The 1,082 page, 20-year-old world history textbook sits on a desk next to the 1,114 page biology book. They weigh in at a good five pounds each. There’s no more room for them in the already overloaded backpack, stuffed with an equally weighty Spanish textbook, lunch (quite possibly including some of the old and uneaten variety), a mess of pens, notebooks, binders, power bars, and gym clothing. The thing totaled close to 30 pounds at a recent weigh-in.The insanity of hauling heavy backpacks around in a city where kids have long commutes and lots of stairways is well known. The question I’m posing, though, goes beyond the backpack issue. I’m puzzled about why so many schools are still making use of these old textbooks.

A recent Scholastic survey commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and released last week found few teachers believe traditional textbooks can engage today’s digital natives and prepare them for success. Teachers say they prefer digital and non-digital resources like magazines and books other than textbooks.

Only 12 percent of some 40,000 teachers surveyed said textbooks help students achieve, while only 6 percent said textbooks engage their students in learning. Eliminating textbooks (a $7 billion market in the U.S.) is also cost effective in these cash-strapped times; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California proposed cutting the budget deficit by replacing "outdated" textbooks with electronic versions.

But what is replacing textbooks? I noticed that one city high school is running a workshop on how to use YouTube in the classroom, along with instructions on an animated tool called Prezi. Some schools are moving toward digital textbooks, known as FlexBooks, which can be downloaded, projected, and printed.<!--more-->

And some teachers are kind enough to make copies of the important pages in a textbook and hand them out in class, in my mind an especially kind and back-saving gesture – as long as the textbook is a good one.

“It's nonsensical and expensive to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form," Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying. would like to know just how much your child’s high school is relying on textbooks. How old are these books? And, are they interesting and engaging?

Has your high school student encountered any fascinating and useful facts in a textbook that sparked a discussion? What other ways are city high schools and teachers using to explore science, math, history and languages beyond traditional textbooks? Any tips on how to replace textbooks, or do they still play an important a role in teaching and learning?