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Textbooks in maths

January 26, 2015

We seem to be coming back to the idea that a textbook in maths education is not the work of the devil and that a well structured resource can be a useful, er, resource. I suspect this comes partly from Ofsted (and others) current thinking that mastery is desirable quality and that students should master a topic/idea before moving on. It is fair to say that mastering a mathematical skill or technique is likely to include practise.

When practising a skill in maths, or, really, when wanting students to practise a skill I have been known to shy away from using textbooks. This is partly because the questions are not usually exactly what you want or because your (my) department frowns on the use of textbooks or, sometimes, because I think I can do a better job myself. Here are some points:

  • The questions are exactly what I want. You and they’ll cope. It’s not worth worrying about it that much and they are very likely to be good enough.
  • Department frowns on them. Well, now you can confidently say that practise is a good thing.
  • I can do better myself. You might be able to. Sometimes. How long is that going to take? Will you really use them again? Is the investment of your precious time worth it?

So, you’ll have gathered that I’m not averse to using text books. I have written one chapter of one book and I can tell you it was a very long process. In the most recent newsletter from the NCETM, they mentioned guidance for what makes a high quality textbook. I recommend you take a look if you’re interested here.

If you’re not that interested, I’ll highlight one key point:

Textbook comment

The book does not downplay the fact that maths is the study of abstract ideas: spurious claims of relevance are not made.

I do so hate made up contexts!

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