The realities (fear) of working building a course without the safety net of a textbook come to a head.
All summer I have been building a library of math application resources to be used in my upcoming “Informal Geometry” class. I have excitedly gathered footage, made mental notes about classroom elements, sought connections to math in context, etc. However, today I am six calendar days away from students and the realities of assembling the class are a bit more daunting. This is especially true as I realize I have never built a class without a textbook.
To clarify I have not used a textbook beyond practice problem sourcing for a few years now. This is in part because my district has set budgets and made clear priorities that textbooks are not something we choose to afford. To be fair the idea of buying hundred dollar texts for multiple subjects for all students in an environment where the bound version is of limited quality as befits publishing monopolies and the online resources are sunset-ed for regular monetary reinvestment doe not encourage spending in this area. What is more of a factor is the flexibility a flipped or digitized teacher has to order, re-order, refine, and redefine classes.
What stuck me this morning as I sat down was the fact that I had always started with a textbook, and then adapted and grown classes organically over time. Even when the college stats class I taught for years went without a book, I had a previous text as a guide and had experience with the topics, flow, and broad beats of the course. This happened years ago as the lead professor was an early rebel from textbook prices. Although I haven’t actively used a textbook for a while, building this course has highlighted how much I subconsciously allowed the textbook to impact topic selection, order, and even presentation.
As I sit her this morning, the realization that in spite of my perceived independence from codex codification, I need to take a look at a number of assumptions that I have made about all of my classes.
To balance this epiphany, I began this informal geometry course building around the construction of a shed because it provided me a natural framework for introduction of concepts based on contextual need. Process A comes before B because A must be complete before B can go on top of it. This is a natural and understandable order in the real world that can help provide organization and structure to learning. Likewise the ladies and gentlemen that wrote, re-wrote, advised, etc the textbook made reasonable decisions for organization and order based on experience and practice that have provided solid structures for my courses for years and deserve to be credited as past practice.
What I enjoy about blogging is that the process can help refine and crystallize my thinking. This morning what I will take away from my keyboard is the following:
- I have relied more on textbooks in the past than I would care to admit.
- I still have threads in my current practice and organization that are holdovers from my days of textbook reliance.
- I have to pull together the threads of a course in the next 6 days into a tapestry that is coherent and workable for students.
- I have unlimited freedom to build this course.
- Unlimited freedom can be paralyzing.
- Using the structure of a building for a course still seems plausible as I look at my resources.
- It is important to be humble enough to understand that textbook authors, other teachers, et. al. may also use a given structure because it is also effective.
- Finally… I don’t need to reorganize all of my classes to eliminate traces of others work, I simply need to build on the shoulders of others to do the best job I can for students.
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