Digital Lesson-Sharing

Educators are known for their outsize capacity to give and share, and when it comes to lesson plans and curricula, teachers have generously shared with colleagues for centuries.

Sharing in the digital age means that myriad educators are now involved, and virtual marketplaces for Open Educational Resources (OER) — freely accessible, openly licensed text, media and other digital assets for classroom use — are springing up.

The promise of OER has been touted for some time. It taps into the collaborative brainpower, innovation and creativity of educators around the country and around the world. It ensures that teachers and students always have the most up-to-date and relevant content for little or no cost — which is particularly attractive to cash-strapped school districts. And OER can be customized and adapted to individual student populations and aligned to state standards.

OER can be found at various educational sites, including, where educators post their work for colleagues to use (often for a fee). In recent years, high-tech firms such as Amazon and digital education companies have joined the fray. The U.S. Department of Education’s #GoOpen campaign supports states, school districts and educators in using OER to transform teaching and learning.

Challenges in finding quality material

But while OER may be a boon to education, for many educators finding free, quality online curriculum requires tenacity, collaboration, increased staff development, and possibly new language in their collective bargaining agreements.

And that doesn’t even include wading through the thousands of choices of online learning and research materials out there.

Many say it’s the Wild West when it comes to selecting and vetting material.

“That’s exactly what it is,” says Oxnard Educators Association member Karen Sher, a seventh-grade teacher who is on special assignment as an instructional coach. “[OER] gives teachers more freedom, but it puts a lot on them in terms of research.”


Karen Sher

Sher became a specialist in the Library of Congress’s OER after attending its summer institute several years ago, and vouches for the primary sources it makes available to teachers. While the Library of Congress may not be as well known as other OER sources, it offers a wealth of resources for educators, according to Sher.

Sher asserts that regardless of the quality resources available online, “where the real magic happens is when teachers collaborate.”


Pia VanMeter

Pia VanMeter, co-chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee of CTA’s State Council of Education and high school science teacher, would agree. When her district rolled out an open source math curriculum, it was a disaster because there was not adequate staff development.

“Teachers were working on the curriculum while trying to teach the curriculum,” says the Riverside City Teachers Association member.

“Open source as an idea is great, but you need to critically look at it and make sure it is aligned to standards.”

Collaboration and staff development are key

The Cajon Valley Education Association (CVEA) has a joint curriculum committee with the Cajon Valley Unified School District to determine, among other curriculum decisions, the selection and uses of OER. The district is among those selected by the U.S. Department of Education as part of its #GoOpen initiative.

The committee’s work began two years ago when teachers started to question the superintendent’s “all in” campaign to include OER as part of its curriculum.


Christopher Prokop

“Our association began to ask, ‘What is that going to look like? Are we going to meet the requirements of Common Core? What about English learners? Who is going to create the curriculum?’” says CVEA President Christopher Prokop. “We became the adults in the room.”

Despite the early issues, teachers and the district are working together, and Prokop credits the district for wanting to “get off the textbook adoption merry-go-round” that is driven by big publishing companies. Teachers districtwide now have a modified Monday schedule that allows time for collaboration and staff development (including on OER) in teacher-driven meetings.

Know your OER objectives


Angela Der Ramos

Angela Der Ramos, Alisal Teachers Association, is a member of CTA’s Instructional Leadership Corps and provides professional development at conferences and in her district. She is a big proponent of OER, especially to rethink some of the curriculum or standards she is required to teach. Still, she maintains using OER must involve good pedagogy, and teachers must be articulate about what they are doing, “particularly when they are going against the norm.”

Der Ramos runs “This Side of the Chalkboard,” a Facebook page where teachers can share techniques, strategies and lessons in using OER.

The fifth-grade teacher believes the mission of education is to produce literate critical thinkers who are steeped in social justice and have learned they have the power to make positive change. With this in mind, her OER sites include Newsela, which she uses to highlight current human rights abuses, and Teaching Tolerance, an educational resource from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

While Der Ramos particularly endorses teacher-generated material, she is hesitant to support the idea of “teachers paying teachers” for online content.

“I fault no teacher for trying to make money,” she says, “but my own philosophy is one of sharing.”


