Are textbooks obsolete?
In my first teaching job I was hired to teach physical science and biology to 9th and 10th graders at a rural/suburban high school in Colorado. For curriculum, I was handed a textbook and teacher edition for each class. My first year I tried to faithfully follow the textbook and the suggested learning practices in the book, although I quickly started to move away from this as I gained experience and was disappointed by the quality of these materials. At this time, though, many teachers perceived their job as assigning a textbook reading to students, lecture about the topic the next day, evaluating how well the students understood the reading and lecture on a quiz or test, and then move on to the next topic. Even then this was not best practice as this is well after the work of Piaget, Madeline Hunter, Gardener, and Bloom it is what seemed to be the majority of practice.
Many teachers I knew at this time looked on the work of education researchers as information to memorized in education school before becoming teacher, but not as a basis for day to day lesson planning. The lesson planning was already done for you by the textbook publisher. Surely the textbook publishers were making best practice lesson plans and knew better than classroom teachers, so the thinking seemed to go. This is before the first set of National Science Standards and the 5E model of science instruction and inquiry based science instruction did not seem to be in use much by my peers. In addition my rural school at that time had one computer that could access the internet through a dial-up modem, and no one was really sure why you might want to go on to the internet anyway.
While excellent teachers have always focused more on the student and student learning through inquiry and authentic projects, many others focused on delivering the information as laid out in the teachers edition. In the intervening years there has been shifts and growing understanding of best practices in education in general and science education in particular, along with the information revolution of the internet. There seems to be a better understanding of student learning in science and more teachers putting these ideas into practice. In addition the school my school now has hundreds of computers all with immediate high speed access to the internet. One thing that seem to not have changed much is the science textbook and teacher edition. If anything many textbooks seem to have gotten more confusing and harder for students to use and understand as publishers race to make them colorful, with more bolded words and full of pictures and charts.
In my first year I perceived my job as to deliver the curriculum as laid out in the teacher edition with just a little supplement from other sources and I couldn’t imagine my students not having a textbook. Today I have a much different view, where most of the hard work for my classes is done before the students ever enter the classroom. Carefully developing lessons that create a coherent storyline roughly following ideas of Madeline Hunter and the 5E model about science and development of essential skills. It is looking for interesting and relevant activities that will support student learning. Finding authentic articles on the topic of study for students to read. Setting up projects and problems for students to engage in and solve while learning and applying knowledge and concepts. And more… One thing I hardly do now though is touch the teachers edition, and when I do I am usually very disappointed seeing activities or readings that aren’t very good and often confusing.
With the continued development and rise of excellent online resources such as CK12.org, PhET, Concord Consortium, HHMI, and many, many others, do textbooks still have a relevance and role in science education?