Window to a wider world
7 February 2019
Three educators share their online lesson planning resources.
Teachers are always on the lookout for ideas and resources as they work to satisfy the voracious Australian curriculum. Many say websites, social media and organisational tools offer practical, accessible solutions.
Our experts recommended sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers, Tes, math-aids.com, SMART Exchange, Studyladder, SparkleBox and blog Authentic Maths Inquiry. They say Facebook and YouTube, plus administrative tools such as Trello, Evernote and Dropbox, provide valuable, time-efficient support.
Beyond the lesson plan
Fiona McRobie, who teaches Years 9, 11 and 12 maths at Tennant Creek High School in the Northern Territory, says she creates her lesson plan first, then looks online for “middle activities”.
“I don’t use anyone’s lesson plans but my own because my cohort is unique, just like everyone’s classroom. I’ll find individual activities online, but I have to box in how it will fit together, how it will be assessed and fit to the curriculum,” she says.
McRobie won a CHOOSEMATHS Teaching Excellence Award for her pioneering work on an intervention program this year. The program pinpoints gaps in students’ understanding and teaches through rich learning and hands-on activities.
McRobie said when she started teaching she made most of her resources herself.
“I teach in an area of low literacy and many students speak English as more of a second language. A lot of the resources I initially found online weren’t transferrable into my classroom... but I’m more familiar with the sites now.”
McRobie vouches for the Authentic Inquiry Maths blog by Canberra primary teacher, Bruce Ferrington. He’s “brill”, she says, for giving insights into how children’s minds grasp mathematical concepts.
McRobie says she’s “very keen” on the Teachers Pay Teachers and Tes websites because they offer well- honed classroom activities.
“Teachers Pay Teachers has a large body of teachers contributing to it, so it takes a bit of time to look through. You can find something that another teacher has used before and sounds successful. Because I’m a maths teacher, a lot of the international resources translate easily.”
Michael Pace, a Year 3 and 4 teacher from Meadow Heights Primary School north of Melbourne, also recommends the site.
“It’s well laid out, easy to navigate and you’re supporting other teachers who have found these things useful. You’ve got a plethora of displays, lesson plans, units, posters and more. I’ll go there to get an independent numeracy activity, for example,” he says.
“Another site, Math-aids.com, allows you to create and tailor your own maths worksheet. It’s not perfect, but really good for quick independent activities. I used to use Studyladder for that a lot, too.”
Should you fork out?
There was a time, though, that Pace says he baulked at paying for lesson planning resources.
“When I first learnt that SparkleBox and Teachers Pay Teachers required payment, I wasn’t in favour. I was a first-year graduate on a minimum wage. But I’ve come to realise that the amount of time I save by using ready-made resources makes it worth it. I’m more efficient.
“No teacher will tell you they have too much planning time. Teaching is a game of prioritising.”
Since an interactive whiteboard appeared in his classroom this year, Pace has also tapped into Smart Exchange for lessons that allows students to engage with the screen. The whiteboard is also useful for tapping into Google Earth and Behind the News for current issues.
Look to the cloud
Carla Beth Anderson, a high-school-trained teacher from regional NSW, says accessing social media, professional networks and cloud-based apps saves time and allows resources to be easily accessed and shared. She has used online resources for teaching since joining the profession 12 years ago.
Anderson, who balances relief work with her own businesses in educational copywriting and academic coaching, says Trello is a favourite. “I use it in lieu of a day planner for lesson planning. As well, it’s a task manager and calendar,” she says. “I use it to keep a store of contingency lessons and resources for each subject or stage level.
“That way, whatever class I’m called in to cover, I’m prepared with curriculum-based lessons.
I also use Evernote, Dropbox and Google Drive, and carry extra paper resources in the boot of my car.”
Anderson is also an active member of several subject-specific Facebook pages for teachers that share ideas and resources. She occasionally taps into Twitter for extra teaching ideas.
Value in video
Anderson recommends online video resources including EnhanceTV, an Australian site
that shares documentary videos sorted by subject, stage and rating.
“It’s really good if there’s a change in the routine, say, or you might be waiting for the laptops to be brought to your classroom. I can put on a short video related to the subject, and do some summary or thinking tools activities to keep students engaged and on task. It makes the transition between lesson activities smoother.”
She also recommends YouTube channels, such as Flipping English, Wimble Don (HSIE) and Eddie Woo’s misterwootube (maths) while TED-Ed is excellent for extending students. Padlet and other online “whiteboards” help assess students’ understanding in a way that’s more comfortable for those who don’t wish to put their hand up, she says.
Quizlet and Kahoot make revision and quizzes fun for students of all abilities. Anderson also uses interactive storyboarding apps such as Storyboard That, to help students understand narrative structure and timeline events at a deeper level.
Anderson says while teachers need to be mindful of costs and the practicalities of internet speed and access, online resources can become vital nourishment for the hungry Australian curriculum.
This article originally appeared in the Australian Educator Summer 2018.