We know that the days of the paper and ink textbook are numbered, but this just might be the beginning of the end. Google’s Play for Education download site now sells discounted texts, from math and science to the novels that need to be read by high-school seniors. Most of the books are aimed at college students, but the Cambridge University Press’s Geometry text costs $31.02 versus nearly $90 that the paperback edition goes for.
Need to brush up on the latest school technology? Atomic Learning has a new ebook that covers the basics. The 19-page ebook “Proven Approaches to Effective Tech Integration: Strategies & Solutions for School Leaders” has everything from the SAMR model to differentiated learning, but each section can be nothing more than a brief introduction with few details. There are links to more info, however. It’s available for iPads or as a .pdf file that can be viewed on just about any device and only requires that you register.
If you’re more than a little intimidated with trying out your first programming project at school, think how the students feel staring at the keyboard and blank screen. No Starch Press’s Super Scratch Programming Adventure is a programming textbook masquerading as a graphic novel to make the information and techniques inside more accessible and less scary to both teacher and student.
Scratch is a programming language developed at MIT specifically for code newbies to make get into programming easy. The comic book’s hero is Scratchy, a cyberspace cat with an attitude. There’s also Mitch, a student who loves creating computer games, as well as Gobo, Fabu and Pete, trans-dimensional aliens who maintain the balance of the universe. Together they show how to make simple programming projects.
Along the way, the Scratch crew shows you how to create ever more complex programs, culminating in a complete game. You’ll need a recent PC, Mac or Linux computer with 120MB of free hard drive space to use the downloadable Scratch environment. It’s all a lot of fun, very educational and the book has a slew of online resources available to help teach the art and science of programming. Compared to $200 textbooks, this book is a steal at $25 for the paperback and $20 for the eBook version. You can try out a chapter for free.
Forget about using static paper texts because Adaptive Curriculum’s VBooks are much more and can cost a district a lot less. Based on visuals and an interactive plan that puts the emphasis on curiosity and exploration, VBooks teach by doing and have a good variety of reviews and assessments built in. The books on individual topics cost as little as $1.50 and there’s a free trial on one that teaches circumference and arc lengths.
The latest salvo in the e-textbook war is McGrawHill’s SmartBook effort. Unlike other efforts, tMcGrawHill and Area 9 have developed sophisticated branching technology that guides the student to a more personal and productive educational experience. Just answer questions along the way and the book adapts the student’s individual needs. The plans are for 90 courses and the system will work on PCs, Androids and iPads.
Need to know anything from the 100 largest libraries in the world to which county eats the most meat? It’s all in the latest edition of the World Almanac and Book of Facts. The 2013 version has over 1,000 pages, which includes a run through of 2012 in pictures as well as the results of the 2012 Olympics and Presidential election. The book lists for $13, but can be had for as little as $9 and belongs in every school library, social studies or history classroom.
Tired of stale old Physics textbooks? I know your students probably are. Here’s an alternative: “Manga Guide to Physics,” a 248-page graphic novel about two students at a Japanese high school and how they teach each other about everything from the law of action and reaction and force and motion to momentum and energy. Happily, there are sections that explain the relevant formulas as well as a chapter at the end devoted to the units. A great augmentation of the typical textbook, manga physics costs $200 for the paperbound book or $16 as a .pdf eBook. There are also manga books about calculus, statistics and electricity.
It may sound strange but think of Bunpei Yorifuji’s “Wonderful Life with the Elements” as what happens when Anime goes to a chemistry class. The 205-page hardbound book from No Starch Press may look whimsical but it is stuffed full of interesting and useful information about the Periodic Table and the elements, but with a twist. Rather than the expected atomic symbols, protons and electron orbitals, elements are represented by quirky cartoons.
For instance, elements take on a human persona and each of the chemical groups in the periodic table is represented by a different haircut. The uses of the elements are shown as different costumes they wear on what looks like bobble head dolls. When the elements were first discovered is shown by how old the doll looks and gases are shown as things that look like ghosts. For example, Scandium shows up in the book as a nerdy celebrity and Carbon is seen as something akin to a Zen master.
The overall effect of Yorifuji’s book is a mixture of bemusement, curiosity and interest. The look is odd to say the least, which is compounded by the book’s cream colored paper that’s printed with only black and yellow ink. On top of the expected melting-, boiling- point and density data on the elements, the book takes an oddball approach with things like the elements in breakfast and the conductive elements arranged as an orchestra. There are also pages describing the prominent elements in ancient times through today.
Each element gets a short description, cartoons as well as a nickname that can help kids remember it. For instance, because of its use as a paint pigment, Chromium is called the tortured artist and helium is the lighthearted gas that raises our spirits and voices. Overall, the book is overflowing with information but can’t compare with established reference books like the Merck Index. Still, “Wonderful Life with the Elements” is presented in a way that its contents have a better chance of being remembered than typical textbook information.
A great way to get to know the elements, the book’s informality works at many levels. It’s a great introduction to the complexity and depth of the elements without being burdened by heavy math. It all comes together in what Yorifuji calls the Super Periodic Table, a 13.5- by 11.5-inch pull-out poster that’s included at the end of the hardbound book. It’s too small for a whole class to see and I wish that it was available in a larger format.
All told, “Wonderful Life with the Elements” succeeds at many levels and can turn a boring recitation of properties to a fun and memorable experience. The printed edition (ISBN: 9781593274238) costs $18, but there’s an ebook for $15; together you can get the set for $20. While some will dismiss it as soft science I was quite taken by the book and see that it can have a place in a middle- and high-school science class. In fact, every chemistry classroom or school library should have at least one printed or ebook copy.
“Wonderful Life with the Elements” by Bunpei Yorifuji
+ Whimsical approach to science education
+ Filled with key facts
+ Names and cartoons can help remember facts
+ Includes poster
+ Available as printed or eBook
- Odd look
- Can’t compete with traditional reference book
What do Justin Bieber, Eli Manning, a tree frog, a girl gymnast and Jennifer Lawrence have in common? They’re all on the cover of the latest World Book Almanac for Kids. Aimed at kids 8 and up, the 2013 edition costs $14 and can be a class’s font of knowledge about everything from the rise of Islam in the seventh century to the world’s largest cities. There are several quizzes and puzzles as well as excellent up to date maps and country profiles, including an entry for the youngest country, South Sudan. A copy should be next to the dictionary in every class, plus there’re lots of additional online goodies at the publisher’s site.
Chances are that if you’ve set up classrooms with iPads that you can cut out the cost of buying some of the reading material traditionally done with books. Lexcycle’s Stanza works with pads, iPhones and many iPods to deliver a variety of free classics from tis library of 50,000 books. It provides access to catalogue of Project Guttenberg and Feedbooks as well as other sources.