My Vision for a Physics iBook

UPDATE 1/22/2012: Now with links and Apple’s iBook video!

Warning: This post is a brain dump of all thoughts and conversations I’ve been having about next generation textbooks since Apple’s iBook textbook announcement. Sorry this isn’t polished.

I keep thinking about what a physics iBook would look like. Not a book for consumption (like a traditional text) but rather a book to enable exploration. More like a text-journal-workbook-lab notebook combo, where students would create content from investigations (also pooling created content/data from classmates, etc) and also have reference text for afterwards in the same vein as the Minds-On-Physics text, the first edition of M&I, and the Physics by Inquiry texts.

Stuck on a problem? An intelligent tutor would be able to re-direct you back to a video or animation or even your own data from an exploration where you initially encountered the concept.

There would be these components:

It’d be like an electronic version of the PSSC/Modeling/ISLE /PUM curricula on steroids. And I see this more as the teacher having these tools to deploy to the students, rather than the students following a linear path through text and activities. The class actually builds the text together, and each year the text is different.

The capabilities and content for this iBook already exist. No one has put them together in one package yet. I think it could even be web/cloud-based and platform independent if done with the proper tools.

What am I missing? What’s your vision?

30 responses to “My Vision for a Physics iBook

  1. Sounds good but with the little I’ve played so far. That might be the only book that would fit on a smaller iPad. My kindle epub file went from 800k to 38 meg with the addition of a couple of pics and formatting.

  2. Sounds great! Don’t just let TI design it. You might end up with something like the TI Nspire. Horrible interface.

  3. Leon de Oliveira

    This sounds a lot like an LMS like moodle or haiku. My class is creating their “book” through the big ideas we discuss in class. We have not put the labs in there yet but I am looking at that for next year. It allows embedding web features such as youtube videos and flash files (PHET). I can also put in quizzes and homework questions. It may be more difficult in Haiku to get progressively more difficult questions, but it will definitely be different next year depending on what the students need and respond to. Thedy don’t really use the Kinetics Books texts that we have them buy. That is mainly for the parents. It is also web based so could also fill a few of the gaps that you mentioned.

  4. > What am I missing?
    Links — I only recognize about 1/2 of the things you reference, and would like to dig deeper.

  5. Too much video and not enough real world. There is nothing in the “book” you describe on how to build your own lab equipment.

    • Good point. I wasn’t thinking this would be a textbook that a student could use solo. More like a collection of resources that a teacher could deploy.

      However, I could see having a “suggested route” of exploration through the resources for self-guided learning. Many labs could be done with simple equipment found around the house or easily purchased from the supermarket, toy store, or party store.

      In the original version of the PSSC physics curriculum, students MADE the lab equipment: the carts, tape timers, etc. I think it was a way to incorporate important shop skills. I believe it was ultimately scrapped because of the extra time it added.

  6. This is a good list. Some things I would add:

    The ability for faculty and students to annotate the text and share annotations.

    A concept map tool to make and share concept maps.

  7. Great concept. Support for “whiteboarding” is crucial — a big thing that’s stymieing my attempts to start doing something like this is how hard it is for students to doodle electronically. There has to be a way to sketch. And if it’s slower and harder than sketching on paper, that’s not technological progress. Ditto for mathematical markup.

    What do you think of Bret Victor’s Explorable Explanations?

    • Hi Mylène,

      I agree with you about the difficulty of electronic doodling. I don’t see the electronic whiteboard aspect of this “iBook” replacing the mini-whiteboards we’ve been using in class. I’d much rather have students use a real whiteboard and then take pictures of the class’s whiteboards. The pictures would be be incorporated into the iBook.

      The collaborative e-whiteboard would be an option, but not mandatory. I could see it being useful for virtual collaboration when students aren’t in class together.

      Explorable explanations look really cool. I look more in depth this week.


      • I’m with you about keeping the physical whiteboards — can’t beat the size, resolution, multi-touch capability, or battery life ;).

        As the scope of this idea expands to concept mapping and student-generated content, do you see it overlapping with the conversation about keeping track of student inquiry happening on John B.’s blog?

  8. As someone who is currently using M&I 3rd edition, I’m interested as to why you mention the 1st edition specifically. What was different about it?

    • I was wondering about that also.

    • The first edition was in a workbook format. M&I author Bruce Sherwood told me: “In 1995, after about 5 years of work, Wiley published a volume just on E&M that was in a workbook style. It seemed like a good idea, but for various reasons we found that it didn’t work as desired, and so we abandoned that format in our later work. Basically, the in-line exercises in the later books play the role of the empty boxes that were in that 1995 workbook.”

