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4 steps to adopting OER

Thinking of going OER? A math teacher offers four tips—plus a checklist!—for doing it right.

5 min read


4 steps to adopting OER


Open educational resources present enormous opportunities to enhance teaching and learning. One of the primary draws, of course, is that they’re free. This is particularly helpful for small school districts like mine or larger ones looking for innovative ways to stretch their resources.

Another enticing feature is that they can save teachers time and energy. With ready-made curriculum resources just a click away, we no longer have to spend hours creating lessons to fill in holes in existing curriculum materials or spark engaging discussions with our students.

Here are a few lessons we’ve learned on how to make the most of OER in math (or almost any subject).

Get recommendations from other educators. One of the main criticisms of OER is the poor quality of some of resources. But I have had the same issue with traditional curricula. I have encountered many lessons and activities that left me wondering if the textbook authors had ever spent any time in an actual classroom. I’ve seen materials written far above and far below grade level, and activities that I knew would quickly turn into classroom management nightmares.

To find the right OER for my classroom, the first place I go for recommendations is other educators. I read articles and blogs written by teachers, and follow other teachers and math experts on Twitter and Facebook. When I find a resource that seems like it could be a good fit, I then vet it on Google. I search for product reviews and evaluations, and look at who else is using it and what they’re saying.

Test drive it in the classroom. Even if an OER has stellar reviews and testimonials from teachers, I like to test the waters before jumping in. For example, summer 2017, I attended Twitter Math Camp and heard about a new middle school math curriculum called Open Up Resources 6–8 Math, from Illustrative Mathematics. I consulted, an independent nonprofit that reviews K–12 curricula for standards alignment and usability and saw that it met expectations for all three review categories, including focus and coherence, rigor and mathematical practices, and instructional supports and usability. I decided to examine it myself

The software is available as an OER so I accessed it online and poked around to make sure it was aligned to my state standards, the Iowa Core Standards. Then I tried a few units with my seventh-grade students to see how it would work in my classroom. I liked the instructional routines and activities for student engagement, and the coherence across units and grade levels. I spoke with the district about adopting the solution and we began using it this school year.

Invest in professional learning. One of the best ways to support an OER implementation is to take some of the funding that would have been spent on curriculum materials and invest it in professional learning. Our middle school math teachers and principal attended two days of training developed by the curriculum authors and delivered by IM Certified Facilitators. We examined the curriculum architecture and materials, and discussed the norms, instructional routines and structures. The facilitators modeled different parts of a lesson so we could see what it would look like in the classroom. They also had us pretend to be the students, which was eye-opening. It not only made us think more deeply about the math problems at hand, but it helped us see how important it is to work them out before our students do, since there may be multiple ways to solve a problem.

Be flexible. Even with high-quality OER, it’s important to remember that you may need to make adjustments on the fly to meet learners’ needs. It’s also helpful to collaborate with other teachers during common planning times or in professional learning communities to dig deeper into the units, make sure the pacing is consistent from class to class, and share successes and lessons learned.


An OER Checklist

Ready to go OER? Here’s handy checklist to help you evaluate your options.

  • Does it align with the Common Core State Standards and/or your state standards?
  • Is it well reviewed by educators and/or highly rated by independent organizations?
  • Is it compatible with existing technology systems and the platforms and devices that students will use in and out of school?
  • Is it easily accessible by teachers and students?
  • Can the entire curriculum be accessed digitally, or will you also require printed materials – such as student workbooks – that may involve additional costs?
  • Does it support a coherent progression across lessons, units and grade levels?
  • Does it include supports for English language learners, students with disabilities, advanced learners, and struggling learners?
  • Does it offer professional learning that is deeply integrated with the curriculum and/or certified by the curriculum authors?


Sarah Martin is a seventh-grade math teacher at Shenandoah Middle School in the Shenandoah Community School District in Iowa.

Tech Tips is a weekly column in SmartBrief on EdTech. Have a tech tip to share? Contact us at [email protected].


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