Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's 2013, shouldn't HS daily homework look different than 1985?

So it is 2013 and homework looks the same as 1985.  As a math teacher I believe there is value in practice, if you don't use it you lose it.  As a math teacher I know students need feedback on their work, so it is improving them - homework done carelessly does not help.  As a former student I know I only wanted to do the minimum (I am one of the weird educators who wasn't your "good" student), thus unchecked homework is usually done carelessly.    And finally as a small school teacher I know I do not have time to review student homework and give feedback on a daily basis, there just isn't time.

So what to do about homework.  In the last few years I have simplified to a 2 prong strategy, first only assign work that leads to improvement of the student and second don't assign the concept taught that day until Algebra 2 (students need to see a concept more than once before they practice alone).  The only reason I start assigning some new material the same day in Algebra 2 is to prepare the students for college math (depending on the professor you need to be able to "learn on your own").

So 1985 - no cell phones, no internet, very few computers in schools (heck my school still had typing class with typewriters) and math was done by paper/pencil ; fast forward to today: cell phones are more powerful than the scattered computers of yesteryear, internet with no wires, and math is done (typically) with paper/pencil - or projects are done on word processors (a really nice typewriter).  The math teacher of 1985 is completely comfortable with how we are doing it today in most classrooms, even if you are progressive - a good hunk of your daily practice, homework, looks just like 1985.  Why?  It is mind boggling that it is still the same.

So I am not going to be the same.  I am going to make the practice different.  Now my room was pretty different already, I only assigned 5-8 problems per night and used projects as a large part of their out of class work.   I am now looking at a 3 practice components: weekly practice, projects with milestones, and combo of workbook/text problems (1-2 times per week).

Weekly practice will be on online sites - where feedback is immediate (such as Khan, perhaps IXL, or along those lines).  This will replace daily homework, thus giving a lot of control on when, what skills a student practices.  I will use some metric from the online site to give credit - it will be standard based.  I will use the same system where this cannot be more than 2% (with written practice) of the student's grade (on a 70% scale).  And just like I have done in the past - it is required to be finished per my Homework FAQ.  The target is 20 minutes, 3 times per week - a solid hour outside of class per week of targeted practice.

Next is projects with milestones.  I have had large projects in the past, such as a Pay Day Loan project in Algebra 1, Stocks in Algebra 2 and Constructing a house in Google sketch up in Geometry (youtube video).  The problem is that large projects need multiple milestones, I had too long a span of time between the milestones and will add more steps (so students fall into my Homework FAQ guidelines when work is sub-par).  The key to projects is no one flunks - everyone needs to deliver a good project.  Just like the world, rework/revise.  Projects are about 12-18% of grade depending on class (leaves 80-86% on summative assessment).

Finally the workbook/text book combo.  I am currently looking for ways to move low level things out of my class (by flipping, out of class reading/note taking, etc) and doing a combo of text reading (needed for college) and using worksheets on low level things may have a fit.  This is the foggiest part of the plan.  I feel like I cannot completely get rid of written homework, because it will be an expectation at Technical colleges and universities.  It would be a disservice (I think) not to include some pencil/paper.  But these problems will be checked & scored, requiring rework.    We will use our text for some warm up, along with some note taking.  I think some homework will be to write procedures out and conceptually explain why.  Again - really not sure yet.  But for sure this falls into the same 2% (with the online). 

Will it work?  I see some pitfalls with the notes because I have not been good at checking student's notes in prior years.  I see some pitfalls on grading the work, but how I schedule due dates will be critical.  But one thing is sure, I am not going to be the same, welcome 2013 - or at least 2003.