Monday, June 13, 2011

Textbooks or Not Textbooks?

The secret to being a lazy math teacher?  Good textbooks!  Yes sir, anyone can be a math teacher if they have a good textbook - just read the material in the next section before class starts, give a few examples of the new material on the whiteboard for the class, assign the even problems to the class (no odds, they're all in the back and all the kids will do is copy!), and sit back in your chair with a good magazine for the rest of the hour while the kids work.  The next day, have the kids trade and grade yesterday's papers, and repeat the previous day's process, following the material in your textbook.  Give a quiz once or twice a week, a test every 2-3 weeks, and there you go - math class.  Right?

Of course I'm attempting humor in the previous paragraph, but the truth is, I'll bet every secondary math teacher in America has tried the formula above once or twice in their career.  As long as you have a great textbook, right?  The problem is, today's changing math standards don't really follow any given textbook.

I student taught and spent the first decade of my teaching career using the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) textbooks, and I loved them!  The books focus more on reading than previous math texts, they offer a wide variety of story problems, and they encourage project based learning.  I attended the UCSMP conferences in downtown Chicago several times early in my teaching career, and I bought right in to what they were selling.  I liked having my kids read, and when I got behind and wasn't prepared for the next lesson, I'd read along right with them.  In my first years of teaching I taught from everything that UCSMP had to offer:  PreAlgebra, Algebra, Geometry, Adv. Algebra, FST, and PDM.  You could follow the planning schedule in the book day after day, use the provided tests and quizzes (or accompanying software), throw in the occasional project, and your teaching year was set.

Unfortunately, the State of Michigan switched the standards for HS math in the mid-2000's.  Now Statistics were a part of Alg 2, while topics like matrices were not.  Suddenly, following the UCSMP books day after day was no longer possible, as we began to introduce curriculum that previously only existed in other courses.  My world was turning upside down!  To make matters worse, I got hired in a district that didn't use UCSMP at all!  In fact, this new district was encouraging us to not use textbooks at all, or use material that could be found or accessed online.  By assigning each student a laptop, with access to our "official" texts online, students wouldn't need to lug around texts each day (and our district wouldn't need to spend $ replacing texts).

So now, the question is, what "textbook" do I use, or do I even use one at all?  Our Trig and PreCalc books are older than my students, and they don't really even align with the state standards.  I can find better material elsewhere, but my district won't buy new texts.  So I can try another option ....  I can scan a sample textbook that I like, post links to it on my moodle page, and have students use it as a text.  The catch is only students with the password can access the material, which keeps me from getting caught for violating copy write laws.

This whole situation would be made easier if I had fewer preps and some consistency of teaching assignment.  As I've complained in previous posts, I teach a wide variety of classes, and they switch year to year.  If a teacher can focus on just one or two math subjects for consecutive years, I think they'd be a much more effective teacher.  Regardless of the textbook.  

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