Wednesday, July 30, 2008

If they asked me I could write... a blog?

Talking with family members this weekend, my older brother Michael and my baby sister Jennifer recommended that I write a math book. Currently, there are two classes I teach out of my notes, statistics and math for liberal arts. One of my students from a few semesters back used to be in the textbook biz, and she thought it would be a good idea as well.

My feeling is that textbooks are a racket. For some authors, it can be a very lucrative racket. If you write a book that is being used at a few hundred schools, there is some serious cash in it, but that's like saying "I'm going to become an actor because George Clooney and Julia Roberts are so rich." A lot of textbooks don't make it to the big time.

But financial considerations for me aside, the college textbook buying public is being soaked, and even in the five years since I left school, the students have steadily seen the kind of inflation that everybody is currently experiencing at the grocery store. I wouldn't feel good taking part in that.

Another option would be to write a webpage text. My current idea for a title would be Statistics on a Budget, and it would have the lesson plan for a stats class based on teaching the material to students who buy a particular calculator, the very useful TI-30X IIs. My reasoning is that this particular calculator is ubiquitous, reasonably priced and does all the really difficult calculations that a one semester stats class will cover. You can pick one up nearly anyplace, including drug stores, department stores, office supply stores, electronics stores, etc., and even at the places where the mark-up is high, the list price is under $20. The high end TI-83 does more, of course, but the cost is usually in the $100 to $120 range, and for a stats student, it's a lot more calculator than they need.

I know there are several students and teachers among my regular readers, so I ask them this. What would you want to see on such a website? To my mind, an hour by hour lesson plan is the absolute minimum, with step by step examples of how to solve the problems using the TI-30X IIs and practice problems. What else makes sense?


Dr. Zaius said...

I got a D in statistics in college, so I am not the right guy to ask - but I do know that there are all kinds of ways to do scientific and mathmatic notation in HTML, none of which work very will cross platform, browser-wise. I played with them for awhile once when creating notes for the class, and found that it was just much easier to make an image of the equation and post that instead. Much easier, and it looks better.

Karlacita! said...

I'm liking the idea, but I want to know how you get paid if it's a website. Because getting you paid is the big idea for me.

And I agree that the textbook market is a complete scam.

So what about creating a little mathematics revolution and publishing with a popular publisher who could produce the book as a reasonably-sized paperback? That is sold at regular stores where regular schmoes could buy it?

Many of my teachers refused to play the textbook game, and would only assign books that were available in paperback, or like you, they wrote their own texts.

I like your idea, but I want you to get paid. It's a saleable book, and a very large market, including internationally. I think a smart publisher would be willing to work with you.

And what about contacting TI?

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

A friend of ours named Cheryl Slayden wrote a math text book. I have no idea how well she did with it.

Karlacita! said...

I been thinking more about it.

Maybe it could be a book linked to a series of recorded lectures streamed on the website or on ITunes or something. Something where you get paid. And where people could ask questions during the course.

Maybe the course could run a couple of times a year, with people paying a certain amount to sign up and get the video content and access to math help.

Maybe it could be connected to a college or two or three so that people could get college credit for it.

And since you've taught online, I think you'd have some ideas on ways to do it that don't suck.

I'm just thinking a lot about Dr. Horrible and the incredible willingness and excitement people have about doing things outside the system of the man. The law, PeeWee.

I think you've got a good idea there. Statistics is such a vital area of mathematics, and I wants to see it get to the people!

Karla Marx

namastenancy said...

I think that well-written and reasonably priced math books are sadly missing in schools these days. I took an on-line math course and the text book we used was titled "everyday Math for Everyday Life" by Mark Ryan. I am terrible at math but the book was so well written that even I got it! As far as prices go, I read somewhere that people are illegally downloading college textbooks from websites like The Pirates Bay because they are so very expensive. I have no idea how you could write such a book but I'm sure that you will come up with some very creative ideas.

Matty Boy said...

Thanks to everyone who responded.

Dr. Zaius - I've written a few math websites, so I'm already aware of the .html problems. Thanks.

Karlacita! - So I should git paid, is that what you're saying? Just want to be clear.

Dr. Monkerstein - I'd be glad to be put in touch with anyone with knowledge on the topic.

Namastenancy - I'm keep an eye out for Ryan's work.