Website review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2020

National Science Digital Library

Treasure trove of pre-K-12 science resources of varying quality

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Grades
Pre-K–12
Subjects & Skills
Math, Science

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Pros: The website and most resources are free; teachers can save and organize favorite resources; and there are robust search options.

Cons: Some of the resources are out of date and not functional; many don't have educational standards or reviews included.

Bottom Line: An easy-to-use resource for expanding teachers' science and science-adjacent curriculum options for all ages.

Teachers can use the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) to search for lesson plans, primary sources, activities, homework assignments, and more by keyword or by limiting results with a large number of other criteria. Though the resources are mostly rooted in science and other STEM subjects, much of the content can also be worked into other types of classes. The NSDL website is a good one to include in your list of places to look for free, often high-quality material. Some of the listings are old and outdated, though, so prescreen anything you assign to your students.

As you browse the site, if you've registered for a free account, you can save resources that you want to keep or investigate further; the resources can also be organized into folders. Curated collections can help you find quality, related resources for topics you're covering in class. You can also contribute your own content to NSDL using the Open Author platform, as well as write reviews for the resources you find on the site.

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The National Science Digital Library includes over 26,000 online resources for use by pre-K through adult audiences. The resources cover the various sciences, technology, computers, engineering, and math, along with some resources for history and education, and are for both formal and informal learning. The Library is merely an organized collection of the resources; to access the resources themselves, teachers end up visiting their original websites. The providers of the content vary in size, scope, and quality, from organizations like NASA to individuals who maintain STEM-based websites. Most resources are freely accessible, but some sites may have a cost associated with access.

Teachers can access the lists of resources in a variety of ways. Users can browse topical collections curated by the site's digital librarians, such as Engineering, Ecology, Trigonometry, and Space Science, or teachers can just browse the whole list of specific collections alphabetically. Examples of collections are Atomic Archive (38 results), Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle (66), Concord Consortium Collection (74), and Science Friday (8). Clicking through takes teachers to a page where they can view the resource, save materials to their own library (if they register for a free account), read a description, see standards, read evaluations, note tags, share the resource, or use the resource with Google Classroom. If teachers click through to view the resource, some resources maintain an NSDL site header that allows them to access the NSDL functions, such as saving it to their dashboard, but sometimes the resource will open in a new tab without the site header.

Teachers can also browse an alphabetical list of the site's participating providers, such as NASA, Maryland Public Television, UCAR, and Genetic Science Learning Center. Teachers can search by keyword, subject, education level (preschool on up to graduate and adult education), and education standard. The advanced search adds on the ability to search by material type, primary user, media format, accessibility, conditions of use, and more.

The learning potential for the National Science Digital Library will depend greatly on what resources are being used, but the subject content of the resources and the formats they take cast a wide net. Math options include some basic math topics to Trigonometry and Statistics; Science includes subtopics such as Applied Science, Forestry and Agriculture, and Life Science; and other topics such as Computing and Information, Engineering, Technology, and History are included in the collections. Resource types include labs, assessments, data sets, full courses, games, interactives, lesson plans, primary sources, simulations, textbooks, and more.

The quality of resources varies, since this library is merely a well-organized and cross-referenced database of resources, which are hosted elsewhere and maintained/created by other providers. Not all sources are evaluated for their applicable educational standards, and some resources are old and out of date, including with broken images, so a bit more curation would add to the value of this resource.

Teachers can assign these resources as independent study or in-class work, or use them for their lesson plans. Students can explore freely to learn more about their personal interests or to research for a paper or project. Useful and interesting resources can be saved into applicable folders for easy reference later.

Overall Rating

Engagement

The website is well-organized and its advanced search capabilities make finding specific types of resources easy. Included providers run the gamut from large organizations to personal websites, with quality differing just as much.

Pedagogy

With searching by subject, grade level, material type, and educational standard, it's easy for teachers to find what they need for any science lesson. Students will be able to engage with material presented in multiple media formats.

Support

Ratings and reviews written by other users help teachers evaluate resources, and the simple dashboard allows for customized personal collections of tools.


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