Homework, or “An Easy A” as my students like to call it…

With less than a month to go until the grade-grubbing eager beavers enter my classroom, I once again tackle the ever-challenging question of how to handle homework.  I know it’s necessary.  If I didn’t make it worth something, the students wouldn’t do it.  And if I made it optional, they wouldn’t see that the increased quiz and tests scores would be reward enough for their time and effort for doing such tedious work.  In Daniel Pink’s new book Drive, he notes that we should acknowledge the tediousness of homework and offer a small, but worthwhile, carrot.

Sorry, Danny, but I think I am going to disagree here.  I truly want the students to understand that completing homework for the sake of the 10-15% homework grade is not the point.  Thoroughly and completely solving homework problems creates a familiarity that can only be learned through practice.  Students need that practice (let’s be honest, we all need practice to be consistently good at anything) to be proficient.  So how can I make sure that my students are practicing proficiency at home and not just going through the motions to get credit for completeness?

My idea is radical.  I stole it from a friend who stole it from a speaker (aren’t all good ideas stolen?).  I am going to attempt this:

  • assign homework, as usual, in class
  • make worked-out solutions available online after ~6pm the night of the assignment
  • offer clarification during morning tutorial for students who do not understand solutions
  • give 2 problem homework quiz at the start of class – no notes, no book, just 2 problems similar to ones assigned and grade on a scale of 0-2 or 0-4 (haven’t decided yet) that assess mastery

In terms of class-time, it will take the same amount of time in class as checking the homework typically does.  In terms of my time, it will take a bit of time to grade, but I’m a super grader and my classes are pretty small (thank you private school student:teacher).

Ideas?  Suggestions for improvement?  Since no one reads this, these questions are basically rhetorical, so I’ll stew on them a bit more in my quickly diminishing spare time…

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About sherioffy

I am a teacher. I am attempting to persuade today's youth that mathematics is both beautiful and satisfying. I'll keep you posted about the progress of my endeavors. So far, no one is buying it ;)
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7 Responses to Homework, or “An Easy A” as my students like to call it…

  1. Just a couple thoughts that I have. Firstly, I don’t actually think that this will take the same amount of time checking homework as you would have before (which might not be a negative). For example, what if you were dealing with an easy section that your students had mastered relatively easily. In a normal setting, going through problems would take very little time, but now you would have to still quiz (which still might not be a negative), but it’s something to think about.

    Secondly, I love the idea of putting the solutions online, but I have two problems. It feels like, to me, that the students who would benefit from this would be the ones who wouldn’t need the help in the first place. The students you need to motivate are not going to be motivated by online solutions to problems. I am not sure the correct alternative, but I am just wary of that concept. Also, I LOVE the idea of putting the solutions online, but I think you need to make it somehow interactive so that students could be involved (a problem I cannot currently solve).

    You are correct though in your assumption that homework is necessary for reasons other than the “carrot” that they are given. Also, you now have at least one blog reader! I loved the post!

  2. sherioffy says:

    Good points, Joshua. And please know that I am still debating on whether the pros of this system will outweigh the cons. Since this course is Honors Geometry, most of our homework questions (at least for over half the year) are proofs, and they take a long time to check. It would actually save time for those problems.

    You are correct that the motivated students aren’t the ones that I need to worry about. The majority of my students are pretty self-disciplined, though, and I see this new homework option as an opportunity for them to make adult decisions. If they know the material, they can skip the easy problems and move on to the harder ones. If they have a busy night or a more important test to study for, they can make the adult decision to focus less on my homework and more on the other task without incurring too much of a penalty.

    Ideally, my students would be able to note quite quickly whether they are the type that needs to solve each problem or, if they are fast learners that catch on quickly, they can move directly on to the challenge problems. Having choices about their homework is something that I believe in, and I think this is a good compromise.

    Again, this might work for a day, a week, or for the rest of my career. It’s actually based upon an entire teaching model called The Baldridge Method. I’m just stealing the part of it that I like.

    Thanks for the comments. And thanks for being my first reader 🙂

  3. 2 points that I thought you covered incredibly well. Firstly, when you are working with an “honors” group of students, tasks like this would work extremely well. I still feel like some type of interactive software would be great. Maybe students post their own solutions instead of yours. If they are proofs, there should be multiple versions of the same answers anyway.

    Secondly, I like your compromise on the homework. With high level learners, using quizzes instead of daily points is a good idea.

  4. sherioffy says:

    The interactive idea is a great one! For my students with iPads (which is the majority of them), I could have them scribe and post their own proofs, if different from mine, to the class website, and get the students to discuss on the boards. You’re definitely right that it should be interactive, somehow. This might be just the way to do so…

    Thanks!

  5. My mom teaches in a school nearby mine, and they are moving to IPADS this year. Have any good tips for her?

  6. sherioffy says:

    Nope. Never used one. I use a MacBook Pro and _assume_ the students know the software on an iPad that would enable them to write notes and upload them to the class website. I have hired a new teacher that piloted an iPad program at his previous school, however, with great success. I’ll see if I can pick his brain. Unfortunately, it won’t be in time to help your mom. Sorry 😦

  7. That’s alright. I was just curious if I could get really lucky 😛

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