Sunday, March 2, 2014

Why you should not assign new topic homework.

Imagine you have just listened to your 403 Abstract Algebra professor drone on about Sets A & B and their union, his passion for the subject is evident (or maybe not), but the sunlight from the window is really distracting your attention.  What does bring your focus back to 100% is when he says "Alright we will hustle through this last proof so you can do the homework for tomorrow."

Ahhhh.  Can you do the homework efficiently for this topic?  You have just heard this topic once and really did not understand it.  You know you can get it, but who understands a new math topic after seeing it once - just that Anderson guy (Jay).  And why would you get it, it is the first time you have heard it, heck there aren't even any numbers in this even to help you push your way through it!  Maybe if you saw it once more, saw how the next concept related to today's lesson you would be okay -- but nope you're screwed.   Instead of getting skills and confidence - you are going to spend hours struggling and may actually learn it incorrectly.  

Now while college may be a place where students need to learn themselves, I believe, that should not happen in High School.  To be clear I think students need to show tenacity - but should not happen from new mathematical concepts.  Large projects require tenacity (problems with multiple answers, requiring justification,it stretches skills versus creates them, etc)!  When I send a student home too soon with new material I am really allowing them to proceduralize the math, why spend time understanding - just follow the example and finish.  And for most students whether they are doing it correctly is not even a concern.

My job as a math teacher is to reach everyone, thus I believe when I send work home for practice - traditional homework - it should be just that --- practice!  It should not be a struggle, it should be "easy."  If it isn't the student knows to come find me -- that something has been missed!

I think anyone who has taught math for awhile can find a time when students went home and completely screwed up a topic.   That is why I don't want to send a student home to factor trinomials the first day (or anything)!  They learn all kinds of things incorrectly!    Such as x^2 - 6x - 5, how many times have we seen (x-6)(x+1) as they learn?

But math teachers fall into the rut of assigning the current material, then answering tons of questions the next day in class.  Why not plan topics over days, use class for practice versus answering questions.  That makes the students do versus the teacher!  

Changing what you are assigning may seem a small step - but as the culture changes you can gain lots of time.  And time is our precious commodity!  It is one simple step, so when you do Chapter 8 section 4 for lecture, assign homework from section 1.  It will make a difference for you, your class and most importantly your students.