Textbooks: Free or Paid?

The move for districts to create their own textbooks and curriculum seems to be taking on steam lately. I know this has been going on for years, but is now really finding more momentum because of budget cuts and the increasing availability of content online.

As a parent, I’ve seen a number of teachers who use the textbook merely as a guide. I have to say those classes were the ones my kids found the most engaging and rewarding. Even when I was teaching, over 20 years ago, I never used a textbook. One school I taught at had NO social studies texts – we wrote our classes as we went (a little too stressful for this first year teacher.) But I actually had students come back a couple of years later to tell me how much they got from that class. And that was without a textbook.

I’m not saying textbooks are bad – far from it. I know many great teachers and classes who use the textbook very well. Teachers don’t have time to put together curriculum -it’s a very time consuming process. Nor do they (I certainly didn’t) have expertise in all the areas they have to teach.

But the movement for Open Educational Resources (OER) and other types of free/reduced cost textbooks is really taking off. I’ve seen a number of blog posts on it lately (check my delicious feed).

My kids have a couple of digital textbooks, but they are basically pdfs online. Hardly worth it. I’m hoping to soon see textbooks that really take advantage of the medium. As AUdrey Watters said ,

But when you digitize textbooks, you can disassemble all those various pieces that comprise it — the different units, chapters, exercises, diagrams, illustrations and so on — and you can reengineer something completely different. You can add video explanations, for example. You can make the diagrams interactive. You can add social elements, letting students make notes in the “margins” and share them with one another.

The Audrey Watters’ post led me to another blog by the Utah Open Textbook project, which highlighted another reason I think these less-expensive, teacher created curricula may succeed:

 you buy one per student each year and give it to the student to keep forever, highlight in, take notes in, etc. – things they aren’t allowed to do in their traditional textbooks.

College students are used to this, but what about high school? or younger? It’s an excellent idea that I think merits more research.

More to come on textbooks, I think.

Teach Them Wisely

A perfect teaching moment fell into my lap last week. Long story short, my son’s cell phone (which is PROHIBITED at school during school hours) was grabbed from his hand when he went to text me that he didn’t need to stay after school, as we had planned. The other student had asked my son for his phone number, and my son wisely told him no. The kid grabbed my son’s phone and called his own phone, thereby getting my son’s phone number.

An hour later, my son received a text from “Susie,” one of his good friends. My son knew that Susie didn’t have a phone or texting, so he was suspicious.  (YES! My casual conversations about online safety, etc., have paid off!) He asked the texter  couple of questions, and the answers got more unlikely (spelling/grammar mistakes he knew Susie wouldn’t do, etc.) So he shut off the phone.  He was pretty upset and felt “icky.”

That was about it, but he was scared. He made all the right choices, and I told him that. My 14-year-old daughter was in the car, so we all had a good conversation about etiquette, safety, bullying, etc. We did some detective work (duh, recent calls, text number, not hard) and suspect that the student who grabbed the phone gave my son’s number to another student who did the texting. We can’t prove anything, of course, but what to do?

I am going to contact the principal. It isn’t necessarily to take any action, but to illustrate a point. I expect I’ll be told that my son should not have the phone at school. This is why schools can no longer keep their heads in the sand about this! Students must be taught appropriate behavior and expectations. The phones are there, and they are used outside of school. The phone isn’t the point – it’s the behavior. Stealing another student’s property and pretending to be someone else are NOT acceptable behaviors.

Today, I ran across a great blog post on a similar topic, How we Fail Young Students with Facebook by @pernilleripp. Basically, she’s saying that by not teaching kids about using the tools (Facebook, texting, etc) they are going on there with no instruction. They are going online, whether they are supposed to or not.

Kids that are not being taught how to use the site safely, because we choose to pretend they are not signing up.

My kids get a great deal of education about online saftey, etc., because of my work. My son handled the texting incident with maturity and he made the right decisions. However, I know many families where kids are just forbidden to go on YouTube, or even have an iPod because they might find something. Parents don’t know how to teach kids internet safety, so it’s just forbidden.

This might work with some kids, but definitely not all. This is why I lean towards having a partnership with schools and families in teaching these skills. Teachers and parents will have to learn the skills – this is new territory for many of them.

For the record, I do following Facebook’s age restrictions. My daughter was 13, my son will be 13 when he gets a Facebook page. Does that mean we don’t talk about it? Nope. I’m hoping he’ll be much better prepared when he does get a Facebook page. And my daughter? I still know her password, and will until she’s 16.


If your school isn’t using technology, why not?

If your school is not using tech­nol­o­gy, why not? [Is there inovative thinking behind your school’s use of technology? ] What is the ratio­nale for oppos­ing tech­nol­o­gy in the class­room?

This ques­tion revers­es the pre­vi­ous ones but, in the 21st cen­tu­ry, it is impor­tant to ask the ques­tion in both directions. If not, why not? The base­line of school-based learn­ing should not be the absence of tech­nol­o­gy, at least not with­out a good argu­ment that has been thought through care­ful­ly by all involved. Every child with access to the Inter­net or a mobile devices engages in infor­mal learn­ing out­side of school all the time.

