Free Educational Resources - Best of Class for K-12
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These ten websites rise to the top in providing the best quality free content for kids, teachers and homeschooling parents. There are thousands of sites with games, lessons and hands-on activities for K-12 students. But few provide a consistently high quality of content, backed by best learning and teaching practices.
A hallmark of the sites described below is that they are associated with major educator organizations in their field and are updated regularly. Many provide interactive games for students. Some specialize in specific content areas. I have used resources from all of them in my classrooms, after-school tutoring, and in my educator consultations. And I've recommended them to homeschooling parents and students.
Have you or your children used these websites for K-12 studies?
Best Websites in Education for Students of All Ages
The websites described below include:
- BBC Schools
- National Geographic Education
- PBS Parents & Learning Media
- Smithsonian Education
Language Arts for all grade levels
If it has to do with reading and writing, it's hard to find a better resource than ReadWriteThink.org. Developed by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, it is the hallmark of best practices used to teach reading and writing from kindergarten through high school.
I've used the interactives with my students for poetry writing, scaffolding for research papers, story mapping, and critical analysis. The lesson catalog on the site for teaching these skills is broad and deep. And the site includes parent and after-school resources. Beginning teachers and homeschool parents will find their strategy guides particularly useful for understanding the hows and whys of the approaches used.
To stay current, they have started to develop Android and iPhone apps for their interactives.
I love the wonderful variety of ideas for kids to show what they've learned from their lessons. Some don't take a lot of time. Others can be incorporated into more complex unit projects.
Resources for Teaching Math
Illuminations is to Math what ReadWriteThink is to Literacy. Illuminations.nctm.org offers a broad selection of lessons, interactives and games for all math skills students learn in grades preK-12. The lessons incorporate common core standards and are rich with hands-on tactile activities for multi-sensory learning. Interactives like Octagon Island and Plotter the Penguin (a particular favorite of mine) help students understand concepts and practice problem solving.
Students in grades 4-8 can play games in the Calculation Nation section to help them hone their skills in basic math operations, as well as fractions, factors, multiples and symmetry, among many areas. Kids compete with other kids around the world. Free registration is required.
The Brain Teasers section provides opportunities for students who excel in math to be challenged, or to work in groups to develop solutions. And the Success Stories section offers many tips from teachers who've used the lessons and interactives in their classrooms. Other features include 5 mobile apps and a periodic newsletter, Bright Ideas, with the latest and greatest on teaching and learning math.
STEM resources for middle and high school
CK-12.org started out as a service to offer free online science and math textbooks (FlexBooks) to grades 6-12 students and teachers. It has evolved over the last few years from the teacher-centered textbook model to a student-focused site. So they are expanding the types of resources they offer to include interactive lessons, videos, quizzes, difficulty scaffolding, and concept maps
CK-12's Braingenie offers interactive lessons and quizzes in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) topics, and students can track their progress using the free registration and login. This platform also offers opportunities for students to compete in multi-players matches.
FlexMath is another interactive cK-12 platform for students, particularly geared to help students practice problems in Algebra after they have been introduced to the concepts. This platform offer examples and hints to students as they learn.
The partners who contribute content to and finance the work of cK-12 include Microsoft, NASA, Google, Stanford University, KQED, Wikimedia, and the California Charter School Association, to name a few.
This one tends to surprise teachers and parents I recommend it to, but some of the most popular mini-lessons and interactives I've used with my students were ones I pulled from BBC Schools Primary and Secondary Resources. Pulled from across the United Kingdom, the lessons and games cover all subjects and grade levels.
Primary Resources are targeted to students ages 4-11 (preK-5), and Secondary Resources are designed for students ages 11-16 (grades 5-10).
Because the resources are "across the pond," be aware that terminology for the teaching profession is different, and social studies topics are UK-centric. There are two important things to note for American audiences. First, the video and animation clips on the site are only viewable by users in the UK. And second, the language syntax, writing and spelling are going to be slightly different. This can be especially confusing for beginning and struggling readers in the U.S., so avoid using the literacy resources for those particular students.
