How to grow a “textbook”

How to grow a “textbook”

By Joyce Kasman Valenza

Regardless of how you feel about textbooks in this brave new world of open curricula and academic sharing and supereasy digital publishing, this may be the best time ever to be without them. The classroom texts (or courseware) that many of us may be unaware we are building have potential beyond the power of ordinary text.

Here are textbook-growing strategies and portals for selecting text-y resources.

Start with an outline. Use your district’s scope and sequence, existing state and national standards or the Common Core State Standards as they are published and developed.

Grab a virtual binding. You’ll need some type of teacher-friendly platform for building a virtual binding. We use Wikispaces for Teachers. Other options are PBwiki, Google Sites, LiveBinders, and Netvibes; or a coursemanagement system, like Moodle; or a social networking platform, like Edmodo, SocialGo, Group.s, Spruz, or Ning.

Unpack and publish your traditional documents. Use any of a growing variety of publishing tools to publish your existing content. Upload those docs. Get the embed code and transform them into super-attractive, flip-able, shareable, searchable online books. My personal favorites are Issuu and DocStoc.

Grab a few solid updating tools. To fully exploit the dynamic potential of an online textbook, you’ll want to search for RSS feeds and dynamic widgets that inform learning in your content area. Consider the news and journal sources that are truly relevant to your course(s) and simply access relevant feeds whenever you see that lovely little orange RSS square.

Grab books for solid, more static content. Visit Google Books (or any of a growing number of ebook portals) to get full and generous partial (preview) views of courserelevant books to link to and embed.

Grab database content. For dynamic, authoritative content, you can’t beat subscription databases.

Grab the right search tools. Build a list of search tools that are relevant to your class and your learners’ needs and levels.

Grab your own present ations and shop for the best of others. Publish your presentations on a portal like SlideShare or AuthorStream. Embed them on the appropriate pages of your text. Shop for presentations that others have posted for sharing. Embed those, too.

Grab a couple of pathfinders. Search for pathfinders using the language of your content area and the word pathfinder.

Grab some film. Portals include Snagfilms, Free Documentaries, and Top Documentary Films.

Grab some open-source curricula. Most are particularly strong in math and science. On the elementary level, check out Scholastic’s StudyJams for math and science and the WikiJunior Project.

Grab some student work. You can publish the bestwritten work using digital publishing tools.

Set reasonable textpectations. You can’t build all this e-texty goodness in a day. You won’t build it in a semester. But you can build a base for growing a dynamic, elastic, and powerful text. Work with a librarian. Engage your learners. Build with your gradelevel or content-area partners, whether or not they are in your building. If you build it, they will learn. And so will you.

Joyce Valenza is the teacher-librarian at Springfield Township High School in Erdenheim, Pennsylvania, an author, and a technology advocate.

Recommended Resources

¦CK12 Flexbook
¦ Curriki
¦ Khan Academy
¦ eTexts/Curricula
¦ Documentary/Nonfiction Film
¦ ebooks