When I first started teaching the textbook was the most efficient and cost-effective way for students to gain access to information.  But I never fell in love with it.  I knew it always lacked what I was really craving in a classroom experience. The information landscape has changed dramatically since I first walked into that classroom in Wellsville, KS 15 years ago.  I made due, finding a way to make the learning authentic even back in the good old early days of the internet.

Now, though I have been fortunate enough to live in a time that delivered the type of student access to information that I craved.  And then fortunate enough to be in a school that is getting it right with regard to information access.  And finally fortunate enough to work for a principal that encourages creativity and innovation in the workplace.  In this space I am able to challenge students to not just consume information but judge it, look for bias, sort the pile of results from google, be discerning… know how to detect crap, and then create.

The video above is my student and the textbook that I now have in my classroom.  Its a class set by Eric Foner and it is lovely.  We use it from time to time and it is a valuable piece of context for learning.  Each student also has a copy of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.  Even though we are 1:1, I do not *just* use what we can access on the computers, nor do we have the computers open all the time.  The time in class is spent exploring information, to become historical thinkers and then use that knowledge to go out and practice… practice being movie makers, infographic creators, historians, performers, poets, lyricists, web designers, etc.  Not only do I not employ a textbook as the primary learning tool, but I also teach thematically.  I heavily buy into the idea that using a variety of resources, borrowing from current events when it makes connection, and exploring themes rather than just a timeline, allows for a student to interact with the information in a more organic, realistic manner; much the way they will need to interact for the rest of their days outside the classroom.

Today I will travel to Silver Springs, MD and the Discovery Channel headquarters to participate in a robust conversation about where we are headed #beyondthetextbook.  Please use the hashtag to participate in the conversation as it happens over the next 36 hours or so, and as it lives on in those online spaces.  As I head into the event, these are the questions I have about the #beyondthetextbook conversation:

  • How do we afford a robust and well supported 1:1 program to allow for life #beyondthetextbook?
  • I have taught all grades 7-12, but have very little hands on experience with pk-6. How does the version of information access in the classroom (that I have experienced) translate in the younger grades?
  • How do we develop systems and structures that support learning/teaching in this world of information surplus?
  • How do we stay agile enough to continue innovating and improving information access/consumption as the technology changes?
  • What is next?

Do you have answers?  suggestions?  comments?  more questions? Please chime in with your ideas!