Friday, June 08, 2018

Thoughts on Textbooks in Progress

My first published book, Microsoft Visual Basic FUNdamentals, came out 18 years ago. It was for Visual Basic version 6 and what I did was to take what and how I taught and turn it into a textbook. It was a good book. It didn’t sell a ton of books but I was able to take my wife out to dinner a couple of times.

I wrote several others after that. Both of them were new editions of a book someone else first wrote. But they were good books and I am proud of that work. Honestly though I haven’t used textbooks in class for a number of years now. They just don’t fit my style of teaching. What I have done is supply students with  copies of my PowerPoints (with speaker notes) and some short one or two page documents on various language features. Plus the occasional video presentation.

I've been working on a couple of reference books to use in my programming classes since the first of the year. They're getting close to done. I decided to bring home a real C# textbook to look at as I work.

There are 17 chapters and over 700 pages. I cover things from about 9 of them in my one semester course. This might be a good book if I were teaching university students. Maybe. For high school and the limited time I have no way.

Obviously it has a lot of depth and that is great. The problem is that I really need to make projects interesting to hold student attention. So I teach things like simple file handling, timers, adding images dynamically, collision detection (essential for a lot of games), and a few other things that are in my books under "Fun Stuff." I find very little of that in the real textbook. What I do find is hard to find and it is not obvious how they lead to fun stuff.

And then there is that whole 700 pages thing. Your average high school student is going to put that in their locker and never look at it unless you assign questions from the book.

Well forget that! Homework sucks! Besides I can come up with my own quizzes, projects, tests, and other evaluative instruments and they will be far more tailored to the needs of my course.

My VB book is currently at 76 pages including table of contents and index. My C# book at 80 pages. They're not going to get much longer either. They've got everything I cover in class and more for the real go getters. Short and to the point and things are explained in context and directed at high school kids.

They're designed to be a reference, a study guide, and something like advanced notes. That is really all most students really need. They should not have to dig though 700 pages to get what they need in a very first programming course.

Students seemed to get real value from the drafts I gave them this year. I don't know if they'll work for anyone else. The work is worth it if it helps my students.

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