All of these cautions aside, this is a terrific body of resources for supplementing instruction and learning across the curricula. I love, love, love the Maths (yes, that's spelled right) games for primary students. They offer hints and reinforcement, and many of them revise (review) concepts. Kids love them too!
Money, Finances and Economics
I'm going to get on my soapbox for a bit here, so please bear with me. In my opinion, financial literacy for K-12 is the one of the most important body of skills our kids need to master, but the education system abandons it beyond currency counting and elementary school word problems.
The new Common Core standards do not include skills for financial literacy. Yet as soon as our children graduate, they face the prospect of accumulating as much as $120,000 dollars of debt just to attend college. They will be buying or leasing cars. They will be using credit cards, usually for the first time. So it is TOTALLY up to the parents to provide a financial literacy education to our kids.
The good news is that Econedlink.org offers lessons, games AND standards that one day, hopefully, the K-12 system will embrace. Until that day comes, take advantage of their searchable lesson database, new interactive games, and videos. The site is authored by the Council for Economic Education, that has developed a set of 20 National Standards in Economics, with accompanying background and lessons.
Visual and Performing Arts
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts authors the premiere website for K-12 education in studio art, music dance, and theater. ArtsEdge is loaded with lessons, projects and activities for visual and performing arts, and creative ways to integrate the arts into all subject areas.
Rather than write an essay or answer multiple choice questions, why not have kids demonstrate their understanding of a historic event through the creation of a history box, or a play re-enacting it? ArtsEdge is a catalog of ideas to differentiate learning by giving your kids diverse ways to express their thoughts and understanding of literature, historic events, science and math concepts.
National Geographic Education
All about the Earth
If it has to do with the Earth, National Geographic Education, education.nationalgeographic.com, provides authoritative teaching, learning and research resources. NG offers material in social studies and geography, as well as earth, life and environmental sciences.
K-12 students have the opportunity to explore our world through a variety of investigative activities with accompanying lesson plans, videos, interactives, images and background material. NG has a fine collection of map interactives for creating historical maps, and theme maps for the environment, population, climate, politics and economics.
PBS Parents and PBS LearningMedia
Aside from parents, our children's first engaging learning experiences often comes from PBS shows like Sesame Street and Between the Lions. Two PBS websites, PBS Parents and PBS LearningMedia, have a wealth of associated learning content that tightly complements their educational programs.
PBS Parents has a strong focus on preK-5. I love their interactives for beginning readers and the variety of creative activities they offer to help kids master basic reading, writing and math skills.
History, Earth Sciences, and Art for K-12
Our country's best known and most extensive museum system, The Smithsonian, is also host to valuable educational resources that are found nowhere else. Smithsonianeducation.org organizes these by educators, families, and students. For educators there are lesson plans in Art and Music, Language Arts, Earth and Life Sciences and Archaeology, Math, History and Geography. There are links to ePals projects, connecting classrooms around the world.
For students, there are interactives and Smithsonian Kids, where kids can examine and explore more than 140 million objects from the Smithsonian collection.
And the museums' newest interactive, Smithsonian - Seriously Amazing, answers some interesting questions that connect history, science, and the arts.
Produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sciencenetlinks.com offers lessons, interactives, videos, podcasts, hands-on activities, and experiments. I like their exceptional search feature for finding specific topic lessons quickly.
Interactive games like Antibiotic Attack help kids understand understand the balancing act doctors must play when weighing the use of antibiotics versus their detrimental side effects. In a related hands-on game, Bacteria Zoo, kids play doctor to diagnose an unknown infection.
Science Netlinks also has a growing list of science apps that are useful for kids "out in the field," to record their observations and data and share it with the world. Other apps include games and visually stunning interactives.