Monday, 24 September 2012

In Defence of Textbooks

Last weekend was one of my favourite weekends of the year - the Lifeline Bookfair in Canberra. This event happens twice a year and raises money for the Lifeline organisation that runs telephone crisis counseling services. As well as books, there are lots of other items including magazines, games, puzzles, records, CDs, maps etc. The first time I went to the Bookfair I was so impressed, I signed up as a volunteer - I am now the chief record sorter (LPs, 45's, 78's, sets etc).

Here is the building where we set up.........and here are a few of the pallets of stuff we sell

Anyway, I have a great time over the weekend and end up taking home several bags of books, including lots of Maths books. Over the years I have found a few treasures, including a copy of "I Hate Mathematics" by Marilyn Burns.

 I also pick up a selection of textbooks. Why? Well, there's always going to be idea or two that might be useful in any textbook. 

Because textbooks themselves aren't bad things. Care needs to be taken with how we use them, of course, but we need to be equally careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Some Good Things About Textbooks

1.  They are normally well-organised with concepts arranged sequentially. If nothing else, you can always use the table of contents as a guide for your planning.

2. These days, they have good pictures to represent ideas and problems. This was not always the case - I have a few old ones from the 1920's and 1930's that are all text - makes you appreciate what we get these days.

3. They have lots of examples. Lots and lots of examples. Lots and lots and lots of examples.

4. You can use them when it is too rainy to go outside and do some maths. Fortunately it never rains in Canberra.

5. They have ideas for activities that you can re-work for your local context.

Some Bad Things About Textbooks

1. Textbooks cannot teach the kids. This is the job of the teacher. The book is just there as a tool. The teacher needs to use the tool to get the kids to start thinking.

2. They are authoritative. It is hard to argue with them. They do not accept a second opinion or divergent perspective.  

3. They have answers in the back. This can be a real passion-killer. Only the most dedicated learner will use the answers to work backwards to find a solution. The rest of the class will copy down the answer with no idea of what it means or how it got there.

4. Teachers use them as a crutch. Rather than as a supplement. Like you can't live on vitamin tablets - they are a supplement too.

5. They reduce thinking about Maths to the contents of what is inside the covers. If it says "Year 4 Maths" on the front, then I only need to do the stuff documented inside. There is no challenge to step outside the parameters of the cover and look at Maths in a broader context.

Textbooks - use only as directed.

Textbooks - they are a tool, not a teacher

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