Thursday, February 17, 2011

Resources to Replace Textbooks - or how I teach physics without a textbook

"Beyond Textbooks" is a well used mantra by educational technology companies and districts who are moving away from traditional print textbooks to digital media and resources.

I don't use a textbook with my Physics classes for many reasons: the textbooks are old and outdated (but in good physical condition), the textbooks are hard to read, they are heavy, and they don't have any way to get help or expand on the material.

I use a variety of materials with my Physics classes in place of the textbooks. I use Blogger and Google Sites to create a class blog and class website. The blog is where I post assignments, information, reminders, and more and the site has links, downloads, and other information. For class materials that replace a textbook, I use:

  1. Handouts with summary of concept, example problems, and problem sets for students to complete. These go into their notebooks for them to keep.They are also available on the class website in case anyone forgets or loses theirs. 
  2. Physics Classroom - this is an excellent resource for physics students. It has topic explanations, demonstrations and animations, multimedia movies, example problems and more. 
  3. Online resources from different publishers. Many textbook publishers allow free access to their online materials. My students use the Glencoe Physics site to do practice tests. The site automatically grades them and sends me the student's score. There are also other textbook sites that have resources and links. 
  4. PhET Physics Simulations - this site is hosted by the University of Colorado at Boulder. The site has animations and virtual labs for physics, chemistry, earth science, biology, and math. There are even lesson plans and assignments with most of the simulations, created by teachers. 
  5. Online and downloadable, free Physics "textbooks" - I give my students links to three free physics "textbooks" - The Physics Study GuideMotion Mountain Free Downloadable Physics Textbook, and FHSST Physics online physics textbook. These are free, accessible from anywhere, and are well written with examples, links, and good explanations of concepts. 
  6. Physics Central - great site with lesson resources, physics in action, physics in everyday life, and much more. 
  7. Discovery Education - I use a variety of Discovery Education resources with my physics classes. Some of the videos on DE Streaming are excellent. They are not long (average 25 min) and explain concepts very well. I also use some other DE resources as projects and research with my students. Discovery Education News, Science of Everyday Life, and Science Fair Central are some of the ones I use. 
  8. Multimedia Science School - this is software our district purchased a few years ago that has multimedia lesson in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. The guided lessons include videos, animations, virtual labs and more and are a great resource for science teachers. 
  9. For my AP Physics class, I also use Learn AP Physics which has videos, lectures, example problems, study tips, and problem solving tips. 
  10. Projects and Labs - I do a lot of projects and labs with my students. The resources listed above, along with Google, give them access to information and assistance on topics. They also interact with me via email and the class blog. The projects and labs we do are where they get to apply their conceptual knowledge and learn even more about a topic. 
I have no need for a physics textbook because of all of these resources. I must also point out that I have 7 student computers in my room, so I don't need to worry about scheduling in the computer lab or signing out the laptop cart. 

My students work on the projects and labs in groups and except for the Multimedia Science School software, have access to all of these resources at home. I've even had students access some of the resources on their smartphones while working on a project or lab, which I think it awesome.

These resources are free (except for MSS and DE Streaming), accessible from anywhere, constantly updated, interactive, multimedia, and explain the concepts very well. Why do I need 150 copies of a textbook, at $100 each, that will be outdated before they get to me, can get damaged or lost, can't update, and have no links or activities?

These kinds of resources exist for all subjects and grade levels, not just high school science. There are a million different resources to use in your classroom besides a textbook. 

What resources do you use in place of, or in addition to, textbooks?

Cross posted at Educational Technology Guy and via Twitter

David Andrade is a Physics Teacher and Educational Technology Specialist in Connecticut. He is the author of the Educational Technology Guy blog, where he reviews free educational technology resources for teachers, discusses ways to use technology to improve teaching and learning, and discusses other issues in education. 
He is also a professional development trainer and presenter at conferences, helping educators learn new and innovative ways to educate students. He is also a Discovery Education STAR Educator and member of the CT DEN Leadership Council.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of his employer.


  1. A little pushback: I would rather see a focus on teaching, rather than on tools and texts.

    In my AP Physics C class, we do use a textbook: Matter and Interactions by Chabay and Sherwood. The focus and storyline is unique with a strong emphasis on modeling, fundamental principles, and computational physics with VPython -- I have not found its equal on the web, even if I cobbled together resources from different sites.

    In my college-prep physics class, however, we do not use textbooks. But I have not replaced texts with ebooks or talking-head videos. Instead, students' lab notebooks become their textbook -- they figure out the laws of physics in lab, then apply those models to problem solving and making predicitions. Group work -- both small group and whole class inquiry -- is important. My classroom is run similar to this:

    I'm sure you do many of those things as well. I just get frustrated when teaching methods take a back seat to tech tools. I don't want tech to take math classrooms like this: and turn them into math classrooms like this:

  2. I love these links. It is going to take me a while to absorb all of these new resources.

    I keep a running list on Science and Math resources on BrokenAirplane

    I find Geogebra is extremely helpful for demonstating physics concepts that have a strong math component (e.g. vectors, trigonometry for Projectile Motion). A lot of these have already been created if you just Google it.

    I am so glad that your resources and thoughts are being spread to a wider audience David, keep them coming!

  3. Great post - thanks - pointed to it in my own blog. :)


  4. I will often challenge my students after they have done an inquiry to answer the question, "What would that physicist say?" I really should have a cardboard cutout of her in the room so I could point to her. I use the physics classroom linked above as one of the references. I think this models good research methods. I know in teaching I often go with my gut and then find resource from others who have gone before me to clarify my methods. Praxis often leads theory.


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