Textbook Alternatives

By: Brittany Dirks

With the digital age upon us and ebooks on the rise, entire school districts are moving towards alternatives to textbooks in K-12. “Digital is more common at the college level,” but K-12 districts have been slower to respond. According to a survey by McGraw-Hill “found that districts have support” from parents, a “key group” in the move to ebooks.

The survey also found that 73% of those parents “believe traditional textbooks move too slowly to stay relevant,” while 80% believe digital learning will make difficult concepts easier to grasp. This might be because of the possibility of interactive multimedia: videos, slideshows, and audio could drastically change how students learn.

But there are many alternatives out there; here’s a summary of four popular options.

Discovery Education

This is one of the biggest players in ebooks in education. “Over a million students in 50 states” use what it calls “Techbooks,” a clever term that will undoubtedly help its market. It focuses on math and science Techbooks, and some of their newest releases are “supposed to help teachers align instruction” to the new Common Core standards.

The math Techbook, specifically, “is focused on real world problems” and also incorporates interactive instruction.

See below for the video from Discovery Education about their Math Techbook.

McGraw-Hill Education

McGraw-Hill takes a different approach: adaptive learning. This is based on adapting the difficulty of questions “based on students’ progress,” allowing them to review material they’ve read in the form of answering questions.

Like Discovery Education, McGraw-Hill has partnered with schools—Ohio’s Columbus City Schools, to be specific—to “help the district adapt to the Common Core standards.” It will focus on a “hybrid model” by providing copies of its textbooks to homework help centers in the public libraries.

See below for the video from McGraw-Hill Education about their Interactive Digital Textbooks.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Despite the company’s bankruptcy—from which they exited in 2012—has “bought up smaller entities” focused on digital learning approaches. It has actually even aquired some of Scholastic’s division on education technology.

The company focuses on textbooks for Kindle, iPad, and most other e-readers, which could be “useful for districts using a patchwork of devices.” A district in Oregen chose to use the digital math textbooks to help it align to Common Core.

See the below video about Fairfax County iBooks Pilot Video.


This nonprofit foundating “curates and aggregates open-source FlexBooks” that are “made by teachers and experts.” The products are free, and even customizable. The STEM products are the most popular.

The company works with districts to “assemble content” in a way that works best for each one.

Please see below for the FlexBooks Overview.

Ebooks are taking education by storm, and K-12 will likely catch up to college’s digital atmosphere in no time.


Children’s Book Vending Machines

By Brittany Dirks

Free books in a vending machine

According to teleread.com, JetBlue Airways–a company most wouldn’t assume has a hand in books–is sponsoring a program called “Soar with Reading.” The article states that, in a study by JetBlue, there is “only one age-appropriate book available for every 830 kids” in some D.C. communities. Shocking, in our age of abundant information.

The program’s solution is vending machines; the best part is that the books within them are free, and children can have as many as they want, as long as they–or their parents–can carry them.

The program as of now is small–there are only three of these wonders–but other places have “expressed interest in bringing the books there, as well.” The idea works similarly to claw-games: fun things for kids brings more traffic from their parents. However, this entertaining device doesn’t continuously steal quarters from wallets or end in disappointment. Rather, it encourages literacy and a love of language and learning.

Comparing this form of distribution to that of electronic media, it seems these vending machines contribute to and gain from the materialistic tendencies that children have; kids don’t value a file, but they will value a physical book–especially one they got to push some buttons for.

This program only solidifies the idea that the book is not dead; it is not replaced by learning games on tablets and smartphones, but is still thriving, wanted, and needed. Even in the highly-digital world, there is still a need for physical books.