CK-12: Free Online Textbooks

CK-12 is a website providing free digital textbooks and interactive activities in order to teach and/or practice classroom material. CK-12 mainly provides material for Math and Science, but it has recently started expanding into other subjects.

General Information

Type: Website with Application (Apple, Android, Windows 8, Chrome Apps, and Edmodo)

Links: CK-12 Site, CK-12 Youtube Channel

Target Grade(s): Kindergarten – 12th Grade

Subject(s): Math and Science (Others becoming available)

FUTD Rating: 4/5 Stars

Price: Free

General Functions: Use free, pre-generated textbooks covering varying Math and Science topics. Concepts contain information, videos, and activities to maximize learning. Mix and match CK-12 chapters or add your own chapters/material to the books provided in order to best meet your needs (Flexbooks). Access ‘Flexbooks’ and other materials compiled by other teachers everywhere. Use pre-made questions or add your own to make class assessments and check for understanding. Create classes and groups to share materials with students/fellow staff, administer assessments, and track data.

The Good

Easy Access to a Large Amount of Content

CK-12 supports detailed content covering a huge range of topics. You can quickly find content by selecting the topic or grade level you desire. Once you have selected your topic, you can choose from a broad range of subtopics to find the lesson(s) you want. Each lesson contains multiple media sources and interactive activities to enhance learning and provide additional support/practice. If you are looking for something specific, you can use the search bar to find lessons, quizzes, and ‘Flexbooks’ created by CK-12 and teachers using the site. Content is constantly being added and updated. With such a wide array of content, it is easy to integrate this resource into any math or science classroom.

Can Collaborate and Track Progress

CK-12 allows you to create classes and/or study groups with whom you can share material and assign lessons, quizzes, and other material. Classes make it so only those with leader privileges can share/assign material whereas groups allows all members to share what they have found/created. These options allow collaboration between teachers, students, and staff members depending on who the group/class is made for and for what purpose. Once students are in a class, CK-12 automatically collects data on their performance. Whether it’s an assignment, practice, or a quiz, CK-12 can grade and record how students are doing. This allows group/class administrators to easily access performance data and adjust content to focus on the skills that require the most support.

Everything Can be Personalized

When I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. Even though CK-12 provides a lot of great material, the site creators realize that this material might not give teachers everything they need. In some cases, the material may even cover too much. As a result, there are many levels of personalization teachers can have in all elements of the site; from mixing and matching chapters/questions to creating their own material. This level of personalization creates makes this site capable of meeting a wide variety of educational needs and easy to integrate into the classroom.

The Challenging

Too Many Options

The amount of material CK-12 provides and the level of personalization users have are both great aspects of this site however, it can quickly become overwhelming. Once you step beyond CK-12’s “Concept” lessons and start exploring some of the sites other features, you are soon swamped with choices and personalization options. Major topics lead to subtopics which in turn lead to other subtopics and once you have picked through those, you can edit or add to that material in a number of ways. Though navigation of the site and use personalization tools are pretty intuitive, the sheer amount of options make figuring out what you want to use, how you want to use it, and compiling the necessary materials to achieve your goals extremely involved and time consuming. If you are interested in using this site in your school/classroom, prepare to dedicate a lot of time getting started.

What FUTD Recommends:

– Have CK-12 do the initial work: CK-12 allows you to input your either the academic standards your state uses (i e. Common Core) or just the State you live in as well as the subject and grade level and it will compile a ‘flexbook’ that best meets the needs of those standards. You can then go back and add in the material that is missing and take out what you don’t need. This will save you some time and you can gradually perfect these materials.

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Focus on using the pre-made concepts when creating assignments as well. CK-12 does a great job providing a rich variety of material and activities to help teach and practice the concept you have selected without providing too much. From the concept page, you can also access extra materials other teachers have added to supplement that concept (including lessons, videos, activities, and quizzes). By using what other teachers have already created, you can save a lot of time. Set your due date for the concept assignment on the day you would like to finish that part of the lesson/unit and use the comment section of the class page to assign specific parts of the concept to your students. Compile multiple concepts to cover an entire unit to give yourself more time to prepare and perfect the following unit.

