciprocity and trust. If individual teachers see a market in their lesson plans will that trust and inclination to share break down, potentially irreparably?

Classroom Discussion – Templates

A great page from Curriki with a whole range of downloadable templates for classroom discussions – an invaluable resource for having higher value discussions:

Curriki Classroom Discussions Page
(Click on link to open page. Then, right click on each resource and use ‘Save as’ to download them)

Free Textbooks

Access to ‘content’, the material to be learned becomes ever more ubiquitous – meaning that the added value of great educators has to come from attention to the processes of learning and the skills of being a discerning consumer of ‘knowledge’.

Here’s a great page from the Curriki blog with links to websites with free textbook resources:

Curriki Link to Free Textbooks
(click on link to open webpage)

Podcasting with Students

Podcasting is something that i’ve heard quite a few teachers express an interest in, but they tend to be a bit daunted about where to start and how to tackle it, especially as a learning experience for students.

So, i was pleased to come across this great Curriki resource file that is packed full of great ideas to really help a teacher get started.

Curriki – Podcasting

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