With the widespread introduction of laptops and tablets into the classroom, the digitization of primary education is rapidly expanding across the United States, making access to quality education materials easier and more flexible than ever before. But the switch to digital can come at a relatively high cost. And with school budgets shrinking just about everywhere, some districts are left with a choice between modernizing with expensive tech devices, or sticking with their pricey traditional textbooks. Now, thanks to CK-12 Foundation, that choice is becoming a lot easier.

Case in point: Bristol, Tennessee

Under Director of Schools, Gary Lilly, the Bristol Tennessee City Schools district recently completed a major rollout of Dell laptops which put a personal computer in the hands of each of its students, grades 4-12. But in a district with more than 4,000 students, the rollout was far from easy on the budget. So Lilly had to look for ways to cut down costs elsewhere.

To do this, Lilly turned to the CK-12 Foundation to help develop a suite of Open Educational Resources (OER) that would help them meet the school’s budgetary and educational needs. One product of this partnership was the use of CK-12’s FlexBooks®, a fully free and customizable platform that allows teachers and educational professionals to collaborate, build and modify highly responsive digital texts. They found that FlexBooks® not only saved the district a considerable amount of money, but they also improved their ability to more adequately address changing content standards, as well as a new state accountability and assessment systems, and newly approved instructional paths.

For instance, one of these new instructional paths involved making major changes to the ways in which mathematics would be taught at the high school level. Rather than taking the traditional approach and breaking mathematics into separate units of study (i.e. algebra, geometry, trigonometry, etc.), the Bristol Tennessee City Schools district now had the ability to merge disciplines and teach them in a more open and integrated way. While teachers reportedly preferred this new approach, many were unsure about how to implement it in the classroom without a suitable text to accompany them. That’s where the CK-12’s FlexBooks® came in.

With oversight from Annette Tudor, the district’s Curriculum Supervisor, and Dr. Richard Kitzmiller, Director of Programs for the Niswonger Foundation—a not-for-profit foundation specializing in educational reform—a team came together to work on the new math text. Consisting of local math teachers, a curriculum specialist, and East Tennessee State University mathematics professor, Dr. Ryan Nivens, the process was likened to a “PLC [professional learning community] on steroids” by a local teacher. The result is an Integrated Math FlexBook®, designed for district educators by district educators, that is absolutely free, and better suited to the new, integrated mathematics curriculum.

The first integrated mathematics text was such a success that the team is now in the process of creating the second and third integrated math courses. With CK-12’s extensive array of additional resources, FlexBooks® are just the beginning. With a full suite of concept based learning content that’s enriched by multiple modalities (text, video, lesson plans, activities etc.) and innovative its’ innovative mobile apps, CK-12 seems intent on shaping a broad new educational landscape far beyond the electronic textbook. Their recent launch of a free summer practice program-BrainFlex is designed to prevent the ‘summer slide’ by keeping students’ minds sharp during the off-season. The electronic educational revolution might still be in its relatively early stages, but as pedagogical standards and approaches continue to change in unpredictable ways, the flexibility of CK-12’s platform seems uniquely poised to pave the way toward the future of digital learning.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Tech.Co.

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