Friday, March 21, 2003

How to Write a Science Textbook A constant complaint among science educators is that their textbooks are written like reference books. This makes them exceedingly boring, and tends to present science as a series of disconnected facts, rather than as a process for obtaining information about the world. Now, from The Washington Post, comes this article about a new series of texts by writer Joy Hakim. According to the article, her texts take a storytelling approach to science, focussing in particular on the lives of various great scientists. This should help humanize the subject in the minds of children, which would be a considerable improvement over the current way of doing things.

Without having seen the books themselves, I will withold my full endorsement for now. But the general appoach seems to be just what the doctor ordered.

What About Math? It would be nice to have a similar set of textbooks for mathematics, my own subject. In the early years this would be difficult. Arithmetic is pretty much as old as history itself, and, as distasteful as it may seem, there are certain basic math skills students simply have to learn. But certainly we could work in more of a historical approach in high school algebra and geometry classes. For example, this term I am teaching a semester-long course dealing almost entirely with the history of those two subjects.

Mathematics is generally presented as a collection of poorly motivated rules for solving problems of dubious interest. Taking a more humanistic approach in early mathematical education could go a long way towards correcting tht impression.

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