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Textbook publishers have a long way to go

24 January, 2010 (21:43) | Failure, Technology | By: Glenn

I attended the Southern NV Math and Science Conference  over the weekend. I presented part of the Advanced Algebra Applications course, but more on that in another post.

I also attended a session given by one of the major textbook publishers on 21st Century learning with their products. I was told by my boss to be quiet and let the guy speak because I was interrupting him so much. I have 3 main problems with what this publisher rep was telling / showing us about the upcoming editions of the math textbooks.

  1. The rep was really excited about the 21st Century tools his books will have. I mean they will have VIDEO to teach the problems. Video featuring actual high school age learners, CREATED by actual high school learners. And avatars to explain the math. You can’t get more 21st century than that, right?
  2. The problems are all going to be “relevant” to today’s learners. Really. They are going to re-write all the problems and they will be relevant and therefore more interesting. Honest.
  3. Finally, the research shows that learners are not reading the explanations because the math comes first. If the words came first, then the learners read the words, and they learn more of the math. (Think 2 column explanations, where traditionally, the math is on the left and the explanations on the right.)

Those are my observations. Here are the problems I had with them.

  1. The video they showed was of 2 high school age learners discussing exponential growth of sharks. Right, they made the video with no help, no script writing by adults, no props brought in by a major company. Bullcrap. It was so obviously staged, the language was directly out of a textbook, stilted and lame, and the average HS learner would spot it as a joke immediately. As to the avatar, having a 4th grader explaining exponential functions is very disconcerting. The voice was horrible, and the graphics were even more lame.
  2. Is taking a problem like this:
    • “John goes into the store to buy garden hose for his cousin. John spends $85 total for 4 hoses and 1 spigot. The spigot cost $15. How much did John spend?“ and re-writing it to say:
    • “John went to a concert and spent $85. He bought 4 shirts and 1 cd. The cd cost $15, how much were the shirts?” really relevant?
    • No, seriously. He went on for 10 minutes as to how this is so much better because the kids actually go to concerts. 
    • Like the kids wouldn’t just say, “Dude look at the sign posted on the shirts! If they don’t have a sign, don’t buy them!” How incredibly lame.
  3. Finally, and this one really upset me, he said the research shows the kids need to read the explanations first. Research has shown they do better when they can read the words first, then the math. And that makes TOTAL sense to me. BUT, they will only do this to the LOW LEVEL TEXTBOOKS! Yup, it is good for all learners, but they won’t do it for all  learners, just the books focused on Special education and ESL.

What total crap. I asked him why, if the research shows it is advantageous, they won’t do it for all their books. The answer was, teachers won’t buy the books because they want them to be traditional.

Yup, teachers want what is best for them, not their learners, so the textbook company caves and follows research only for the low level books. Even though the research shows it is good for all learners. I would like to see the research, but I have no reason to doubt it.

And this is a company I like. They have the better online resources out of the 3 books I use. Their software is better, and they are trying more than the other companies. That does not bode well for our ability to get change in the textbooks we use.