A Teacher’s Short Guide to Finding Electronic Media for Use (Legally)

When creating instructional materials for students it’s always useful to have images and other media to spice up your content. In our STEM projects we are often directing students to create their own electronic materials using media they find online.

The path of least resistance is to claim “fair use” over the media we use and that copyright law doesn’t really apply in this educational context. Unfortunately, the truth is a little more complicated.

In the common core standards students are tasked with writing for a global audience. This necessarily means that this content shared with a global audience is subject to all the copyright laws that apply to anyone else publishing to a global audience.

In short, as teachers we need to learn how to find and attribute the media we’re using in the instructional materials we create; if for no other reason than that we are tasked with teaching our students digital citizenship and how to use electronic media in a responsible way.

The good news is that it’s actually fairly easy to find media that is legal to reuse. You just have to search for them.

There two types of media readily available online that can be used safely and easily: Public Domain and Creative Commons.

Public Domain | No attribution needed

Public Domain | No attribution needed

  • Works in the Public Domain are works who have no property rights attached. If you find a media file in public domain you are completely free to copy and reuse or alter without attributing the work to anyone else.

Image: Creative Commons / Karin Dalziel / CC BY (cropped)

  • Works with a Creative Commons License can be used freely as long as you do two things:

(1) Properly attribute the work. This needs to include the creator’s name, URL of the image, and link to the type of CC license. Sounds like a bunch of information, but it can be easily done in one short byline under the image. See the example on the left.

(2) Use them in accordance with the terms of the type of CC license. This is why it’s important to link to the type of CC license in the first step. There are several types of CC licenses:

It may look confusing but you’re able to use all types of CC licenses.  The license terms have the following meaning:

  • Attribute= As mentioned above you must share the creator’s name, URL, and type of CC license.
  • Share Alike = If you modify the image attach the same CC license to your new image.
  • No Derivative= You are not free to alter the image.
  • Non-Commercial= You can’t use the image in content that you sell.

In the next post I’ll show you how easy it is to find Public Domain and Creative Commons images to use.

Types of CC Licenses

Types of CC Licenses



Can I use that? Do teachers really need to know about copyright?


It’s long been part of my job to help teachers become comfortable with using online resources in their classrooms.  I love to see teachers who are willing to dive  into the vast ocean of teaching materials that are now available to us online.

As we become more comfortable with developing electronic teaching materials for our students, it’s critical to educate ourselves about what whether it is legal or not to just snip, copy and paste that great chart, graphic, or activity we find online.  While building STEM projects I personally spend searching the internet for images, and it’s tempting to think that online resources are the same as any other resources we have in the classroom.  Actually they’re not.

I recently came across a copyright flowchart created by Silvia Tolisano on Langwitches Blog which I find very useful.  The flowchart starts with a great question, “Can I use material I found online for teaching or school work?”

As you will see by looking at the flowchart, there are three skills that are important to learn:

  • How to create your own media quickly
  • How to search for public domain images and creative commons.
  • How to determine if you can claim Fair Use and use an item.

Take a look at the flowchart below and see if you find it useful.

If you would like to learn more, Coursera is offering a free course entitled Copyright for Educators and Librarians which runs from July 21st  to August 18th, 2014.  You can take the course for free, if you wish to receive a Verified Certificate it can be purchased for a limited time only! for $49.00.  The instructors of the course are from Duke University, University of North Carolina, and Emory University.


Get up and Sketch

The Sketchnote Handbook

I love using very long sheets of light-colored construction paper to sketch out and organize ideas for STEM units.  You know the colored paper rolls teachers have been using for decades to make bulletin boards.  In fact, I really like using large sheets of paper to organize my thoughts for just about anything when I just can’t seem to get started or focus my ideas.  There are rolls of paper squirreled away around my office.  My colleagues take bets about how long it will take before I’ll leave the room to go get a giant piece of paper- at least that’s what they claim.

Of course I personally believe that this strategy enhances my focus, concentration and learning.  When I’m standing and moving around- I feel as if I’m sharper and more creative.  Recently, it’s been brought to my attention that sketching itself is also a strategy to enhance learning.

As I was perusing the first chapter of The Sketchnote Handbook: the Illustrated Guide to Visual note taking, I realized that if I worked at developing my sketching using the intentional approach and concepts outlined in the book my sketching and organizing could be much more useful to myself and others.  An important point that Mike Rohde makes is that you don’t have to be able to draw to be able to sketch.  Sketching does not necessarily require artistic talent (thankfully).  It’s a strategy to engage the mind and help you focus.

If you’re interested in the book you can pick up the free introductory chapter of his book here and see what you think.

I know these concepts aren’t new, but they are important to remember when designing and creating new and engaging activities for students.  Maybe you’ve heard of or used these concepts or ideas in your classroom:

  • Interactive student notebooks  (If you haven’t here’s a short youtube video (complete with 80’s dance soundtrack.)
  • Field Notebooks for sketches and scientific observations on field trips.

Field Notebook

If you have any creative strategies you’ve found successful in your classroom please share them in the comments above.