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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Introduction and purpose

With a blog title like mine, I feel like I have some explaining to do.  Dead teachers are probably rolling over in their dark, damp graves and current teachings are shaking their fingers at their computer screens saying, “Well, get a new profession!”.

It isn’t that I don’t like teaching.  It’s quite the opposite, really.  All through college and graduate school, I had grand plans for my mathematical self.  I wanted to study theory and research, and make a big difference to a small and elite group of intellectuals.  My mother, knowing my debt status, warned “Whatever you do, don’t become a teacher.”

While in graduate school, something became terribly clear to me.  I abhorred the countless hours spent in my windowless office doing mind-numbingly boring abstract problems.  What got me up in the morning, however, were the 50 minutes that I got to stand in front of 50 eager undergraduates who did not attend lecture that week and instead relied upon me to teach them Calculus.  I loved it.  I called it “The Sheri Show.”  They were almost forced to listen to me talk about what I loved most.  It was win-win.  I got to showcase the knowledge I did have and they got to learn something they otherwise wouldn’t.

It was at some point in graduate school that I decided I was supposed to be a teacher, even if I knew I didn’t want to be.  I knew the pay was terrible.  I knew not all of my students would be as fun as my undergraduates.  I knew I wasn’t willing to get certified thereby forcing me to confine my searches to private schools.  But I knew that if I could make a career out of performing “The Sheri Show” on a daily basis, I might not actually spend the majority of my life counting down the days until retirement.

So here I am.  I am about the begin the 8th year of my teaching career.  It’s strange to call it a career seeing as I feel I still have so much to learn.  One thing I have learned over the years (I have taught in 3 different schools, in 2 different states and 3 different cities) is that the best professional development doesn’t come from conferences or seminars or webinars, it comes from other teachers.

This blog is my attempt to reach out to other teachers, all over, to get feedback and ideas, and to post my attempts at new and (possibly) exciting classroom strategies.  This is the year I reinvent myself as a teacher.  And this is the year I take others along for the ride.

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