Where to Find OER

Finding and vetting high-quality, standards-aligned Open Educational Resources (OER) can be challenging. Here are some expert recommendations: — An established resource offering full lesson plans easily incorporated into classrooms. — An OER pioneer with a time-saving “Spotlight” search to help find specific elements. — This OER has an enormous range of assessments. — Provides both lesson plans and full courses that can be downloaded and used for free. — Another early OER resource that lets teachers easily share their own lessons.

Their Favorite Things

CTA members Angela Der Ramos and Karen Sher, and CTA staff consultant and edtech specialist Karen Taylor, have favorite sites for OER content as well as educator tips, i­­ncluding:



KQED Learning,

Library of Congress,


Pinterest, (search for curriculum and lesson plan)

Read Write Think,

Rock Your World,

Teaching Tolerance,

Zearn Math,

Let us know your favorite sites at

What to Consider With OER

  • Use reputable sources and make sure the content you choose is aligned with standards.
  • Select content you can easily adapt and customize for your students.
  • Factor in time to adapt and customize, and time for you to become familiar with the content.
  • If you’re sharing OER with colleagues, schoolwide or districtwide, make sure you have time to collaborate, prepare and learn together.

Pride and Respect

When Pedro Martinez gives students their marching orders, the boys and girls fall into formation and march across the campus of Hawthorne High School. Their uniforms are impeccably clean and pressed, their expressions are solemn. When they skillfully toss and twirl their wooden rifles in the air, they catch them — in most cases without missing a beat. Martinez stands at the sidelines barking orders, wearing a Navy uniform and a proud expression.


Martinez tells his students, “You must have pride in your country, state, community, school, and yourself.”

Martinez, 62, has been teaching Navy Junior ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) classes for 14 years. He earned a special subject credential to teach ROTC from CSU Long Beach. The former Navy man and UFW organizer is also active with his own union. He’s vice president of the Centinela Valley Secondary Teachers Association and serves on CTA’s State Council.

His students learn much more than military skills. They make underwater robots that can move objects through an obstacle course and enter them in competitions. They learn map, compass and shipbuilding skills. They built a miniature replica of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and entered it in a Memorial Day parade.

Their extracurricular activites include everything from entering ROTC competitions to studying cyber security, engaging in pellet gun target practice, and performing at memorial services and veterans’ events.

Sophomore Kevin Villalobos says some students enroll in ROTC because they think it will be an easy elective, but then find out it’s anything but.

“This program is not easy. We work hard, and we have a strong work ethic. But like many things in life, it’s worth it.”

Javier Moreno, a junior, says the course helped him overcome shyness and develop confidence. “I speak out in my other classes and raise my hand now,” he says.

The Navy pays for course materials and computers, and 50 percent of Martinez’s salary.

“I want to instill pride in my students,” says Martinez. “It’s definitely part of my curriculum to explain that you must have pride in your country, state, community, school and yourself.”

He is aware that some people object to ROTC classes and that critics believe their purpose is to recruit students into the military, which could result in death or injuries. But the military, he points out, can be a way out of poverty and offers money for college and training in specific areas such as electronics, engineering and cyber intelligence, which may lead to successful careers.

“Our ROTC classes are not there to recruit students,” he says. “We are only there to train them in Navy curriculum. Very few of my students actually join the military.”

Few may enlist, but most learn discipline that keeps them in line. To stay in his class, they must keep their grades up, stay out of trouble and be respectful.

“My approach is that if you want respect, you have to learn how to give respect. And my students know that if they want to be in my class, they have to perform well in all their classes.”

The teacher they call “Chief” has clearly earned their admiration.

“I’m learning respect,” says Izaak Lopez, a sophomore. “I’ve learned that I have to be presentable. I’ve learned maturity. I’ve learned commitment. I’ve become responsible.”

Jessie Vales, a sophomore, says the ROTC class helps him do better in his other classes. “I’ve straightened up a lot,” he explains.

Briyit Sandoval graduated last year and is considering enlisting in the U.S. Marines. “Because I am interested in the military, I thought ‘why not take a class and see if I enjoy it?’ I found that I did, and I looked forward to this class every day. It taught me honor, courage and commitment.”

