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The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Grant #1998-4248

Review of Middle School Physical Science Texts

John L. Hubisz, Ph.D., Hubisz@unity.ncsu.edu

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Prentice-Hall Science, Prentice-Hall Science Explorer, Prentice-Hall Exploring Physical Science, Prentice-Hall (Now Pearson) (Many dates and many variations.)

Lineage of Exploring Physical Science

Traced through reviews and some state adoption proceedings the lineage of EPS is interesting.

November - December, 1992 The Textbook League's 'The Textbook Letter' reviewed THE NATURE OF SCIENCE, 1993 and the review is entitled "This Book Is a Piece of Junk".

Nov/Dec '92 'The Textbook Letter' reviewed MOTION, FORCES, AND ENERGY, 1993 and the review is entitled "What a Display of Ignorance".

December 3, 1992, The State of Indiana adopts the nineteen texts of PRENTICE-HALL SCIENCE, copyright 1993, from July 1, 1993 to June 30, 1999.

Jan/Feb '93 'The Textbook Letter' reviewed HEAT ENERGY 1993, ... "I Weep for the Students".

Nov/Dec '93 'The Textbook Letter' reviewed ELECTRICITY AND MAGNETISM 1993, ... "This Book Is an Insult".

Mar/Apr '94 'The Textbook Letter' reviewed all of the above in their 1994 versions to determine which improvements had been made. Very few. The review was titled "The Books Are Still Junk, the Claims Are Misleading."

1994 Florida's adoption committee voted down (four to three) PRENTICE-HALL SCIENCE: PHYSICAL SCIENCE, 1994 edition "inaccurate in content" (Source: committee minutes.) Paperwork indicates there had been a pilot in California.

Fall of 1994, Millcreek puts into service, EXPLORING PHYSICAL SCIENCE, 1995...ostensibly a different book with no prior dates or antecedent texts identified. It includes all the above. (Plus CHEMISTRY OF MATTER, SOUND AND LIGHT, and MATTER: BUILDING BLOCK OF THE UNIVERSE)

Sep/Oct '95 'The Textbook Letter' reviewed EXPLORING PHYSICAL SCIENCE, 1995. "Educators Should Avoid This Book Like the Plague"

June 1st, 1996 South Carolina adopts EXPLORING PHYSICAL SCIENCE, 1995

November 12th, 1996 Florida adopts 2nd edition of EXPLORING PHYSICAL SCIENCE 1997.

CHEMISTRY OF MATTER distinguished itself in 1993 and 1994 versions with a full page flopped photo of the Statue of Liberty. EPS did the same on the analogous page in 1995 and in 1997 edition's first printing. EPS 1997 second printing includes a photo of Linda Ronstadt labeled as a silicon crystal doped with an arsenic impurity. From 1995 to 1999 in EPS (like PHS 1993 - 1997) the Periodic Table of the Elements retains 109 elements although there were more by 1994.

SOUND AND LIGHT states that the angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence and then breaks that law in 12 of 15 illustrated reflections involving curved mirrors. The 3rd edition presents plane mirrors this way: A dog faces an observer and sits with his tail to the mirror. The dog's image "through the looking glass" can be seen by the observer and that image also faces the observer! If you see the back of your head in your mirror that would be equivalent!

MATTER: BUILDING BLOCK OF THE UNIVERSE gives definition of atomic number as the number of protons in an atom's nucleus. The atomic number of a beta particle is given as -1. This is so stated in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1997. This is a convention that should be made explicit. Whatever the real definitions are, they eventually must make sense.

Material in EPS can be traced farther back to PRENTICE-HALL PHYSICAL SCIENCE, first out in 1988, and PRENTICE-HALL General Science A VOYAGE OF ... first out in 1986. Different authors!

April 1997 The Independent Commission on Environmental Education, 1730 K St NW, Suite 905, Washington, D.C. 2006 put out the study 'Are We Building Environmental Literacy?' ISBN 1-878831-05-4 which specifically points out other members of the 19 book series, Prentice-Hall Science, specifically Ecology; Earth's Living Resources, Ecology; Earth's Natural Resources; and Exploring Earth's Weather, products of the same team apparently, and subject to the same weaknesses. 1( 800)992-0671.

About 1997 Texas adopts the third printing of the 3rd edition of the Texas edition.

