Beyond the textbook

In an odd and interesting turn of events, I find myself sitting at MSP waiting for my flight to Washington, DC to attend Discovery Education’s second Beyond the Textbook conference.

The invitation arrived by email out of the blue about a month ago. I recognized the conference from Audrey Watters’ participation last year, but was very unclear on how they found me.

So I asked.

The reply (edited mostly for length) came from Steve Dembo:

I believe real innovation comes from cross-pollination.  I’m a big believer in the Medici effect, which is why I want as diverse a group as possible…It’s not an easy task by a long shot and I spent days researching people outside the folks I know personally or by reputation already.  I don’t know the exact path that led me to you, but I did spend a lot of time finding one person I respected, someone like a Dan Meyer for example, and then searching through the people he followed on Twitter and that he referenced on his blog.  And from those people, I’d do the exact same thing, looking both for ‘influencers’ as well as people who I thought had interesting ideas that might make a meaningful contribution to the conversation.

So where do you fit in?  You used to be a middle school teacher and we’re going to try to key in on 7th grade.  You’re a professor and have a background in curriculum design already.  And most importantly, people that I trust and respect, trust and respect you.  And I refused to hold your Spartan connection against you (I’m a Hawkeye).

That’s impressive. I have certainly met a lot of people who claim to use social media to do something besides communicate directly with their audience. But this guy is clearly the real deal.

As I think about the upcoming two days, I find myself thinking about the idea of a textbook.

I suppose the category of publishing into which Connected Math fits is Textbook, but I don’t really think of it that way.

It has been years now since I abandoned textbooks in my math courses for future elementary teachers.

And I am designing a new Educational Technology course at my college this semester, which I will teach in the fall. I began the formal planning for that course by digging into a couple of the publisher texts for these courses.

I lasted about 15 minutes before abandoning that part of the work.

Textbooks conjure up—for me—pre-digested second hand material. Textbooks assert, summarize and question.

Then I read Mindstorms and found a text that I could use to introduce major ideas in the course.

So for me, it is important for us to remember that going “Beyond Textbooks” does not have to mean abandoning books, nor texts.

For me, going beyond the textbook means identifying the resources necessary for introducing the material students need to grapple with, and to support them in their efforts.

My students would be happy to tell you that I have not found this perfect set in any of my courses, and that some of my courses are in better shape than others. But none of my students (I hope) would claim that they are bored by the text materials on offer, or that the courses based on these materials consist of regurgitated second-hand knowledge.

So as we think about moving beyond the textbook, let’s celebrate the possibilities for student engagement and the liberation of students’ minds. But let’s not forget that texts and books are resources for building knowledge and questions.

In late developing news, Frank Noschese showed up with Heads or Tails Double Stuf Oreos as a gift. Good man.

3 responses to “Beyond the textbook

  1. I could pick you out from the crowd with eyes closed, Christopher. Steve Dembo is a smart man. Congrats on this opportunity. You have a lot to contribute, and I’m looking forward to learning more from you.

    Frank is a good man, for sure. (Even if he thinks I ride an electric Hoveround wheelchair.)

  2. I’d love to hear more about this Christopher. I get the impression from your comments that the word choice of “beyond” rather “replacing” is apparent. I’m glad to hear that. How did that come through in the end?

    I’ve been fortunate to have 14 years of teaching CMP, Core Plus, and The Discovering series. I got lucky to teach from three of the most solid series out there. Even with the many flaws (esp in the last two), they’re still probably a few of the best things ive ever found.

    What I’m curious about, is how you think their message could be carried out to the mass audiences well. Or in a negative situation, how could it be abused.

    Even the lamest of textbooks have some research and thought put into the scope and sequence, which I think is critical. Very critical. Over the years, many of my colleagues have cut and pasted, always assuming they can do better than the text author. This concerns me

    I think the most aggressive DIY approach could at least use a text series as a framework for topics and flow–at least for a couple of years to fully understand how things tie together. And feel free to change the actual activities and experiences.

    Bottom line: I worry that those running fastest from textbooks are the least experienced (“well read”) with a variety of texts. And I may be one of those people!

    So I’d love to hear what the messages you heard at the conference and how they are different from my experiences concerns. Maybe a future post ?! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Beyond the textbook – Meaningful resources. | mrcfmoore

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