Call to Action: Make it Fun

Okay so I’m gonna cherrypick a set of your comments and decontextualize ’em to serve my point. God bless the remix culture.

fgk, on why people don’t take lessons from those who offer them:

i think a big part of why we don’t adopt [lesson plans] from others is because we don’t see it happening. when you watch a class, you can tell when something succeeds, and figure out how to incorporate that into your own teaching.

druin, on the frustrations of sharing lesson plans with others:

I think for many people the idea of sharing is lop-sided. I don’t mind sharing ideas with others, but it frustrates me when I’m the only one sharing.

sarah, assessing my lesson offerings:

The power of your narratives is the piece that keeps me hoping that something turns up in your [lessons] tab. It’s that reality check of what works. It’s hearing your voice, getting hints of your personality, helping me mentally test what I can pull off, and what, like rap music, would be obvious that I’m faking. That voice is what every lesson plan needs. [emphasis added]

So my advice is this: you have to make stories out of your lesson plans, collapsing resources into anecdotes. It’s easy to blog stories. They’re cathartic and satisfying where resource posts feel expensive. Plus people are more inclined to read stories than rubrics.

Talk about the questions you asked, the responses they gave. Share pictures or screenshots when possible. Post stories, not plans, and then attach handouts or link sources at the end. I can’t help you with the time cost but if you’re convinced you should share your resources, I promise that this is the way to make it fun for you.

Moreover, I promise that as you start receiving feedback on your stories – positive & negative – you’ll start looking for more stories to tell. Constantly. The pipe that carries interesting things from your eyes to your students’ and then to your readers’ will grow wider. It’ll move faster. If you start this in earnest, I pomise you won’t be able to turn it off.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I agree. There’s a lot of power in the nuances- which are hard to convey. I think that’s why teaching gets sorted into the art rather than science box so often.

    Even watching a lesson live you have to know what to look for and you’ll still miss a lot that a really good teacher does. Being walked through the thought/action process by the good teacher really changes things and I think that’s where the story comes in. The closer you can come to a multimedia duplication of that conversation the better. The lesson plans I’ve had to do suck because they tend to be created to be standardized and make checking boxes easy rather than to tell a story.

    My possible fgk title guesses-
    The Pipe
    Collapsing Resources
    God Bless the Remix Culture


  2. I’m a part-time web developer and part-time educator who has been doing a lot of thinking lately about lesson plan sharing, and I’m in the process of building a website with this as its goal.

    The discussion here and in the previous thread has been fascinating to read… my own thoughts on the subject have evolved over a long period of time. I think there are four basic things that are needed in order to make lesson sharing on the web work. I don’t think I’ve seen any existing site (and this includes “the blogosphere”) that includes all four of these things:

    1. Small units of sharing. People would much rather write (and read) small “nuggets” of teaching material that can be mixed and matched, rather than an entire long lesson plan that is just going to be shredded apart and reworked anyway.

    2. Social context. As has been abundantly touched on here, you don’t just want a lesson plan; you also want to know who posted it, how other people used it, etc. Ultimately that’s what allows you to figure out which of the millions of activities out there are trustworthy and personally useful for you.

    3. A prominent mechanism for requests. Just as important as a system for people to post their lesson plans is a system for people to say “Hey, I really need help teaching X to Y students.” That encourages people to share things in a way that will specifically be useful to others.

    4. Open source. To encourage sharing and remixing, people need to be encouraged to post their work under an open license (e.g., Creative Commons).

    It’s been fascinating to read the discussion here and see how it does and/or doesn’t correspond to the four points I had in mind. I think the idea of “telling stories” as opposed to “sharing lesson plans” is a great way to think about it, and I’m going to keep that in mind as I build my site! I also think the importance of #3 (a mechanism for requests) might not be fully recognized. Responding to a specific request, where you know you’re going to actually help someone (as opposed to just throwing your stuff up on the Internet where there’s no guarantee anyone else will use it) is a BIG incentive to getting people to take time out of their busy schedules to actually post something.

    I could be wrong, but I’m not sure the blogosphere will ever really work for this on a large scale. It’s not “wiki” enough, for one thing. Also, I think it may be too confusing for many non-web-savvy teachers to navigate. People really like the comfortable feeling of looking at the top left corner of their screen and seeing the same icon on every page. The site I’m building uses Drupal (which is sort of a mix of blog/wiki/community software, so hopefully it will be possible to create something that’s the best of all those worlds).

  3. When you say, “if you’re convinced you should share your resources”, then I hope you realize that you may very well be the best spokesperson for the much-maligned 2.0 crowd.

  4. Despite feeling like a failure for my way off fgk title guesses-

    I did like David’s point #3. I think that’s a much missed feature.

    It seems you’ve got two groups (in your terms)- the non-web-savvy who are less likely to put content up and the web-savvy who are putting stuff up already but probably on their own sites. Motivating the first and convincing the second to shift will be hard. If you could create a way to allow you to pull in already published content and then add/annotate/expand it I think that’d make things far easier.

    I do feel like most attempts to consolidate things fail as it’s far trickier than it seems. I’d really look into the community building side of things. That’s what seems to make/break social sites like these.


  5. This comment is a pulled from my blog, here:

    Also, @ David Rothstein, if you are using Drupal as a base, I’d be glad to talk through any details — I’m a fan of this Drupal of which you speak :)

    As you can probably tell, the resource we are all talking about is something we are committed to helping to build, and are willing to both put some time (as other projects allow) and some hosting (as we already have a hosting infrastructure) behind what we say — the basic building blocks are in place.

