Sunday, March 03, 2013

Math Textbooks

James commented over at Grim's Hall on one of Texan99's posts - we are clearly some small but excellent node of the internet here - about HS geometry textbooks, and it reminded me of Richard Feynman's experience advising about same in 1964.


bs king said...

If you ever decide to change your tagline "part of a small but excellent node of the internet" should be a contender to replace it.

Luke Lea said...

Yeah, Feynman's account is timeless. If someone like Gates really wanted to make a difference he would offer prizes for writing the best textbooks and then distribute the winners free to every public school in America. State boards would have a hard time turning free textbooks down.

Texan99 said...

I only hope that students will benefit from the first-rate online materials that are now available, because I despair of school boards' ability to get past politics and choose good schoolbooks. The process seems to grow crazier with every passing year.

I was thinking of Feynman's views on textbooks when I wrote my recent posts, too, but I worried about becoming as much of a Feynman fangirl as I am a C.S. Lewis fangirl. There are times when my mental response to almost any question is a tendency to quote from one or the other of those two authorities. I need to expand my reading list!

james said...

Expand it to Chesterton too; he's a great source of lively quotations.

Yes, I was thinking of Feynman's experiences too at the time. I didn't see anything as weird as the "average the temperature of stars", but I found plenty of mistakes, both in calculation and approach. And the historical sidebars tried so hard to be inclusive they misrepresented who was really important.

Texan99 said...

Worse, the "total" temperature of stars!

SJ said...

That comment on the total temperature of stars is pretty jarring.

It looks like the work of someone mashing the concepts of math (add/subtract) onto the nearest piece of scientific information. Regardless of whether the operation makes any sense.

Now, if they had looked at distance instead of temperature, both totals and averages would make sense.

Or if they had listed a series of stars, and encouraged students to find the minimum/maximum temperature from the list.

Adding up distances of various planets from the sun is also more-applicable than adding up of temperatures. (No need to have the student add the many-millions-of-miles-values, the aspiring scientist-student can start with multiples of the average distance from Earth to the Sun.)