The inven­tors of the Inter­net were moti­vat­ed by the desire to put all the world’s knowl­edge with­in reach of all the world’s cit­i­zens — a utopi­an goal, to be sure, but one based on a new the­o­ry of learning. If teach­ing kids with, through, and about tech­nol­o­gy is not a well-integrated prac­tice in your child’s school, then you have to inquire why not? Too many teach­ers teach for their past instead of their stu­dents’ present and future.

The real, hard, painstak­ing, involved work of edu­cat­ing with tech­nol­o­gy requires engag­ing stu­dents in their pas­sions and imag­i­na­tions, and help­ing them to learn to thrive in the inter­con­nect­ed, glob­al, dig­i­tal world they have inher­it­ed.

-Cathy Davidson, cathydavidson.com

Is it Technology or Teaching?

If the insti­tu­tion (whether non-profit or for-profit) is sim­ply drop­ping expen­sive tech­nol­o­gy into the class­room with­out rethink­ing ped­a­gogy — teach­ing meth­ods, rules, mod­els, con­tent, and modes of student-teacher inter­ac­tion — then stu­dents are not get­ting their money’s worth. Par­ents should not ask what devices are avail­able to their stu­dents but how the devices are being used to enhance learn­ing.

-Cathy Davidson, “Seven Rules for Judging Online Learning“, cathydavidson.com


Paradigm Shift

One of the primary elements of 21st Century education is that it puts technology into the hands of students, rather than solely in the hands of the teacher. This is a paradigm shift for an educational culture which has put a teacher in the front of the room….

— Christopher John Russell in Practical Technology for Music Education available as an ebook from his blog, Technology in Music Education

TIES Report #1

Just off two days at Minnesota’s version of ISTE – the TIES 2011 Conference. I’m exhausted. There are million things running through my head. TIES definitely isn’t ISTE, which is some ways is a relief. It was a much more manageable size: 3000 as opposed to 15,000 people. I also appreciated being able to see people I knew and make connections with people that I can connect with in person later.

A few highlights:

  • Keynote speaker today was Gabe Zichermann who was a pinch hitter for an ailing Jane McGonigal. He is an awesome speaker. The quote of the conference: “Do our kids have ADD or is the world just too slow?” It’s worth watching his keynote when it’s up, or catching his TED talk.
  • Last session of the conference for me was with Doug Johnson, the technology director at Mankato Public Schools. Turns out I had met him on a trolley at ISTE. Small world. He’s a great speaker, and had thought -provoking things to say. I think this was my favorite session. Check out his blog.
  • I caught a session by the Superintendant and Tech Director for the Little Falls schools. I had the good fortune to be able to visit them last spring, and I was looking forward to hearing what had happened since then. It sounds like they’ve had a successful rollout of a 1:1 iPad program. What impresses me most about them is their philosophy and how they did the 1:1. It truly was about engaging students and providing them with the skills they needed. It’s worth hearing them speak about their project, or at least checking out their e-book.


More to come after I get some sleep!

Current Events Part 2

Follow up to my recent post about a current events class…  I ran across a post from Free Tech for Teachers about a tool called Hubii. Hubii integrates newspapers from around the world, a virtual one-stop-shop for a worldwide newstand.

10 x 10 Screen Shot, December 11 2011

A previous post from Richard Byrne had suggested four other tools to visualize the news. All are worth checking out:

How to Integrate

Interesting blog post by an instructional technologist about TPACK, a concept about how to integrate technology into instruction without being so overwhelming.

If I understand, this approach encourages teachers to take their existing curriculum and add appropriate technology – and just try. It might work, it might not. Just try.

Screen shot of interactive technology grid He points out a couple of interactive tools that allow for a progression of integration. The sites give ideas, tips, tools and lay it out in a step-by-step process. The tools he mentions are from The Florida Center For Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida and Northern Arizona University.

After a quick glance, these matrices seem to lay out clear goals to slowly integrate technology in the classroom. It’s not just about technology – it’s about 21st century skills, such as collaboration, creation and critical thinking.

Art Class is a 21st Century Class

I recently attended the 2nd trimester open house at my daughter’s high school. This is where parents follow their child’s schedule for  brief 10-minute “classses.” It’s a chance to hear from the teacher, including syllabus, expectations, etc.

As I listened to the Art teacher talk about the art exploration class, it occurred to me that Art embodies the essence of a 21st century skill:

  • Creativity:  students create original work.
  • Critical thinking and problem solving: Students are presented with an expected outcome and need to analyze how to get there. In this case, the teacher used the words “problem solving” when talking about assignments and process.
  • Communication: the teacher was clear that students are to see themselves communicating about something through their art – about themselves, an issue, a concept. In this case, students have to communicate without words.
  • Collaboration: students work on individual and group projects in this class.

In this particular art class, there isn’t even any digital technology!

21st Century Skills are cross all disciplines and are about more than the use of technology. Yet, art classes are almost always the first to be cut. Here’s hoping we soon realize the importance of these classes that encourage and foster these skills.