    Here is the text of my blog post, and all feedback is welcome, either here or on the OA blog — I’ll be looking in both places

    ———text of blog post——-
    I’m writing these ideas out quickly — there are sure to be holes in this, and gaps in this reasoning — please point them out in the comments.

    Users working with online lessons will generally fall into at least one of the following categories:

    People searching for lesson ideas (probably the majority)

    People already creating content on their own blogs (a growing number of folks, but still a very small percentage, compared to people in category 1, or even teacher-bloggers)

    People looking for a place to create content (people who want to create blogs, etc — I have no idea how many people fall into this category, but I’d imagine that if people, particularly younger teachers, saw the benefit they would have some amazing things to contribute)

    People who will find lessons on another site, edit/revise those lessons for use in their class, and republish the updated content on their own site

    People who will edit/revise content on someone else’s site (ie, wiki-style) — the majority of these people would probably be very committed to the ideals of Open Educational Resources (OERs), have part of their professional responsibilities include curriculum development, or have some other type of immediate personal connection to a learning community. These people would probably be the ones to make the greatest use of any social networking features within the site

    Produce –> Share –> Reuse –> Remix — where does influence fit in? The influence of shared lessons, and the role that influence can have in helping a teacher develop and revise their existing materials, should not be overlooked.

    Most working teachers do not have the time to collaborate online with other teachers to create freely available resources. Most of the teachers I talk to barely have time to engage in that type of collaboration within their own schools, let alone within an online/social networking context. Most teachers, even the ones currently blogging their lessons, do not have the free time to join another site and learn another system, even if there are long-term benefits. Teacher time needs to be respected, which is why any system that mandates a teacher use a new tool to participate will lose a good number of potential contributors due to that barrier to entry.

    Here is what I propose — and what I have partially built, here:

    A site that aggregates lessons already being published online. This way, any teacher currently blogging lessons doesn’t need to change a single thing about how they work. If they want to make it easier, they can choose to tag any lessons with a unique keyword, like “lesson” — this would allow us (in most cases, anyways) to aggregate posts in that specific keyword.

    All imported lessons are full-text searchable, and, when possible, tagged with keywords that describe the lessons

    Organize the lessons by content area

    Possibly, add in rating mechanisms to allow site members to rate content

    All posts imported into the site can be printed via a print-friendly page, and exported via rss.

    As a further development, possibly create a mechanism where site users could clone and revise imported content, or create new lessons to be published within the site. This lesson development would leverage content already created and imported into the site, or could be used by interested people to develop learning resources from scratch. For this type of curricular planning, we could incorporate wiki-type functionality.

    As noted by David Rothstein here, we could incorporate a “request a lesson” feature

    What is missing? Please add any necessary details/suggestions in the comments.

  6. Hey dan, I’ve been lurking on this thread the past few days but haven’t yet had anything to say. I just double checked both threads, and nobody seems to have said what I’m thinking, so here you go.

    Why are there not more resources out there? Because it takes TIME.

    Druin is spot on, why do something simply for altruisim, for the betterment of our profession? It’s not about the technical capabilities of the teacher / website. No matter how “fun” it is to share your stuff, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s going to mean an extra session at the coffee shop.

    However, if I may end with a remix of my own, I’d like to focus the conversation back on something you wrote earlier:

    Make lesson sharing part of your teaching/learning cycle. For me, I don’t feel like I can call a lesson a success, or close the book on it, if I haven’t mashed through it here. Simply start.

  7. I don’t think my original comment was worded very well. I love to help others, but I get frustrated because I need just as much help as anyone else. In the past, when I’ve gone to other teachers to ask for a way to teach topic X, oftentimes I get that “deer caught in the headlights” look. It just gets tiring to be the one that puts out all of the effort to share without some reciprocation once in a while…

  8. hmm…think i used a symbol i shouldn’t have, because it cut off the end of my post…

    just wanted to end by saying that teachers will put in extra time if it makes their own practice better. if there’s no reciprocation or any other kind of benefit to the person doing the sharing, they’re going to stop sharing as frequently.

    my two bits.

  9. Nice, I like the idea of using RSS aggregation, Bill. It does seem like it’s worthwhile to pull blogged lessons into a centralized database without having to convince the bloggers to change the platform they post on, and RSS accomplishes that. Although I think at least some human intervention is needed here — not all blog posts are going to be lesson-plan related.

    (I’ll post more about the Drupal side of things on your website, by the way — thanks. Gotta love how Drupal makes it possible to build a site like yours in one night! ;)

    As for getting people to share: I think altruism is only one factor. There is also a “quid pro quo” deal where if you are someone who is generous about sharing your lessons, other people will be more likely to help you out when YOU’RE in need. Plus if you share a lot, you gain a reputation in the community, respect from your peers, fame, fortune, etc ;) It does happen in real life — teachers share things informally all the time — so I think it CAN happen online if the right tools are in place to make it easy and intuitive. And there are a lot of people out there working on this (heck, even Yahoo is trying, although I don’t get the impression that they’re going to come up with the magic solution). In my case, I have a little bit of funding and some time to work on this, so I’m going to do what I can, and we’ll see what happens ;)

  10. Mantra: The revolution must be fun.

    The head of the nail: telling and listening to stories is fun.

    I really like it when people blog about what students say, or potentially say, and how they respond. I find that I’ve learned and shared a lot about classroom practice both online and particularly in person by repeating or inventing dialogue between students and teacher. That makes it real enough that I can imagine doing it (or imagine someone doing it) and then feel like it’s possible to try something new.