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Tag: discussion

Educon: Unraveling the Textbook

It’s been a week since returning from Educon1 and, although I have managed to read a few of the wonderful reflections written by others, I’m just now sifting through my notes and thoughts about the sixth edition of this remarkable event.

One session that won’t get out of my head was the Unraveling the Textbook2 discussion lead by John Pederson and Diana Laufenberg. Our starting point was the premise that access to information has changed radically in the past couple of decades but the  textbooks used by most students have not.

It’s a topic I’ve reflected on and ranted about in this space and it was great to hear from a variety of perspectives, both about why the current model is broken and how the format needs to change. But we, of course, didn’t find any solutions in only 90 minutes.

However, the comments of one teacher in the group more than halfway through the discussion stood out as both contrary to the prevailing thoughts and as a good reminder of how most of us in the room were a little bit ahead of our colleagues.

She observed, in effect, that everyone wanted to take away textbooks without having anything ready to replace them. It’s a good point and one that would probably be echoed by a majority of teachers. As we’ve experimented with online textbooks in our district, I know many in the schools would rather just have the paper versions back.3

One random idea I tossed out to begin to address that issue was to abandon the term “textbook” altogether. It carries too much baggage with most people and is too often used to define the curriculum for a particular course of study.

So, what do we replace it with? Towards the end of our short session, I wrote down some ideas that I will need to explore and expand on:

A replacement for the textbook should

  • be accessible on any device, anywhere
  • allow users to add comments
  • allow certain users (teachers, trusted students) to add and update materials
  • have a social media component to allow users to discuss the materials
  • have content controlled by educators, not publishers

Nothing particularly revolutionary, just some random thoughts. The whole topic needs the collective efforts of many smart educators like the ones who shared in our discussion at Educon.


1 Really? Where the hell did this week go??

2 Don’t bother clicking on the link for the recording on that page. For one thing the sound didn’t work. But beyond that, most Educon sessions are conversations, not presentations, and capturing those interactions on video are difficult at best.

3 Our math teachers will get that wish as our school board got tired of hearing from complaining parents and voted to buy regular books to “supplement” the online versions.

Smart Science Talk

YouTube hosts a wonderful gem in which Stephen Colbert* interviews Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium and in the same class as Carl Sagan when it comes to explaining complex science topics to a general audience. The result is a smart, funny, and very entertaining discussion.

They cover a variety of topics but I especially love Tyson’s assessment of our academic system.

Our academic system rewards people who know a lot of stuff, and generally we call those people “smart”. But at the end of the day, who do you want, the person who can figure stuff out that they’ve never seen before, or the person who can rattle off a bunch of facts? At the end of the day, I want the person who can figure stuff out.

During the audience questions, someone asks about how he would improve the scientific literacy of American society. His answer includes the advice that parents need to allow and encourage their children to experiment and explore the world around them, even if it does get a little messy at times.

In the schools, I don’t have a problem with the fact memorizing, but don’t equate that with what it is to be wise or what it is to be smart. Smart should be some combination of facts, yes, but also what is your lens on the world? How do you figure things out? You promote that by stimulating curiosity.  I don’t see enough stimulating curiosity in this world.

The whole thing (from January 2010) is well worth an hour or so of your time. Watch.


*As himself, not Stephen Colbert the character

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