Alabama's contract on EPS-95 for use in grades 9 - 12 goes to the year 2002 per http://www.alsde.edu/clrmimp/textbooks/textlist.html (click on science and scroll to Physical Science). This URL is as of 7-1-99. In addition, Oregon may have adopted EPS - see ABC News 20/20, April 2nd, 1999.

About late September 1999, Project 2061 releases preliminary results of Carnegie study of science books. PHS Physical Science material is ranked at the absolute bottom.

Circa 11-99 A copy of the North Carolina School Price List 1999 that covers the Science Texts K-8 and 9-12. EXPLORING PHYSICAL SCIENCE and PRENTICE-HALL SCIENCE for the first time I'm aware of are listed with authors as "Editorial."

Circa 11-1-99 EPS 1999, teacher version, 3rd ed. 2nd printing. Most errors continue.

There remain hundreds of errors in the 3rd printing of the 3rd edition of EXPLORING PHYSICAL SCIENCE 1999 ISBN 0-13-435873-2 which is still in use all across the country. Prentice-Hall's PHYSICAL SCIENCE (Appenbrink et. al.) of 1981 and 1984 is a much more accurate text.

The Baltimore Sun's Jan 31st, 1999 three page article ("It's in the Book and It's Wrong", by Marego Athans and Gary Cohn listed many errors. (Go to www.sunspot.net and click on <archives> to order a copy.) A couple of months later Pearson Education, Prentice-Hall's new owner, promised that all the errors would be corrected and updates would be posted on the web by the end of 1999. The press release is at http://www.pearsoned.com/pr/32599.htm. The site is http://www.phschool.com/curriculum_support/openbook/science/index.html but it hasn't even posted updates on the new elements synthesized since the 1993 edition of PH Science. Only a few long-standing errors are addressed. This site is a sham.

This material was adopted in all twenty plus states which do adopt except initially Florida which had a responsible individual on their team in 1994 and adopted NO middle school physical science texts. In 1996, Florida joined the rest.

In early February 2000, we purchased SCIENCE EXPLORER 2000 (3rd printing of the 1st edition teacher version), a 15- volume middle school science set (labeled A through O), from Prentice-Hall. This has been cobbled together into the 2001 3 volume series California voted to adopt on the date of the lunar eclipse in January 2000. Periodic table lists 112 elements that will never be correct in 2000 or 2001 now that numbers 114, 118 and 116 were synthesized in the first half of 1999. The publisher is again caught by its own copyright inflation. Of course, all of this is simply to point out that the publisher is trying to sell books by suggesting that they are up-to-date. This is nonsense and totally irrelevant to the intended audience. The simplest thing to do is to point out that scientists are continuing to fabricate new elements in the laboratory and publish a Table that is quite suitable for Middle School.

Fortunately, the 1st printing was not intended to go into classrooms, being labeled for promotional use only. (It had a geo-synchronous satellite parked over Pennsylvania. Later printings place these satellites in possible equatorial orbits. Any satellite must go around the system's center of gravity. If some of its orbit is north of the equator its other half must be south of the equator. It becomes geo-synchronous only at the right speed and distance above and basically concentric with the equator.) A frustrating good is that a number of errors noted in EPS and PHS have been fixed for this series, but those necessary corrections have not been made on the web site or in later printings of EPS. For instance the steam engine in SE's Motion, Forces, and Energy, '00 Vol. M, p. 188 properly vents spent steam through an open slide valve rather than through a closed slide valve as in EPS on p. 466 in '95, '97 and '99 through the 3rd printing, as in PHS, Heat Energy on p. 54 in '93, '94 and '97, and as in PH Physical Science on p. 426 in '88, '91 and '93. For the record the PH Physical Science of '81 and '84 got it right on page 277. And for the record, no author's name appears on more than two series. This error continued in editions and printings from 1987 through 2000 (the 3rd printing of EPS 99 was done in 2000) in spite of changes of authors.

Unfortunately, some of the same errors have been re-drawn and repeated in the Science Explorer set. Voltmeters showing input voltages on step-up and step-down transformers are connected in series rather than properly in parallel. This is true of PHS Electricity and Magnetism p. 79, EPS p. 549 and SE Electricity and Magnetism, Vol. N, p. 95

The physical science portion of the SE series has been assembled into a text called Focus on Physical Science, copyright 2001, which California adopted in January 2000. Focus on Life Science and Focus on Earth Science are assembled from the rest of the SE series.