  9. It seems that the “ibook” already exists: it’s called the world wide web. And rather than think about a textbook as a package, teachers can be curators of what’s already there. And the tools for doing this exist. For example, using blogs we can build a lesson using the resources that are already out there (which you list and which are always being expanded and improved) and adding a few words of our own or instructions to tie things together for students. Blogs are then available for other teachers to use, especially those who may not be ready yet to be curators. As Audrey Watters said last week: “You can disassemble, reassemble, unbundle, disrupt, destroy the textbook. It is truly an irrelevant format.”

  10. I think you just wrote it. I agree with Steve that we can build a physics course out of what’s out there online, and you’ve done a great job listing some of the top resources. Put the links into an easy place for students to access (blog, web page, Moodle), maybe do a little sorting of links by topic, and you’ve got a “book” for the course. If I were to create my own physics iBook it would be so full of links to external sites and links to the sources of my images and videos that I would hardly have any reason to write the darn thing in the first place, save to add some iCandy.

    • Chris and Steve,

      Yes, and that wouldn’t be hard to do. I’m invisioning this huge table where each row is a unit of study and each column is one of those resources with links to the corresponding material for that unit.

      I’d like to take it one step further and have these resources easily deployed to students right within the iBook environment. I really need to make a video or mock-up of what I’m envisioning. And I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t revolutionary. Really just a virtual binder that students and teachers add to.

      • One issue when comparing the ibook (or epub) vs web paradigms is where the content actually resides. Having done some epubs, they become very large when multimedia content is included (and perhaps large means it tends to become static?), because all the content is actually in the package and stored on your device (although I don’t know if this is still true for ibook2). In the web model, everything is a link or an embed, and all the content sits at different places in the cloud. Personally, I see myself leaning towards the web model; however, it does make an assumption that everyone will be connected.

  11. I wouldn’t call that a text book. I understand that’s sort of the point – that textbooks are a poor medium for learning. That’s really at least three quarters of an LMS.

  12. I use a variety of resources and just have them all organized in my lesson plans on Evernote. The students can access their resources from my classwebsite.

    Here’s a link to what I use with my Physics classes:

  13. You forgot opensource.

  14. I think the basic structure of Khan academy would be a great addition in a textbook.

    You’d like Neal Stephenson’s _the diamond age_ – he has a fascinating treatment of what a textbook could be.

  15. After reading your list, Frank, I wonder if the the new “iTunesU” app/ecosystem is more flexible for teachers to deploy all the different kinds of activities for students to engage in.
    I was mulling over the possibility of “writing” a physics iBook that would not just be a rehash of current textbook offerings. I like all your ideas about ways for learners to interact with physics and their own understanding.

  16. I think these are great ideas. In an ideal world, every feature would be easily accessible, as well as affordable. I think the problem at this point is placing something with so much versatility in the hands of students to be used properly. Sure, we can use many of the awesome apps, websites, widgets, etc. for the benefit of our students. But at this point, if given the opportunity students would rather use their ipods and ipads to play games and check sports scores than do homework. And I don’t blame them, its way more interesting at times! ha

    But I think that we’re headed in the right direction. Its about time that educational systems quick being 10-15 years behind leading technology and I hope companies continue to provide the resources privately (even if it isn’t quite equal at this point…)

  17. Hi! My name is Heather Rigby and I am a elementary education major at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I am currently taking Dr.Strange’s EDM 310 class. Following is the link to our class blog : .

    After reading about your idea of a physics iBook I have realized the possibilities are endless. Sure many have said that all of these tools are already available on the web but, with the iBook students could access them via class blog or iBook dashboard. The students would have a ” one stop shop ” for everything including assignments, students, and teacher. I think that all around the iBook is an ideal idea.

    However, the ability for anything Apple to be compatible with another brand is almost unimaginable. Also, the lack of Adobe could raise a red flag. I am not sure if these problems would be tweaked to make the iBook an exceptional piece of technology but, I do know that I run into problems such as these with my personal iPad. Thus limiting the piece of technology and ability to do much of anything.

    I will be summarizing my visits to your blog on February 5, 2012 via my blog which can be found at Until then happy blogging!

  18. It’s a good idea !
    Students may love it and would be so easy to understand physics concepts .Then ,they learn by discovering strange thinksand would be so easy.

  19. Pingback: Going Beyond the Physics Textbook | Action-Reaction

  20. Thanks for sharing the list. I’m going to email this video to the superintendent of my school and hopefully she will consider this idea.

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