Tough Choices

A follow-up to a previous post about my 9th grade daughter’s choices for classes for next year. Should she take Honors World History or the regular class?

The teachers had a curriculum night last week. It was a good chance to meet a couple of teachers and to take a look at the books used for the two options. I found out that the Honors class is basically an Advanced Placement class, but they can’t call it that. The books are both REALLY big and heavy (no wonder kids have back problems). The Honors book is very text based, and I think is a college level text. The class involves a good deal of reading, note taking, writing and tests. The class is like any AP class, preparing kids for the AP tests.

The book for the regular class included many more visuals, including graphics and photographs. I didn’t get many details about how this class functions, as the teacher who was there was an Honors teacher.

Neither course includes any online textbook, and the honors class uses very little outside resources (online or otherwise) and certainly never includes projects. In fact, the teacher looked down his nose at me when I even suggested such a thing. The online textbook will change probably for the class after my daughter, as I know the district is replacing its Social Studies curriculum. However, that doesn’t help her!

So, what to do? I need to email the teacher to get the textbook titles/publishers to see if we could find used copies or a digital version. If she had her own copy of the book, at least she could write in the book and wouldn’t have to carry the huge thing back and forth. My daughter loves history and social studies, and does very well. She deserves to have access to the higher level content of the Honors class. Yet, she’s not a kid that does well with strict, linear, traditional teaching. I’m not sure she’ll do well in an AP setting that is so focused on intense reading and regurgitating history facts and concepts.

She’s a visual learner who can express her learning much better in projects, like movies, performances, presentations than she does in tests. While yes, she needs to learn to write, does she need to learn to write for an AP test? Is this really a 21st century skill that will serve her best in her life? Are colleges really that focused on that kind of learning? Given what I’ve been studying for the last year, I’m not convinced that this is the best course.

Decision to be posted later.

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.