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04 May 2012

Mail Time: online textbook?


Warren Mumford, of New York, writes:

I took your one week course at Manhattan College 1.5 years back.  This is my second year teaching AP Physics C at Storm King School.  We have been using Fishbane Gasiorowicz and Thornton, Physics for Scientists and Engineers as a text.  

Next year we are considering going to an online text: Kinetic Books Physics for Scientists and Engineers. I have previewed this online and think that students will tend to follow through online modules much more readily than reading a standard text.   

What is your opinion?  

Have you heard of any other AP Physics C teachers using this online book or any other online text?  


Great question.    (a) I agree that you should go with the absolute cheapest option rather than a $200, 1000-page text; but (2) No, students won't necessarily follow though any better with an online book than a hard-copy book.

Reading a physics text is hard, and often frustrating.  It can only be done effectively with careful guidance from you -- asking students to read a very specific passage, giving them very specific things to look for in the reading, and then holding them accountable for having actually done what you ask them to do.  There is no magic ingredient that makes a text superior -- even the carrot of "hey, it's online!" rings hollow to students raised on facebook and mobile apps.

Another option beyond kinetic books is to find one of the FREE -- yes, free -- open-source texts out there.  I'm kicking myself because I forget the name, but at the last two AP readings we've seen a presentation from some folks who recommend free online texts.  These are very similar in content and style to the $200 books.  Try this one by Craig Fletcher, who teaches at an independent school in Pasadena -- he was a reader at my table, and I had two folks recommend this to me (though I have not personally reviewed it).  You can also google around to see what you can find.

Point is, commercial textbooks are generally of poor to middling quality, and I have no real evidence -- anecdotal or otherwise -- that one textbook does a better job than another in supporting our teacher.  Ask any student, and he's probably just using the textbook as a source of problems plus how to do those problems.  So get the cheap as free text -- it's no worse than what you've got, and your students and school can spend their money elsewhere.

GCJ

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