Students such as Sandoval make their teacher proud.

A Veteran Organizer


Pedro Martinez served in the U.S. Navy for more than 20 years, enlisting when he was 25 because he wanted to see the world. He has visited Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Iran, Bahrain, Croatia and Austria. He did not engage in combat, but he had a dangerous job working on his ship’s boilers. At times crew members worried they might be targets — especially after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

Before all that, Martinez was active in the United Farm Workers’ efforts to unionize. He grew up in Delano, the heart of the movement, and picked crops. One day he saw the foreman removing pro-UFW fliers from car windshields and throwing them into the trash. Martinez took them out of the trash and placed them back on the cars, telling the foreman he could do what he wanted on his lunch hour. He was cussed out and fired. So he went to work for Cesar Chevez.

“I used to go to the fields during grape season and deliver union materials,” he says of that era. “I would go to farmworkers’ houses and talk to them about how the union would benefit them and why they needed a contract. I did a lot of campaigning.

“It was a very emotional time and a part of history.”

Welcome Back!

“Every year is fresh for me. I just love going back to school!” — Donna McCain, Cajon Valley Education Association


Staff in the Cajon Valley Union School District dance dance danced into the 2016-17 school year, thanks to a splashy music video that put smiles on the faces of students, teachers, classified employees, school board members and administrators. Check it out:

The video, which went viral, shows school staff and board members preparing for the first day of school while boogying with abandon in the classroom, boardroom, print shop, fiscal services department, cafeteria and warehouse, and even on school buses and atop tables, to the beat of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

Produced by Fe Fi Fo Films, the video was sent to principals and teachers throughout the district near San Diego, who shared it with students at the district’s 26 schools. Some schools and teachers were inspired to create their own videos after seeing the district one, says Superintendent David Miyashiro.

“We aimed to inspire, encourage and truly welcome back our teachers and staff to a new school year,” says Miyashiro. “We were able to engage the entire district office staff, who work all through the summer to get our sites ready for the new school year, in a fun team-building event to show our teachers how much they care and support them.”

Parents, students, former students and others raved about the video.

Chris Prokop, president of the Cajon Valley Education Association (CVEA), believes the video set a positive tone for the school year.

“The kids loved it, and the community really enjoyed it,” he said. “Our district population has grown by hundreds of kids, so there’s something to be said for it being successful.”

Representing teachers in the production is Donna McCain, a seventh-grade English instructor at Hillsdale Middle School beginning her 21st year in the profession. She laughingly says she will be forever remembered as “the twirling teacher in the red dress.”

The CVEA member just happened to be working during the summer on a blended learning program when the superintendent walked in and asked if she’d like to be in the district’s back-to-school video.

“I knew how to dance and sing and twirl, so I said yes,” says McCain. “And that’s what happened in a hot classroom on a summer day. It was fun stepping out of the box and doing something I’ve never done before. Every year, as a teacher, I like to try something new.”

Whether or not El Cajon plans another back-to-school surprise this year, McCain says, the first day of school is still magical for teachers as well as students.

“I love the anticipation. I love the excitement of meeting new people, seeing new faces and trying to remember everybody’s name. Every year is fresh for me. I just love going back to school!”


Make a Back-to-School Night Video

Save yourself stress – not to mention your voice – by creating a few videos for Back-to-School Night. It’s a way for parents to see you’re capable, prepared and tech-savvy and opens the door to better communication as the year continues. Moira West of Animoto, a video creation service, suggests  a few ideas, using simple templates for your photos and video clips:

  • If your school has a social media presence, create and post a quick video reminding parents to attend. It will show up in their feed and get more attention than a written note.
  • Incorporate video into your Back-to-School Night presentation with an introduction, rundown of rules and class expectations for students – and parents.
  • Create a video showing parents what their children have been learning since school started. This can be photos of students working in class or their artwork, for example.
  • Afterwards, post any informational videos you showed during the event, which can serve as a virtual Back-to-School Night for parents unable to attend. Or create a video recap of the night to post online or make a video thank you note to volunteers who helped with Back-to-School Night.