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Erie Company Debuting Free, Online Math Textbook

By Sean McCracken, Erie Times-News

A local math textbook company is taking a new approach to how students get their books.

For the first time in the company's more than 30-year history, Larson Texts will be offering one of its math textbooks – "Math and You" – for free online

Company founder Ron Larson, a Penn State Behrend math professor and author of "Math and You," said the free, online approach is new. Instead of requiring users to register or pay to access the book online, the company will fund the book through advertisements.

"Having textbooks online isn't new, but the way this is set up is new," Larson said.

Larson said he hopes the new approach will eat away at the "huge expense" of printing new textbooks, which he said is usually about $600,000.

Larson said the fact that the textbook is available for free isn't the most unusual thing about it. He said the book is designed for college liberal arts students and higher-level high school students who don't intend to enter a math- or science-related field.

To reach a wider audience, Larson said he wrote the book without using algebra.

"I've started to believe the people that say that most careers don't want or need algebra," Larson said. "This is a book for the 98 percent of the American population that are not in technical careers."

Instead, the book will focus on higher-level questions for basic math skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, percentages and graphing.

"This is by far the most important textbook I've ever written," Larson said. "The math education community has let down students by overemphasizing algebra."

The book will also use more modern, topical examples, charts and graphs. Larson said the book will use math to break down information on government budgets, taxes, sports and health issues.

The first chapter has a map with a state-by-state breakdown on the percentage of land the federal government owns.

"It's just interesting things," Larson said. "What else could we have? How fast is a train going?"

The first chapter of the book is available online at Additional chapters will be posted online throughout the summer, and printed copies will be available for purchase in November.

Larson said it is the first in a series of free online textbooks that will include things like computer science, art, political science, history and psychology.

"We're just a math house, but we're soliciting authors from other disciplines," Larson said.

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