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University Press of Colorado in the Fourth Grade Classroom

Four years ago, University Press of Colorado had the opportunity to purchase Discover Colorado: Its People, Places, and Times, Second Edition by Matthew Downey (emeritus, University of Northern Colorado) from Pruett Publishing in Boulder. The decision appeared to be a no-brainer. Discover Colorado, a fourth grade social studies textbook, has been continuously in print since 1976 (formerly as Colorado: Crossroads of the West), and this textbook is widely used in classrooms across the state. The only real consideration was that this perennial presence in the elementary curriculum had new competition in the marketplace, and we also needed to produce a revision to catch up with current state standards.

Little did we know the incredible challenge revising this pre-existing product would present, particularly for a publisher used to working with relatively straightforward scholarly monographs without too many complex editorial, design, and production requirements. We had done a handful of textbooks aimed at college classrooms, and a number of fairly complex archaeology monographs, so how hard could it be? 

Before revising the text, working with the author we solicited input from social studies coordinators and teachers around the state. This made our normal scholarly peer review process seem quite simple by comparison. We also found and hired a co-author, Jenny Pettit, who had experience both teaching in the K-12 classroom environment as well as writing and producing curriculum materials for the K-12 market. Downey and Pettit then had the task of incorporating copious feedback, adjusting the text to current standards, and producing an entirely new teacher's guide oriented toward the classroom in 2016, a learning space that already looks a lot different than it did in 2008, when the last edition was released.

Of course, revising the text was only one piece of the challenge. We also had to hire a consultant to develop the art program for us, securing hundreds of images from diverse sources within and outside of the state. Designing a book palatable to fourth grade readers—rather than university professors—was a whole new challenge for our talented production department ("that's still too many words on that page"), and they produced multiple iterations before coming up with a final product that worked. Then there was the teacher's guide noted above, which we converted from print form to a web publication for ease of teacher access as well as incorporation of materials that could be downloaded into Learning Mangament Systems. We had to learn how to be a web publisher and developer of K-12 curricular products all in one fell swoop.

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At the end of the day, though, the final product is well worth the effort, as indicated by the feedback we have been receiving from teachers who have reviewed, and in some cases are classroom testing, the new edition. I do think, though, that we will probably leave the rest of the K-12 market to those publishers out there who specialize in books like this one. I can say from our experience here at University Press of Colorado that our students in our state and around the country are very lucky for the smart and resourceful souls who brave this market on a regular basis. We have a new, insider appreciation for the great work that they do.

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