Too often, a concept will be explained by a real life circumstance and it then becomes apparent that the writer understands neither the concept nor the real life circumstance. SE Chemical Building Blocks, Vol. K, p. 54 - 55 explains gas laws in terms of a basketball left out overnight in the cold. In the morning when the player tries to dribble, the ball goes to the pavement, and "...splat, it just stays there because the volume of the air inside decreased, chilled by the cold winter air." No way! There's still a basketball full. Gases fill the space available. The pressure drops about 10%. And, "...the ball will return to its full volume in the warmth of the school gym." No, the ball is OK even cold. You can still dribble a basketball fresh from the deep-freeze. It's a little stiff because the rubber is cold. I (HPL) did. My friends did too. You can too. Prentice-Hall's people can too, but they didn't.

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Discover Science,
M. R. Cohen, T. M. Cooney, C. M. Hawthorne, A. J. McCormack, J. M. Pasachoff, N. Pasachoff, K. L. Rhines, and I. L. Slesnick, Scott Foresman and Company, Glenview, IL, 1991.

This text is part of the Discover Science series and is intended for use by fifth grade students. It has reasonably balanced coverage of life science, physical science, and earth science as well as two chapters on health. The Life Science Unit has chapters on Classifying Living Things, Plant Processes, Invertebrates and Vertebrates, and Populations and Communities. The Physical Science Unit covers Investigating Matter, Heat, and Temperature, Changing Forms of Energy, and Energy Resources. The Earth Science Unit has chapters on the Earth's Changing Crust, Protecting the Environment, and Climate.

Each chapter is organized into 3 to 5 lessons each ending with review questions. These questions are for the most part answered directly in the previous reading material, but there are some questions that require integration of ideas. The same is true of the end of chapter questions. As is true of most elementary texts, the questions place too much emphasis on word meanings and not enough on understanding concepts. Occasionally students are asked questions which are beyond their experience. For example, after an activity in which students experiment with the electrical force between two charged objects, they are asked, "If we blow up a balloon and rub it with a piece of wool cloth, the balloon will stick to the wall. Explain why." This case of the attraction between a charged object and a neutral one is conceptually far beyond what the students have done. On a positive note, there are open-ended questions at the end of each chapter that require students to write a paragraph. These should be very helpful to teachers in determining if the students have assimilated the concepts as long as they realize that there is often not one "right" answer.

There are three activities in each chapter: one very simple one at the beginning and two more detailed ones later. About one third of these activities involve measurement or other quantitative skills. The rest only involve doing something and observing what happens, but at least the observations are well structured. In general, the activities seem to be grade level appropriate. They are closely related to the topic of the lesson and the connection should be obvious to the students, yet the activities are never referred to in the textual material. This seems to be a lost opportunity to consolidate the learning that has taken place. While much better than experiments in some elementary science books, the activities often stop short of what could have been done with the lesson. For instance, in an activity on physical change, students are asked to observe what happens when one mixesbaking soda and calcium chloride, then what happens when water is added, yet it never suggests comparing this to what happens when water is added to each material separately.

With one major and a few minor exceptions, the content of the book seems to be developmentally appropriate for fifth graders. The major exception is the treatment of atoms and molecules. Fifth graders are barely ready for the idea of matter as particles. They are certainly not ready for the parts of an atom, the periodic chart, molecules, and formulas. The National Science Education Standards (National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1996) state that even through eighth grade "few students can comprehend the idea of atomic and molecular particles." The minor exceptions include the difference between heat and thermal energy and the introduction of fission and fusion in the Energy Resources chapter.

The number of new concepts introduced per chapter is appropriate as long as one does not try to cover the entire book. For a typical school year, covering the book works out to about 2.5 weeks per chapter, which is adequate for some chapters but certainly not for all. The text could benefit from more examples to help make the concepts concrete. The book contains many colorful pictures for which the relevance to the discussion is obvious (unlike some books in which even an adult may puzzle over the connection). The book does work hard at making connections to real life by discussing things like power plants, lightning, and the operation of fuses. However, it manages to connect to the kids' world as opposed to the adult world.

On a careful reading of the physical science section of the book, there are no gross errors of fact. However, as with all elementary science books, there are statements that are incorrect primarily due to imprecise language. For instance, the chapter on electrical energy contains several minor errors. It speaks of using power rather than energy. The spark which one may see as a result of a build up of electric charge is referred to as a "form of electricity" when in fact the spark itself is light. At one point the student is told, "The flow of electrons is electricity, which carries electric energy from place to place", which causes me to envision an electron picking up a bucket containing a certain amount of energy from the battery and delivering it all to the light bulb. However, while annoying to a physicist, none of these statements will do serious harm to a child's understanding. Overall, this book was found to contain fewer errors than other elementary science books reviewed.

