It’s always fun to put textbooks on blast. It’s easy, cheap ridicule. Before teaching, I worked for Holt, Rinehart, and Winston as a math copy editor on the high school series my school district now uses. HRW was filled with people who had never taught a day or hadn’t taught a math class in 3 decades- good people, but out of touch with education that works. I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m wondering today if textbook authors and editors even know what a project is. Their so-called ‘Chapter Projects’ always end up looking like an extension of the word problems at the of chapter.
I’m teaching 3 new classes (Algebra II, PreCalculus, and AP Statistics) this year and I’m struggling to find good curriculum. I like to teach with problems and projects, but really I’ll take anything that’s interesting, even if it comes out of a textbook. The problem is, I have no textbooks for AP Stats and the PreCalculus class. At the start of the fifth week of school, I got word that the book order has been finally processed. In my mad search for good curriculum, I sent emails to other high school teachers in my district. The head of a math department at an affluent high school told me that they are “very textbook dependent” and don’t have anything else to share. Oh, okay. The textbooks. After six years of teaching Algebra I and creating my own stuff, I forgot all about the textbook. New subjects, new books, why not give them another shot?
Here’s what textbook companies offer online for the two books that I’m supposed to be using but don’t have yet:
Exhibit A from Houghton Mifflin’s PreCalculus with Limits, Larson : Chapter 1 Project Demographics
Really? “Write a linear equation…? What is the slope…? Sketch a graph of the line.” Four questions on Algebra I content…for a project?! My PreCalculus students would laugh at me if I gave them this for a project.Then they’d do it all in 1 minute and 30 seconds and sit there looking at me like, “What’s next, lady?”
Exhibit B From Holt’s Algebra II Chapter 2’s Project “Sky High”. This one is a bit better because it allows the learner to have some choice in choosing their sky scrapers. Yippee. But in the end, it’s still just a 3 paged thematic worksheet.
Mathematics Education in textbooks hasn’t fully evolved yet. Furthermore, it has a big missing step of something (anything!) that’s open-ended and inquiry-based activities.
What textbook authors call “Projects” are really a stage 3 thematic worksheet, at best, and that’s where textbook evolution has stopped. I wonder if the textbook company giants will ever get there. I heard that one of my math ed heroes, Dan Meyer, has been shipped off to work for Pearson. I have hope.
As a side note, the chimpanzee computation is important and can be an interesting part of a math class.
I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad my classes don’t have textbooks yet. We’re not missing much, eh?
On my search for projects for AP Stats, I found an honest, thoughtful blog from teacher, Mr. C’s “Challenges of Project Based Learning (PBL) in AP Stat”
The quest continues.