I have the honor of being invited by Discovery Education to attend their second “Beyond the Textbook” forum to be held this Wednesday and Thursday at their headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. The event is spearheaded by Steve Dembo and, in exchange for travel expenses, he gets to pick my brain about digital textbooks, resources, and curriculum. There will be 18 other outstanding educators as well, including my edu-heroes Christopher Danielson, Michael Doyle, Karl Fisch, and Tom Woodward.
In preparation for the event, I’m updating/remixing an old blog post I wrote called “My Vision for a Physics iBook” ….
I keep thinking about what a physics iBook would look like. Not a book for consumption, as with a traditional text, but rather a book to enable exploration. So what would a student see when they first opened such a book?
No content. No classical references like Feynman’s Lectures on Physics. No integration with Khan Academy’s video library. Nothing.
Students should be learning to do science, not simply learning about science. They should be making observations, posing questions, conducting experiments, finding patterns, analyzing data, and sharing their conclusions.
In this sense, the iBook would function more like an electronic lab notebook. As with curricula like Modeling Instruction and ISLE, students would create the physics content from their own investigations and evidence, rather than deferring to authority.
Actually, the iBook wouldn’t be completely blank. While it would initially be empty of content, it would be chock-full of tools to help students collect and analyze experimental data. Software like Tracker for video analysis, VPython and GlowScript for computation and visualization, LoggerPro for graphing and electronic data collection, along with PhET simulations and Direct Measurement Physics Videos for conducting virtual experiments.
In the realm of traditional physics textbooks, only a few make it a priority to incorporate experiments into their storylines. Three that come to mind are:
The Manga Guide to Physics
FIGURE P-2 Electronic temperature sensors reveal that if equal amounts of hot and cold water mix the final temperature is the average of the initial temperatures.
and PSSC Physics.
Eugenia Etkina‘s upcoming College Physics text gets a step closer to my iBook vision. The text incorporates her work with video experiments in her ISLE and Physics Union Mathematics curriculula. In the text, there are QR codes which link to videos of the experiments to be analyzed.
For example, here’s a video of a momentum experiment, followed by the corresponding section of the text.
But, as you can see, the text does the analysis for the student. In my opinion, this would make a good reference only after the student has completed a similar activity on their own. Fortunately, her text also comes with a workbook that asks students to do this sort of scientific reasoning on their own:
Also taking the “experiments first” approach is Live Photo Physics Interactive Video Vignettes, a collaborative project by well-known physics education researchers Robert Teese, Priscilla Laws, and David Jackson. During a vignette, students are asked to make predictions and do video analysis on-the-fly. Here’s a preview:
Science is never done in isolation, however, so the iBook would come equipped with tools for sharing data, content, photos, videos, and resources among students and between teacher-student.
For me, going beyond the textbook means giving students a toolbox rather than an instruction manual.
What’s your vision for the future of textbooks?
You can follow along with us at the Beyond the Textbook forum this week by searching for the Twitter hashtag #BeyondTextbooks.
Bonus: 5 reasons why iPads won’t replace textbooks in science class.