Sunday, October 6, 2013

Does math homework work? (Really work?)

Practice is a key for learning math.  I don't believe there is much argument with that in the math world.  Some people need a little practice, some more - but how that practice is done, when, etc is a really big difference between math teachers.  The carrots and sticks we use, I wonder if we think about that often enough.  When is homework effective, how much should we give and on what topics?  To really discuss homework, we have to think about what our goal is mathematically.

My goal is not the Common Core, I run to its standards but my goal is to have students ready for college credit math, and have the ability to do math in a problem solving context for the world.  They need to a toolbox of skills but also the ability to handle problems including finance, research and justification.  So homework is for building the toolbox and using the tools for problem solving & revision. 

And since I accept that homework is to reinforce previous knowledge versus to learn new things or to work on projects - I use homework differently.  To start with I do not assign current material - because I need conceptual understanding before I let a student work on it alone.  And if that is the case why take precious class time reviewing it?  Secondly the projects I assign, starting every October for the remaining part of the year, are big multiple revision, multiple solution exercises.  This two prong approach meets my philosophy and the goal I have for my students.

My class periods are for working and gaining understanding on topics that may too difficult for homework.  And remember everyone once struggled with 2*6, meaning there is time where it is hard, a time where it can be practice with guidance and time it can simply be reviewed in homework.

That thought process leads me to provide all solutions to daily practice homework - they need to do the work. but the students need to know they are doing it correctly.  It has also lead me to using computer programs for practice - I use Khan mostly - because it is free.  It is also fights the number one problem - just doing anything to finish.

I was one of "those" students back in the day - I either copied, wrote just answers, used old homework assignments (just change the section number on the top), or just did not do the homework.  It may have slowed my progress but like most 16 year old students I did not  care.  How many students that age really think that math is important?  Especially the context-less math that usually gets assigned.

So as we assign the homework - that you know the A/B students will do it just for the assessments (the tests) and that the C students are copying and that the rest are not doing - is it really working?  What is it for?  Are those low B students on-down really ready for the world and college?

Does your math homework make sense?  It is a question I continually ask myself.