Choosing textbooks, mapping pace

My colleagues and I are in the process of rethinking the history curriculum from sixth grade up through eighth grade. That means new textbooks. We’ve done the traditional thing, which is order a bunch of sample textbooks, look at the maps and pictures, read a few sample paragraphs, and generally kick the tires.

The size of the books is dismaying. Most of them are well over ten pounds of glossy paper and cardboard. On top of this we expect them to carry notebooks, pencils, pens, and other gear. None of the books is internet-friendly. Oh, sure, they have lots of quizzes and games and online tools. But they’re not available as PDFs or as Kindle downloads or even on a Nook. They’re certainly not on iBooks. This is inelegant.

More than that, though, my colleagues and I are going through a design process. We know that there are certain benchmarks in time that we like to cover in greater detail in history. I like to spend a certain amount of time on the late 19th century for example, when modern economic models started to be established, and on the labor disagreements and strikes that nearly unmade this nation.

I’ve yet to see a single American history textbook that is thin enough not to break the back of the average seventh grade girl. The one we use now weighs in at a modest 10.5 pounds, but it’s a thousand pages and unwieldy at best. The clear winner is Joy Hakim’s A HISTORY OF US, with its ten volumes allowing for maximum flexibility and a range of options for any teacher… but the lack of online resources to teach from is a sticking point for some of my colleagues.

It will be interesting to see how this debate between books wins out. My colleagues are as concerned as I am about the weight on our kids’ backs. But we also want teaching resources, too.

THere’s another side to all of this, and that’s that we have an obligation to remap our curriculum to the needs and expectations of a new textbook. That process has certain perils that we’re looking forward too, and other perils that we’re not. One of the tools that I resolved we’d use was a collection of 150 digital images I downloaded a while ago of 150 great people from history — sports stars, entertainers, scholars, world leaders, activists, scientists, religious leaders, musicians, and more — who fundamentally transformed how we view the world and its history. I wish I’d bookmarked the website, or included a reference to it, but that will form a fundamental part of our re-mapping practice. Who were these people? Which texts do the best job of telling us what these people were about? How do these people affect our mindset today?

How will your school transform textbook use? How do you select a new textbook?

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