Growth Mindset and OER: Student-Led Solutions


This article was originally published at www.ccsso.org under a CC-By license.

Open educational resources (OER) are teaching materials licensed for free use and repurposing. This case study is a part of a research study conducted by CCSSO and iNACOL. The purpose of the study is to explore the current status of development and dissemination of OER in K-12 education at the state, district, and classroom levels. For more case studies and resources, visit http://www.ccsso.org/oer

Middle school science teacher John Coe discusses the role of OER in his classroom.


Seventh-grade life sciences teacher John Coe has more than 20 years of teaching experience. As a member of the five-person science department at North Lake Middle School in Lake Stevens, WA, Coe is part of a team that uses open educational resources (OER) for traditional textbook replacement. Driven by student interest and a problem-based inquiry mentality, Coe's goal is to create a modern, more innovative classroom environment.


When the Next Generation Science Standards were released for adoption in 2013, Coe saw an instructional need that was not being addressed by available resources.

"We had to fill the gaps, and look for free [resources]," says Coe.

Those resources, says Coe, needed  to do more than provide a "static curriculum." He and his team were determined to make their instructional materials better using OER that could be edited and changed when necessary. Coe wanted to instill a growth mindset in his students to help them connect in a deeper way to their learning, something he says is not possible with traditional textbooks that are good references "but not good for learning."

John Coe illustrates the importance of OER in his instructional model

"We need, as important as reading is, to choose very carefully every piece of text that [our students] see," explains Coe. "We can't waste time. With OER, we can get to the point. We can decide if this [text] is OK, or do we need to adjust this thing? Days of reading a section or chapter from front to back is too wasteful. [Students] are not comprehending it. It's an illusion that they are reading all of this information; they are not."


Knowing that they needed to make changes to their instructional materials, Coe's team initially found resources through the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) conference in Seattle. Since then, student performance levels on 8th grade state assessments are higher than their district cohorts by 10-15%, which is an increase from previous years. Coe has attended the OER Summits organized by the Washington State Office of Superintendent Public Instruction (OSPI) and its Open Educational Resources Program Manager Barbara Soots. He also makes it a point to connect to educators on social media to learn more about others who are using OER.

John Coe describes the movement of OER implementation in his district.

Coe and his colleagues utilize CK-12  and Brain Genie as their most common replacement for instructional materials and have recently added a 1:1 Chromebook program for their students. Coe says that soft adoption of OER resources is best; his department can more informally test and work with OER without too much oversight in the form of regulations and mandates.

"It's equivalent to a grassroots movement," Coe explains. "Our district is like many other districts; supplementary resources will be evaluated. Fortunately, the teachers in our department are ahead in educational theory - we are motivated and always changing. Nothing stays the same."

Coe's team does not utilize all of CK-12's resources, which allows them to be flexible from year to year. He credits his colleagues for providing inspiration and the ability to keep producing new material.

"If I didn't work with who I work with, three really motivated people, this wouldn't happen," says Coe. "We can edit down the sections of text [from OER resources] quickly. We can create leveled readings [which] help solve some of the differences in reading levels. We can drop paragraphs - change words, different graphics, replace pictures, and give relevance to the text." (See screenshot of 'Science with Coe Student Authored Textbook' below.)

It is all about the ability to individualize and help students connect with instructional materials in a way that has taken off in leaps and bounds.

"It's just happening," says Coe, "you couldn't stop it even if you wanted to. Thinking about CK-12 as an example (see screenshot below), we can allow students to investigate self-interests a little more. We aren't tied to what is in our bound book; there are so many topics that they can search out and get feedback [on] automatically."

Future Steps

John Coe explains his plans for long-term OER use.

Coe and his team dabble in a variety of goals at the same time; working on different pieces of OER for chapters, reviewing what has already been created, and making sure that all the technical aspects come together. He cautions that when using OER to constantly revise texts, there is never a "completed basket of goods," or a finished product akin to something that a publisher would deliver in a package complete with activities. This creates a process that constantly propels his team toward innovation. 

John Coe describes how his team utilizes OER in their instructional materials.

"You need people willing to sit down and take that extra 20 minutes to edit text and save it, and share it," Coe says. Their finished chapters are then released through CK-12, which students use as a point of access. "We take a section at a time, which is different each year."


John Coe, 
7th Grade Life Science Teacher
North Lake Middle School Lake Stevens, WA