Each chapter also contains several ancillary sections aimed at broadening the students' perspective on the topic. Each lesson has a "Find out on Your Own" section that usually contains suggestions for library research. There is a "Skills for Problem Solving" section, which focuses on the traditional science process skills such as classifying, measuring, graphing, and interpreting data from tables or graphs. Although intended to teach the process skills, they do utilize the concepts from the chapter. Each chapter ends with a one page section called "Science and People", which discusses a scientist and his or her work, or "Science and Technology", which focuses on a case in which technology has been used to solve a problem. In general, these are well done, although the people ones tended to be better than the technology ones. In addition, at the end of each unit, there is a one-page section on careers and one called "How it Works". The careers sections discuss several careers related to the topic of the unit and include information about what a person in that career does and how much education is required. The one in the Physical Science Unit has paragraphs on physicists, heating mechanics, power plant operators, and air pollution inspectors. The "How It Works" sections are the worst single feature of the book and should have been omitted. The topics addressed are microscopes, television, Geiger counters, and allergy medicines. In all cases, the explanations are both poorly written and far above the level of understanding a fifth grader would have of the background concepts.

One unusual and positive feature of this book is a section at the beginning of the book on Scientific Methods, which goes much beyond stating the usual 4 steps, and a section at the end of thebook called "Using Scientific Methods", which provides an additional experiment for each chapter. These experiments are introduced in the context of someone having a problem to solve. The experimental procedure is given and students are encouraged to collect their own data, but the results the person in the story obtained are also provided. Students are then asked questions about what conclusions they can draw from the experiment, why certain things were done, and how the conclusion would be effected if something had been done differently. These will form a very nice addition to the students' learning experience if the experiments are done, but are probably still useful even if they aren't.

In summary, this book is an acceptable fifth grade science textbook. While not perfect, it contains fewer errors than many of its competitors. In addition, while clearly it is a textbook not a hands-on curriculum, it does have experiments in each chapter, which will help students understand the concepts being studied, and the experimental nature of science.

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Other Things Considered

  1. Paul Hickman (p.hickman@nunet.neu.edu) has been evaluating several new efforts at developing new elementary school curricula using criteria described at http://projects.terc.edu/impact/template/resources/msthtml.cfm. These materials are not yet competitors for the texts that we have been looking at.
  2. The UMass Physics Education Research Group is developing a program Minds on Physics published by Kendall/Hunt at about the 8th or 9th grade level. The first three volumes already published will provide an excellent resource for Middle School teachers. The authors are using the latest results from the efforts of the Physics Education Research (PER) community.
  3. A more traditional but highly accurate and acceptable approach is contained in the Robinson Self-Teaching Home-School Curriculum Version 2.0 which is designed for grades K-12 and is contained on 22 CDs available for just under $200 available from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, P.O. Box 1279, Cave Junction, OR 97523.
  4. Integrated Science, Book One & Book Two published by J.M. LeBel Enterprises in 1994, while not a big seller is quite good. Each volume has fewer than 250 pages.

