Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tales of textbook adoptions, part 2

This past Thursday, a group of SJUSD physics teachers met at a "re-purposed" former elementary school. The agenda: publisher presentations on textbook programs we expressed an interest in at our previous meeting.

My first textbook adoption happened when I was still wet behind the ears in 1987-88. I've been through two more before this one. This was my first time being pitched by publisher reps at a district-organized meeting.

The first, second, and third adoption cycles involved a few meetings of physics teachers throughout the year, culminating with selections of titles. In 1988 and 1994, each teacher simply identified the title of his or her choice and the books were ordered for distribution in the fall. In 2001 a new directive came down from the district: choose one title for physics and a second title for for AP Physics. The physics teachers balked, fought, argued, and won the case for selecting different titles at different schools.

The top-down, "one size fits all" directive from the district is back again (perhaps stronger than ever), and again the teachers are balking.

But there's another difference between the 1988 adoption and the 2007 adoption. In 1988 I was loaded down with a small library of complimentary copies of many, many titles. Back in those days, there were many publishers. Not any more. In this weeks presentation, we heard from Holt and Prentice Hall. Although Glencoe/McGraw Hill has a title, no one was interested in piloting it. There was notable dissatisfaction with that title throughout the district.

Holt had long published the venerable text, Modern Physics. More recently they retooled with a title authored by veteran authors, Ray Serway and Jerry Faughn. Though it got off to a rough start, holt's Physics is now a sophisticated, multi-faceted, resource-rich textbook. At first glance, I have no reason to think it's anything but a good, solid, high school physics textbook.

I'm obviously a big fan of Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics. I have used it since I started teaching. Other programs may have a more impressive fleet of ancillaries, but Hewitt's text will always have something they cannot match:

A student who doesn't know physics can read Conceptual Physics and learn physics from it.

You might expect that that's the case with any textbook. It is not. I have yet to see a text whose narrative matches Hewitt's in its ability to explain physics to a student who is unfamiliar with the subject. Most authors have long held a command of physics and simply cannot remember what it was like when they didn't "get it." Hewitt followed an unconventional path to his position as physics instructor and textbook author. And it shows. He seems to remember not getting it and thus speaks effectively to students who are learning the material for the first time.

Nevertheless, Prentice Hall has worked to make sure the armada of Conceptual Physics ancillaries can do battle with those offered by the competition.

At the end of the meeting, we signed up for piloting duties. Several signed on to pilot Holt Physics, several signed on to pilot Conceptual Physics. We also went in several directions for an AP text. I'm hoping to see the latest Serway & Faughn College Physics (7e); others like Douglas Giancoli's Physics Principles with Applications (6e).

It would appear that at worst, we would want two titles for physics and two for AP. It remains to be seen if the district will let us have our way or force us to fight amongst ourselves over which single title for physics and which single title for AP should be adopted district wide.

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