Monday, September 1, 2014

End of pencil & paper homework?? Not yet......

So school starts in 2 days, volleyball is in a two day lull and I am reflecting on finishing touches for the school year.  And what I keep focusing on is how little homework seems to help students understand mathematics long term.  I see how they can quickly internalize a procedure and how rote practice can imprint a procedure but I wonder how to make homework a real learning and understanding tool.

I remember myself in High School - I was not interested in learning, I did the absolute minimum to get the grade I wanted, no care for understanding.  I know I am not the typical teacher, I did not like to play school.  But I was a pretty typical student for my class with respect to homework and caring how much I learned.  If I could take the first number divided by the end number in a word problem to get a correct answer that is what I did.  So why would I expect different from my students, that's why it is on me as the teacher.

On me?  I mean my homework and lessons must set the bar high enough that real understanding happens.  And that has meant less topics done longer, it has meant changing my grading so a D in Algebra 1 results in a student who can do Algebra 2.  Prior to my epiphany a D student was someone who did their homework and reworked tests, and that used to show on ACT tests (not college math ready).

Now I demand students can repeat and understand why, and homework is not much help in that goal.  So it has gone from 1 thru 59 odds (30 problems) to 4 to 8 targeted review problems - and I am seriously questioning the value of those.  I am going to assign 2 days of Khan this year - they have done some updating and I received a Morgridge Family Foundation grant for 10 ChromeBooks to help.  I like that better because it lets student's work at their level and makes them get the correct answer!  (It seems like every time I check assignments the students are just giving me any answer, even though I always provide the correct solutions for homework!)

So here I sit, here I ponder, here I wonder if homework should go yonder (ugh - sorry for that).   It is a bridge too far today, but I am going from 4 days per week to 2 days and that is progress.  And I will keep a firm grip on the my metrics - especially ACT score - to judge if this move is successful. 

Because that is my job to adjust and improve making every day better than the previous and to deliver the best education to my students.