Conclusions

  1. Scientific Accuracy: Not one of the books we reviewed reached a level that we could call 'scientifically accurate' as far as the physical science contained therein. The sheer number of errors precludes such a designation. While we were not looking specifically at the biological component of the texts, there were obvious errors there also. We were not looking for typographical and grammar errors, but many were noted and have not been reported. Many of the obvious errors could be easily corrected, but the subtle errors (including misuse of technical words or phrases, the promulgation of ideas not validated by scientists, and promotion of 'politically correct' views) that would leave incorrect implications would be more difficult to root out.
  2. Adherence to an Accurate Portrayal of the Scientific Approach: There were many instances where there were hints that there is an approach to solving problems that could be labeled 'scientific,' but no text emphasized and reminded the reader that the scientific approach was something to be learned and applied, perhaps even outside the science classroom. There were a few disconnected instances where it was suggested that students 'design an experiment.' Some texts had many activities and in many instances, they were good ones, but there was no clear-cut point to the activity. Follow-up questions tended to be trivial and were not incisive and geared to encourage further thinking and coming up with an improved experiment. At the core of Middle School science there should be material dealing with how to ask good questions, how to design ways to get answers to the questions, how to gather equipment needed to carry out an experiment, how to record results, and how to interpret them. Measurement is very important and there were few instances where students were taught how to use instruments. Orienting and reading a meter stick properly is an important skill. Most college students have to be taught this skill because introductory exercises show that they do not know how.
  3. Appropriateness and Pedagogic Effectiveness of the Material: Without a thorough grounding in measurement making and scaling and some simple mathematics, introducing atoms and molecules (including DNA) into the Middle Schools is a mistake. The diagrams that appear in the texts are quite confusing. The nucleus is drawn large and the electron very small, but nowhere is it pointed out that, this is mass representation and not a volume representation. Students are then surprised to learn that nuclei, even very massive ones, are very small. Astronomy is very difficult (but easy to make simple questions for students to memorize answers to) to do well, but there are excellent exercises having to do with the Sun and Moon over extended periods for this level of student. Why Daylight Savings Time? What does it do for us? What can be observed at the equinoxes and the solstices? Measuring and plotting are what is needed, but none of the books reviewed suggest this. Very little of the mathematics (ratio and proportion, graphing, even addition and subtraction) that they have been learning is being put to use. The Periodic Table has a wealth of material already laid out, but instead of looking at boiling points and freezing points, color, texture, phase at room temperature, etc., the texts worry about electronic configurations and whether they have the latest number of atoms on their chart. The net result is that students come away memorizing a great deal of material that they regurgitate on tests that emphasize recall and think that they know science.
  4. Readability: We generally are not experts at determining reading levels, however, we felt that generally the reading level was simple (short sentences and easy vocabulary.) As a check we scanned several randomly (in some cases the first one or two choices were ignored as there was too much non-textual material) pages and read them into Microsoft Word and ran the Spelling and Grammar checker to get the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. Most of the pages including those of the books that were designed at the 8th and 9th grade level came out at less than Grade 6.0.
  5. Attractiveness and Quality of Illustrations: The books are beautifully done. Most of the budget must have gone into color, photographs, graphic artists, archive searches, and the like. Rarely does a page not have something in color and often five or six color photographs or drawings or diagrams appear on a page. The quality of the illustrations is excellent, even though not always appropriate. An adult, not conversant with science, picking up one of these books would be very impressed. On hearing that the latest nuclei forged in laboratories are mentioned in the book, that the latest results of experiments carried out in space are mentioned in the book, that the latest pictures from space are in the book, and that 'hundreds' of scientists have taken part in producing the book, most reviewers would want this book for their children.
  6. Laboratory Activities and Suggested Home Activities: Most suggested activities were good ones and appropriate, but lacked the necessary follow-up for testing what had been learned from the experience. The theory or principle being tested was not obvious. During the course of this effort, we came across quite a few activity books that suffered in the same way – good experiments, but answers to 'Why did we do it?' and 'What does it illustrate?' go unanswered. Students come through school with a strong dose of mystical thinking. They believe that everything is possible. There are no bounds to what can be accomplished. Science says, 'No!' There are bounds and science adds to our knowledge by showing what can't be.
  7. Exercises to Test Understanding: For the most part these were trivial from a physical science perspective. If one is trying to get answers from nature, one does experiments. One does not read a section of a text and then get quiz questions that only require remembering what was read. Granted some of that is appropriate, but too much gives the student the wrong idea about what science is about. Science is not history or social studies. It's different, and these exercises typically do not emphasize that.
  8. Resource Suggestions: Most books gave quite a few references to resource material for the teacher and the student. Teachers could get materials lists and suppliers from addenda to the texts. Usually this material was included in the Teacher's Edition of the student text. A couple had a tremendous amount of material coming close to providing a course for the teacher in teaching techniques, highlights of the various philosophies used in preparing the text, and several course outlines for the slowest students to the most gifted. The reviews mention some of these.

