Northern Suburbs Evening Event – Siyavula Introduction to Open Educational Resources in Life Sciences

Our final evening event last night was for Life Sciences teachers, which was hosted by the Experilab in Bellville. The last six weeks have seen us cover a range of subjects and included an introductory opening evening, IT CAT, Maths, Physical Science, English and finally our Life Sciences evening. We had a turnout of nine teachers, and most of them knew each other so there was much chatting and conversation which made for a really great atmosphere.

Once everyone was seated Mark began his presentation. As everyone except for one person was new, Mark gave his overall introduction to the world of Open Educational Resources (OERs), and then spoke a bit about Siyavula and our other projects, namely FHSST and OpenPress. At Siyavula we believe in openness in education, true communities of teachers working together, and bringing technology into the classroom. By sharing resources and using the internet to do so, so many teachers and learners will benefit. When teachers share resources they lesson the workload for each other – by using OERs and sharing new activities and tests that you create, you provide the opportunity for other teachers to build upon your work and in turn share their own creations, making for more innovative resources and additional resources for everyone. For more information on our projects, you can read Mark’s blog here.

Many teachers complain that they don’t have enough time to sit online and browse the hundreds and thousands (millions really!) of websites that one finds when searching for teaching resources on Google. There really is so much out there, but it’s a matter of finding the worthwhile resources that is the problem! But that is why we have taken the time to sift through a number of sites and find some that could be really useful in the classroom and that will enable you to bring technology into your teaching, and use what has been shared online.

After the introduction, Mark spoke about various free and open textbooks that one can access online, download and use in the classroom. One such website is CK-12 Flexbooks. It has great life sciences textbooks that you can use as an alternative to your usual resources. Another great website is OER Commons, where your search brings up free and open educational resources that you can use in your classroom, for all grades.

Our own collection of OERs includes our Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) for grades 10 – 12 in maths and physical science. Mark spoke about these and how they are available for free on the Connexions website, and because they are housed on this platform for educational resources, you can adapt them to suit your own teaching needs. We are also inserting rich-media into each of the chapters in the relevant place, which will save teachers so much time as they wont have to search for video explanations as we have already inserted them, ready for you to watch! On Connexions we also have our content for Grade R – 9 learners, which covers all subjects and learning areas in both English and Afrikaans. Here you can also derive copies of the workbooks and edit them if you wish, and then download them as a PDF and print them. We have also recently launched our mobile front-end for Connexions which means you can access all the content on Connexions via your mobile phone! Point your phone’s browser to: http://m.siyavula.cnx.org/

Our free and open assessment bank called FullMarks, is an OER that we hope will be very useful to Life Sciences teachers in the not too distant future. This open assessment bank contains a selection of test and exam questions with solutions, openly shared by educators. It allows educators to search and browse the database by subject and grade and add relevant items to a test. The website automatically generates a test or exam paper with the corresponding memorandum for download. At this stage content is lacking somewhat for life sciences, but if teachers can upload some of their own teaching resources we can populate the database and help many teachers save time and energy, and then can then put this energy into other areas of their teaching.

Some resources that we have mentioned in some of the other evening events too, are the Khan Academy and PhET Simulations. The Khan Academy videos are a fantastic online resource of short educational videos, which can be downloaded and saved to your computer. They cover a wide range of subjects and include Biology – check them out! The videos are usually fairly short so they can be inserted into most lessons without taking over the whole period. You can also point your learners to the website as they can use it for revision purposes as well as to browse and use for their other subjects. We have all the videos downloaded in our office, so send me an email at this domain if you would like to arrange to come and copy them for your school.

PhET Simulations are another fun resource you can use. They are fun and interactive simulations which are manipulated by the user with instant animated responses. Learners can really take the simulations to extremes, without the fear of blowing up the lab or causing themselves any injury! There are 19 simulations for Biology, including DNA stretching, membrane channels and pH scale.

In addition to this you can also browse YouTube for educational videos as well as TeacherTube, where you will find many teacher resources by searching a particular phrase or words. You can also search on NeoK12 for resources as they have the “best collection” of free online educational resources.

MIT has made all of their courseware available for free online. You can access all of their video lectures, course notes and much more. They have a new section now, aimed specifically at high school learners and their teachers, with material that will be most useful to them.

Mark then spoke about “citizen cyber science”, which are genuine science projects that rely on everyday people to assist the scientists and computers to solve an area they are investigating. One such project is Fold It, where people participate in games where you fold proteins, and Project Budburst, where people send in information on what is happening to plants in their area – this one is in America only, but nice to expose learners to these kinds of real science projects that are out there). A really great website is Bugscope, where any school can login and see objects viewed under an electron microscope. In America, learners can send in dead insects and the team at Bugscope mount them for viewing under the electron microscope. The learners take control of the electron microscope via the internet and get to see photos of their insect and ask the scientists questions via online chat about what they are seeing. Schools outside of the USA can also participate in this, by following along as a guest whenever a school is involved in a session (simply login as a guest – no password is required). The game Spore was also mentioned, which is a basic introduction to biology for younger learners. Although the game is not strictly accurate with its portrayal of evolution, it is a fun way for kids to be introduced to some basic biology concepts.

And that brought the evening to a close! We hope that everyone found the evening to be worthwhile, but judging by the responses in the room we are very pleased with the session. Thank you to the Experilab for offering their venue to us for all these weeks, they have been super.

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