– Have a goal in mind: Make a list somewhere of what you envision this site to be in your classroom. Will you put all of your assignments on it? Is it just for homework? Will it be a station or part of a weekly practice activity? Since this site has everything from textbook material to assessments and activities, there are many ways to use it. Having some goals in mind before you try and put everything together will help you focus more on what you will want to use. I also recommend that you start with a more peripheral use (i.e. finding lesson ideas or using 1 video/activity from a concept) and as you get more comfortable with the site, you can gradually make it more central to your teaching

Difficult to Organize

Most of the CK-12 site is very intuitive and it is easy to find materials however, it is hard to figure out how to save and organize those materials once they have been found. This issue hits in two main ways: creating new material and connecting the material I have found. When creating new material (excluding assessments), the site has one standard editing system. Where the system allows you to attach material and has many editing options, there is nothing aside from a labeling where tab to help you differentiate one type of material from another. In other words, the editor used to create a “lesson plan” is the same editor you would use to create an “activity”. In fact, the site only has one label for adding this extra material: Modality. Where this seemed perfectly fine at first, the more I things I tried to do on the site, the more confusing and frustrating it became. Ultimately, I want the capability to make material that fits in with CK-12’s own material, and it was difficult to figure out how.

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Even when you have found/created the material you like, it is difficult to compile and share. The site provides an organized library where you can store all of the materials you have found/created. Despite having this function, you cannot access this material when trying to add an assignment to a class. This means that if you are trying to assign a concept you found in the past, you need to look for it again from the beginning. It also means that you can’t access any of the new material you have created. If you are using a ‘flexbook’ (the CK-12 equivalent to a textbook), you cannot assign the book or any portion of it. It should be noted that all of this content can be shared with the group individually, but you cannot tack on a due date or give instructions beyond commenting in the Q and A section and discussing it in class. There are other limitations when it comes to combining information from different concepts and creating your own flexbooks that can make organizing hard as well. In a word, the site gets a bit muddled once you start compiling and personalizing information.

What FUTD Recommends:

– Create your content in Word or Google Docs: Even though the editor has the same options as other word processors like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, it does not work as well and is harder to see. CK-12 allows you to import content from Google Docs and Microsoft Word, and so it is beneficial to start in one of these programs. Once on the site, you can then embed your media using CK-12’s system. CK-12 also allows you to attach content from your hard-drive to the material you have created, making it easier to attach worksheets, activities, etc. rather than creating multiple modalities and trying to fit them together.

– Set the expectations for the content you share in class: Since a lot of the material you create and/or save cannot be made into a real ‘assignment’ in your class, plan on setting the expectations for the materials you want to use in class, whether you can ‘assign’ them or not. Once the expectations for the site are set, students will only need reminders to check the site and complete the work.

– Expect Improvements: This site is relatively new and is still developing. So many updates have occurred in the two days it took to write this post that I had to change what I had written. As the site continues to grow and learn, many of these issues will likely be discovered and smoothed out.

The Mobile App is Very Limited

Not surprisingly, the application that accompanies the CK-12 website is extremely limited. Currently, you are unable to access classes and groups from the application or search for extra materials. These limitations will likely go away with time, but it should be considered before assigning activities on a mobile device.

What FUTD Recommends

– Use a normal internet browser: A simple solution you probably were able to guess but worth noting. Unlike some sites, CK-12’s regular site functions well on mobile devices. The site does not have a mobile option however, this does not pose a problem.

– Expect Improvements: CK-12 has been aggressively improving their site and the app is likely to follow.

Closing Thoughts

CK-12 is a wonderful resource with many potential educational uses. When I think about using it, I think about the potential benefits for schools with extremely limited resources like the one I used to teach at. At those schools, there are often not enough textbooks to go around and/or provide the necessary informational support. Technology has had an increasing presence in these schools due to massive political and community efforts, but accessibility remains limited. CK-12 provides great information and new opportunities for students in these schools to learn. Not only does it make quality information available for free, but it will even convert almost everything into a PDF (non-digital) format so it can be printed and used even in classes without easy access to digital devices. I am excited to see where this resource goes from here and how it will push further educational developments to provide quality education for everyone.

Have you used CK-12 in your classroom? Share your experience in the comments below!

Disclaimer: FUTD is not associated with CK-12 and does not benefit from referring people in any way. Some information may become obsolete due to changes made by CK-12 to their site/app.


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