Suggestions for Middle School Teachers

  1. As soon as you know what text has been chosen for you form a network with several other teachers of the same course in your area and make contact with a nearby expert in physics or chemistry or geology or biology. E-mail is a great medium for informal discussion and as a means of getting quick answers to questions. Search the web for relevant sites, especially the publisher's site. It may not be up-to-date, but it could be helpful.
  2. If you haven't taken discipline-based courses in a subject area, say physics, contact the American Association of Physics Teachers (each subject area has a national organization that can direct you to local affiliates) and find out how they can help you. The AAPT publishes Powerful Ideas in Physical Science that contains some excellent material in the 'less is more' format that you can immediately introduce in your class after you have worked your way through. Each unit begins with a list of common misconceptions that students (and adults!) have about that particular area of physics. Get your network to put together a bibliography of sources found useful in their teaching.
  3. Ginn and Company published the Ginn Science Program elementary school in 1973 by Isaac Asimov and Roy A. Gallant. If you can find copies (many volumes), get them! Clifford E. Swartz, then Director of the National Science Foundation Workshop on Elementary School Science by a Quantitative Approach, wrote the three volume Measure and Find Out: A Quantitative Approach to Science published by Scott, Foresman and Company in 1969. These books have what is missing from most of the books reviewed in this report. Holt, Rinehart and Winston published Project Physics in 1970 for 9th grade, but if you have never studied physics before, this is excellent and the teacher 's guides and readers will help you learn material directly applicable to your classroom. The National Science Foundation spent millions of dollars on several programs designed for the elementary schools in the 1960s. All this material is now contained with references to the National Science Education Standards on a CD from The Learning Team, called 'The Enhanced Science Helper'. The 2nd edition of Essentials of Elementary Science by Dobey, Beichner, and Raimondi is available in paperback from Allyn and Bacon. The Best of WonderScience from Delmar Publishers by way of the American Chemical Society has over 400 hands-on elementary science activities. Science Experiences for the Early Childhood Years 2nd edition by Jean Harlan and published by Merrill gets good marks from several elementary school teachers for the very early grades.
  4. Subscribe to 'The Textbook Letter' at ttl@textbookleague.org.
  5. Take advantage of workshops appropriate to your course offered by the various discipline based societies – they are the next best bet to taking a course.

Some Suggestions for Authors and Publishers

There were many scientists (mostly physicists) involved in this project, some formally and others informally. The following suggestions come out of their comments and reports and are in no special order.

1. Vocabulary must be familiar to ALMOST ALL middle school students especially those in the inner-cities whose relatives, parents, and neighbors have a limited command of English, those who are not in the upper 50% of their classes, and those who may have heard the words "mass", "volume", and "density", but are not exactly sure what they mean in the scientific sense. That is, they may still associate mass with church services, volume with a control on a transistor radio, and density with a dense fog. Do not assume that students know the difference between mass and weight or that they know how to obtain the "mass" of an object using a spring scale or balance that they have always used to "weigh" things or that they know the scientific meaning of words such as "displace".

2. The format and the illustrations should be attractive so the student will not be turned off when he or she first turns to the assigned pages for reading or a homework assignment. They should not be overly "busy."

3. Include several interesting activities, most of which can be performed with simple, readily available apparatus, in a relatively short time. Making measurements and reporting the results should be emphasized.

4. Include homework assignments that require some thinking rather than pure memorization.

5. Attach a quiz with probing questions to help assure the teacher that the students have mastered the science concepts that have been included in your material; and, of course, be sure to supply meaningful answers that will help an average middle school teacher who has an inadequate science background.

6. For each illustration that you include, be sure to give adequate instructions to the photographer or technical drawing artist regarding colors, background, relative sizes and positions of key items. Do not assume that the photographer or artist has a good science background or is able to obtain a copy of the text material that is on the same page as his or her illustration. Make sure that the instructions to the illustrator are so clear the it will not be necessary to have him or her redo the illustration over and over again until it is perfect.

7. Be absolutely sure that your textbook material meets published national "standards" as well as those for each locality and state where these middle school books are to be used.

8. And, of course, strive for perfection and zero errors to avoid being exposed by professional book reviewers and others who have never tried to write middle school materials themselves.

You see the task is not an easy one. Some of these notes are 'tongue in cheek.' But note that good materials are out there and have been tested, but it is more than just being available. We have got to be more active in our schools so as to bring these materials to the attention of the teachers and administrators if they are going to be used. We also have to point out that the available textbooks are impossible tools to effect a change.

If a Decision Has to be Made

If I (JLH) were a principal having to make a decision about what textbooks to make available for my Middle School students, I would first realize that I must choose a book. The training of most Middle School teachers is simply not sufficient to trust that they can teach a course at this level without a text. Our limited look at teacher-generated materials convinces us that such efforts result in very bad material. Experience shows that some students will gain a lot from the text by themselves. My directive to my teachers would be to encourage or require that they forge links with other teachers in the same situation as well as experts in the field to be kept aware of problems and mistakes in the text, as well as to help each other over the rough spots. Publishers have already begun to respond to our criticisms and those of others by placing known errors on their web pages. We have many more to add and will be setting up a web page as a continuation of this project.

 

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