What We Want Isn’t Out There

Todd Seal, the best ELA blogger you don’t subscribe to, responds to Scott McLeod’s recent provocation (paraphrased), “Can you identify 10 excellent web sites for your grade / subject area, and if not what’s wrong with you?”

Todd: What we want isn’t out there. My typical search finds me cobbling lots of different pieces together with an idea I’ve had for the last two years along with a little something I got from watching SNL this weekend attached to the core of an idea I got from a discussion with some friends last month. I rarely find resources online that fit right into what I’m doing or that hit on what I want to address. I wish they were out there, but not even Discovery Education or any of the lesson plan warehouse sites cut it. Lots of chaff to sort through there and I worry about my return on time invested.

If I had to compile a list of sites essential to my day-to-day practice, you’d find Google Search, Google Reader, Google Images, and not a whole heckuva lot else. I spend much of my planning time lately curating media of the kind Todd lists in his awesome run-on sentence there: TV shows, photos I find, photos I take, video I capture, iPhone applications, current events, commercials, and, if I must, my assigned textbook.

I curate this media. I arrange it sensibly and structure questions and activities around it. It’s time-consuming and it’s challenging and the only way I can remotely justify the expense is by posting those lesson packs here, for others to download, deploy, and improve upon, thereby propping up an initially weak return on my investment.

As magical as these Internets are, I haven’t been able to outsource that curation to one website, or ten.

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. Dan, you and Todd have articulated really well a key part of good teaching. Most good teachers are not willing to use things right out of the box. Be it a textbook, website, or cool teaching package with nifty matching binders… When I started my first teaching gig bG (before Google) my predecessor left me all of his notes, worksheets, tests etc. It was wonderful. But as I went through them I realized that my take on teaching the subject was different. Some of the stuff I used as is, some I modified, and most of it I didn’t use at all. Just like our students need to feel ownership of their learning, we need to feel ownership of our teaching. We also need to make sure that our lessons address the needs of the kids in our classrooms.

  2. I’ll take a stab at offering one good resource as a box for a bunch. Youtube. It expands. There are billions of videos there. They’re organized by user, so if you find somebody you like, you can see everything else. This is a tiny little nitch. But especially for older students, I showed a class yesterday how to youtube search for “solving quadratic equations by graphing” and then last night a student reported getter herself unstuck by finding a great youtube video.

    That’s maybe an embarrassing story for my teaching, but I was impressed with the fact that she used youtube to learn a skill on her own.

  3. I’m glad I teach physics! The PhET website is fantastic for physics (it also has some chemistry and other science stuff) and sometimes I assign kids a simulation with some open-ended questions, and they can try out stuff that we just can’t do in lab!
    I agree with Nick about YouTube, too. YouTube user Kokpin revolutionized my index of refraction lab, by showing what you should be looking for as you do the lab, and how to look through the glass and not the air. Now it seriously takes half the time it used to to do the lab AND a higher percentage of kids actually manage to SEE the results. I used to have a lot of puzzled and frustrated kids because I couldn’t make them see through my eyes!

  4. As an educator who is always trying to find new sites to implement (and not always following through on that endeavor), I’ve found that there are a lot of sites out there that do a whole lot of nothing. Two Web 2.0 sites that I use religiously, however, are Edmodo and Etherpad. Edmodo extends the classroom beyond the four walls by allowing students to microblog and affords me an opportunity to respond (among other things). Etherpad is a text editor that allows for instant editing for a small group of individuals. And while both have small drawbacks, I’ve found that they’ve truly helped in creating a “more perfect classroom.” If only there was a way that we could connect educators to developers to collaborate on sites that would be helpful in facilitating classroom interactions and supplement teaching more effectively.