‘I’m Sick of Everyone Else Owning Education’: Rachel Iufer on Creating and Sharing Teacher Resources

By
Mary Jo Madda

When teachers share their lesson plans and content with colleagues on their campus, it saves time and energy. When teachers share their content on the internet, that assistance gets multiplied a hundredfold. Just talk to Rachel Iufer--one of our 2014 Digital Innovation in Learning Awards “Sharing is Caring” winners, and the the winner of our “Winners’ Choice: Teacher” award, voted upon by all 17 winners of the DILAs.

Iufer is an expert when it comes to “sharing” with other teachers. A fan of flipping the classroom, Iufer creates her own royalty-free public domain science videos that any educator can access on her YouTube channel, “Teacher’s Pet.” We sat down with Iufer, a high school science teacher at Saint Lawrence Academy in California, to hear just how and why “Teacher’s Pet” came to be.


Q: Thanks for sitting down with us, Rachel. Before we get into the hard-hitting questions on your YouTube science videos, tell us: how did you decide to start flipping your classroom?

A: I flipped in my second year of teaching (2011-2012). The reason for that was that I went to a NSTA conference, and a colleague of mine was teaching a session on how to create screencasts. I thought, “I’ll go support my colleague,” but as I was watching it, I started realizing that I could make videos and use those instead of the lecture in class to save time. I don’t think I knew it was called the “flipped classroom” at that point… but I was so passionate about getting my class to be completely inquiry-based where students were inventing their own experiments, and frustrated with the lack of time we had in class to do so.

It was right before spring break that I went to the NSTA conference, so all during spring break, I started making my first videos. I came back to school and said, “Ok kids, we’re going to try this experiment and see how it works.” I did a whole unit where I flipped all the videos, and the lecture was completely gone from the classroom. We did 100% guided inquiry or project-based learning [during class]. At the end, I surveyed the students and asked them what they thought, and overwhelming, kids said, “This is the best thing ever!”

Kids love that they can watch the videos again and again, and that they can wait until they're in a mental space when they actually want to learn.

Q: Since then, you've embarked on this project where you've been creating science videos. What brought you to this?

A: I wanted to do this while I was at my first school, Inspire, actually! When I was making the videos before, I knew I was breaking copyright; I was using Pearson images, or McGraw images. I thought, “You know, only my kids are seeing this--I’m not putting it on YouTube, and it’s on my private website.” I knew that wasn’t sustainable, and I wouldn’t be able to share what I had made with anyone else.

I wanted to obey the copyright law, and while I was getting a master’s at the University of San Francisco, I decided to embark on creating copyright-free, royalty-free public domain material that I have no claim to own. I don’t care if someone else takes it--I just want it to be out there.

Right now, I’m at the phase where I’m making the YouTube videos, but I’m also working on creating the website where I’ll post the files of the Keynote I use to make them (so other teachers have access to those.) I’ll post the images that I’ve created or that I have artists create. That’s the next phase--getting those raw materials out to teachers to modify.

Q: And why all this extra work?

A: I started this because I’m sick of everyone else owning education. It’s not fair. I’ve always worked in very poor, underfunded schools. This is my first time at a private school, but even they struggle. They can only support so much with the tuition, and in the end, we don’t have very much to work with. I just feel for all the teachers looking for quality materials, and don’t have a school that can purchase their material… or are tired of purchasing out of pocket.

I want to help and provide those materials for free to anyone who wants to use them.

Q: To create these videos, you collaborate with other people. Who do you collaborate with, and what can other teachers learn from your collaboration process?

A: I collaborate with Duarte, which is a small firm in Sunnyvale. They have a medical illustrator there who is amazing, and I can send her a bunch of copyrighted images and say, “This is what I’m looking for, but it can’t be this.” She has a degree in biology, so when I show her that I want an image of DNA coiling, she creates her own image which then we can digitize. We’ll go through and create a digital image either in Keynote or Adobe Illustrator. Duarte have offered me her time for free, which is part of their call to help out educators.

I collaborate a lot with other teachers with ideas for how to present the material in another way. A lot of my old coworkers, I keep in touch with them. I’m still working on finding more people to work with as far as creating new material for YouTube. It’s hard for just me to create all the art that is needed. I’m open to more people who want to help out, if there’s anyone out there!

Q: You’re using these videos with your students, but now putting them out there. How have these videos affected both your students and students beyond your classroom?

A: With my students at Saint Lawrence, this is all they’ve experienced with me. At my previous school, a few kids had seen lecture in the classroom and then practice homework assignments. They really could truly be the ones to tell you how different it was.

What I do know is that my students now are very happy and very eager to try things in class… They feel confident. A lot of that confidence comes from their ability to watch those videos multiple times if they don’t get it the first time and not feel embarrassed to have to ask the teacher questions again, and again, and again.

When it comes to other teachers, two other teachers at Saint Lawrence do have their students watch the videos. It’s going well for them--they’re flipping their classroom, but in a sense they’re curating (because I’m creating the videos). They’re finding a lot of success with it. I’ve also given them the outlines that I’ve used that go along with the videos. Those will also be available for other teachers to use once the website is up and running.

Q: What advice do you have for other teachers looking to share their resources?

A: If you’re a flipped classroom teacher, then join the “Flipped Learning Network.” There is a way for teachers to share all their videos with each other--there’s a big fat Google spreadsheet where you can sort it by your content, grade level, language.

There are a lot of websites like TeachersPayTeachers where you can start to get your stuff out there. For me, I don’t ever want to charge money because I know that that’s a limiting factor for a lot of teachers, but that’s a way you can get your information out there.

Also, start becoming a leader wherever you are. If you have some great materials you’ve created, email the people in your department or in your school district, and share what you have with each other. Start knowing that you’re able to lead, and just start leading! Help whoever you can help out.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Interested in applying for the 2015 Digital Innovation in Learning Awards? Check back here in the early spring for all the details!

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