This next year at my school we'll be piloting textbooks for several math courses, including Algebra 1.
All the choices are disappointing. For one thing, they're all huge. The one I've (fair use) borrowed from below is slightly larger than 8-1/2" x 11" and is well over an inch thick.
When you look at the pages here on the blog, they don't look too bad. But they're so big that they accost the eyes. Why are they so big? Well, so much of the pages are intentionally left blank! Look at the first page, which instructs how to do mixture problems. The top third and left third of the page have no content knowledge at all for the students!
I kid you not, looking at the pictures here on the blog doesn't do justice to how brash they are. The colors and the large type just jump out and attack your eyes.
Contrast those two pages on mixture problems with the same topic from another algebra book I have. The book measures 5-1/2" x 7-1/2" and is less than an inch thick. It was originally copyrighted in 1913, and again in 1941.
A couple things become immediately obvious. In the new, huge textbook, the student is considered to be an idiot. It's assumed that the student is ADD and hence must be assaulted with color and pictures or he/she will be incapable of understanding. My opinion: the book contributes to the very ADD that is assumed!
The old textbook, however, was made for utility, not beauty. It has only absolutely necessary pictures in it, and most of those are graphs, and uses color (black, brown, blue) very sparingly. It's also assumed in the older book that the student can read and understand not only the explanation in the text, but the math behind it.
The older book is about a third of the size and weight of the new book, and hence is about three times as convenient to carry. It would fit nicely and easily into a backpack, and wouldn't have to be shoved into a locker. About the only think it lacks is the stuff that students don't need or want anyway--useless, unrelated pictures, and lists of state standards.
So we're going to buy one of the behemoths, since no publisher would dare submit anything so small and utilitarian. How could they--kids raised on MTV don't have attention spans to be able to use such a book effectively, or so we're repeatedly told. I'm more inclined to believe that publishers make more money on the huge, overblown books, and states are willing to spend more money on something that looks so exciting--and that's why textbooks these days are so big.
But wait, there's more. In addition to the textbooks comes a teacher's box that's probably 10 cubic feet in volume. It contains the teacher's edition, booklets of practice worksheets, review worksheets, reteaching worksheets, and several different types and versions of tests for each chapter. Each student can be given his/her own "consumable" workbook, and the teacher chest has booklets with all the answers to the problems in the student workbooks. It also has answers to the "note-taking guide" workbooks that the students are given. The chest has enrichment exercises, lesson plans, activities, and booklets on differentiated instruction. It also has all of these booklets and plans in Spanish, for those teaching English Language Learners.
Then there are the cd-roms and dvd-roms. These might contain lesson tutorials, ideas for extending lessons, and PDF copies of all the booklets and such mentioned above. There might even be a quiz or test generator, so you can have as many versions of a test or quiz as you want--all at the tap of a keyboard.
I'd be more impressed if I wasn't so disappointed at the hoops the publishers are jumping through to get us to buy their stuff--and the price they're going to charge us for all that stuff.
And by the weight of it all.
Update 6/12/07: It gets worse. Shortly before school got out last week, all math teachers received an email stating that those who are going to pilot textbooks this coming year must attend a "training session" in early August. Are you kidding me? First, you want me to do extra work to evaluate a textbook, and in addition you want me to go to a meeting--during my vacation time!--to teach me how to use all the supplemental materials and how to fill out evaluation papers?
Let's try this. Since I'm a college graduate, why not assume I'm at least moderately bright. Write down how you want me to evaluate the book and materials--give me a checklist or something--and trust that I'm capable of completing it correctly. As for the publisher's supplemental materials, I have a few comments. First, if I need training on how to use them, they're obviously not user friendly and should be improved. Second, if you just want to "wade through" all the materials and let me know what's there, email me a short list of cool materials and perhaps some instructions on how to use them. Again, I'm at least moderately bright; I can take it from there.
I told the district math guy regarding the meeting in August, and further meetings throughout the school year, "Single dad don't play that game."
Good lord, if anyone in education knows how to conduct a meeting that isn't a waste of time, I've yet to meet him/her. We learned how to do so in the army--not everyone practiced what they preached, though!--and it amazes me that so few people know how to conduct effective meetings. I'm be darned if I'm going to waste my time attending meetings regarding books that we may or may not buy. Either trust me to evaluate the book, or don't, but don't treat me like an idiot.