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Topic: Re: Detroit schools replace junk books with $40 million of digital

Replies: 2   Last Post: Nov 6, 2009 1:22 PM

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kirby urner

Posts: 3,690
Registered: 11/29/05
Re: Detroit schools replace junk books with $40 million of digital

Posted: Nov 6, 2009 12:45 PM
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On Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 5:19 PM, Robert Hansen <> wrote:
> Kirby, you haven't really made an argument for why online would be better than text books. The only argument I have seen so far is that they would be much cheaper. I am all for giving text books some competition, but if a district went online entirely the parents that could afford them, would buy text books for their kids. And then people would cry foul because yet again the affluent get ahead.

I'm skeptical that your model would hold true in every district. Many
in my neck of the woods are down on harvesting trees for trivially
wasteful activities such as toilet paper, newsprint and textbooks.
Of course the lobbies come in and explain about recycling (a
responsible activity), plus toilet paper is a tremendous convenience,
so the average tipping point is still "lets waste lots of paper".

However the peer pressure to be cool, to walk and talk like an
environmentalist, is pretty keenly experienced here in Portland, YMMV.

Affluent kids put their textbooks on memory sticks as PDFs, read 'em
on Ubuntu Starling-1s from System76 running Karmic Koala or, in my
case, Jaunty Jackalope. I need to check if there's a fix for the wifi
glitch (or troll, gremlin) along the upgrade path.

> They have been testing the Kindle in some schools and it is bombing. And I know you are talking about something better than the Kindle but text books are going to have the edge for some time for subjects that require more than a vocational glancing blow. That is what makes your career academically based or not. Whether you only got a vocational understanding of the subject or an actual understanding.

The deeper questions revolve around the school intranet and whether
the server is robust enough to store edited versions of last year's
football games and theatrical performances, the occasional lecture,
some instructional cartoons, lots and lots of student work.

We should remember our history: textbooks arose when industrial
standards were still new and could not be taken for granted. States
had this idea of a centralized Paris time or Moscow time and everyone
was to march to the same drummer, get with the same beat. You hear
echoes of that from national standards people of today, most of whom
we feel it's safe to ignore.

Fast forward to the age of Michael Jackson and Britney Spears and you
see we're glued together not by shared textbook boilerplate so much as
our electronic media, and these include offer so-called "infotainment"
as well, not just 1-800... jinzu knife commercials but Discovery,
History... And then there's simply having a DVD player and access to
stores of videos, such as Laughing Horse books (lots on the Spanish
Civil War, for those beginning a study of the early modern period e.g.
Pan's Labyrinth, Into the Fire...). Read about Ernest Hemingway, with
a look back at Mark Twain (likewise not into sorrows of empire).

We've got Sesame Street as an on-ramp, then shows for older kids like
Bill Nye the Science Guy (dated yet timeless material in many ways, as
basic science hasn't changed that much). The screen has been
competing with the live performance educator for several decades by
now and it's looking more and more that the screens won, and in the
process have liberated future generations from needing to synchonrize
their schooling on the backs of some fleet o slave ships (aka the
public schools), which newly unburdened institutions will now be more
free to "roll their own" in the sense of coming up with a "place
based" education (one sourced by local experts and faculty, in cahoots
with private industry, not beholden to anyone "back east" as some
still say, sounding retro, not waiting for the next edition of some
mass published text book offering (yawn, not interested sorry)).

What your affluent kids are learning today is how to explain parabolas
to each other (as cross-sections of parabolic dish antennae -- that
was a bad idea to lose focus on a principal application of those 2nd
degree curves) on the school intranet, or simply via YouTube of your
school is liberal enough to provide unfettered access (some Portland
schools are).

In sum: because our culture is now glued together outside the
classroom, by electronic media, the classroom is free to localize more
and make the math story problems be, you guessed it, vehicles for
teaching about the local infrastructure and history.

"The aqueduct from Bull Run to Mt. Tabor is x miles long and on June
1, 2011 see y gallons per second holding steady for five hours. How
many gallons of clear, clean Bull Run water did the Mt. Tabor
reservoirs receive in those five hours, neglecting to factor in
evaporation or leaking?"

I realize many math teachers see real world content as a drag on the
subject, as math is supposed to point to this Ivory Tower world
wherein the concerns of the reality-minded have been left outside the
gates. The outsiders are, by definition, not privy to some inner
circle set of abstractions (aka "pure" math -- versus "dirty" is
snobbish the implication).

But it's not that either/or in this picture either, as the abstract
stuff still comes across better if you work with Java applets, watch
Flash movies, listen to competent narrations of spheres turning inside
out (a two part series on YouTube featuring input from Bill Thurston,
one of my profs), and otherwise partake of your electronic heritage.

Schools that stay based in wood pulp are quite literally "dark ages"
comparatively speaking.

> I would like to see some better quality videos and smart board presentations out there but it is hard to create classics that fit everyone in that medium. That is why good teachers will always be an asset. You have to reach the kids.

Maybe we don't want anymore "classics that fit everyone"? We already
have so many, underappreciated. This may be the sea change some still
haven't grokked.

Out here in the Silicon Forest, the math we want to teach is simply
not in any of the textbooks, period. We simply have no choice but to
go somewhat cold turkey, because we have serious economic concerns
which involve knowing more discrete math and having more software
literacy than is anywhere available from the big publishers you may be
thinking about.

But hey, we have Intel, Nike, Wieden + Kennedy, Spirit Mountain...
PPS, 4D. So that's a lot of talent and even funding.

We invite the State of Oregon to join us, to help us compete with
other states, but also collaborate (as we've been doing with Alaska).

We could leave the State of Florida to organize its own internal
affairs why not? You've got The Mouse, NASA, should have any trouble
keeping your schools up to date, at least around Satellite Beach.

We don't think Obama is on the hook to deliver anything, not even
stimulus checks, although we do like the WPA as a model and think
Public Works ala the Roosevelts were going somewhere constructive
before the derailing occurred (aka WWII).

Those of us using the Litvins text know there's a PDF version. That's
on my other Ubuntu laptop which is mostly just a carcass, though I
could still use that hard drive... anyway, just saying we appreciate
it when a publisher just makes an agreement with the district, lets
the district apply its own logo, other watermarks. Then at least if
there's unauthorized redistribution, we'll have some sense of the


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