Saturday, August 27, 2016

Homework in the secondary math class

As a follower of math dignitaries in the Twitter world, I am aware of various opinions on homework for math class.   I am surprised to see some teachers advocating doing away with it.   Of the teachers that I've read about, they are mostly elementary teachers and I can live with that.  However, as a high school teacher, I am not ready to give up homework yet.

Of course, like any subject there are gray areas.  The discussion shouldn't be, homework or no homework.   To me, the concern should be, did the student develop an understanding of the material in class.   If they did not, then choices must be made.   The student can choose to be satisfied with the level of understanding that they gained in class or they can seek to develop a greater understanding outside of class.

And, the math teacher bears responsibility here as well.  Math teachers can customize their curriculum to ensure that students get what they need in class.   However, I believe that if we limit student activity to math class, compromises must be made.   For me, I already feel that it is difficult to cover all the standards in the given number of days with homework.   And, aside from standards, there is a certain level of pressure from the teachers of higher level classes to cover a large number of topics.   So, in a particular environment, a teacher may have to choose between breadth of material and time constraints for students.

In a world where all teachers were perfectly autonomous, I would be happy to eliminate homework and cover fewer topics.  Sometimes, I imagine if I was really smart, I would figure out a way to cover every topic in the given time and all kids would understand.   But, I haven't figured out that way and I haven't read any paper or book from a teacher who has.   If you are reading this article and you figured out how to cover every topic that Common Core requires in Algebra 2 in high school in the given number of days with no homework, please share your secret recipe.   I suspect I am not alone, maybe there are others that could be enlightened as well!

I have another unique consideration and that is I teach in a block schedule.   My students and I will complete all of Algebra 2 in about 90 days.   We started end of August and we'll be done by end of January.   Then, essentially, we start a new school year from Jan to Jun.   There is a theory in this environment that you just provide 2 lessons every day, but, from my experience, kids don't learn that way.  

Hope you don't mind my rambling, but I have more to say.   There is also a difference between homework and other work that needs to be done outside of class.   By the way, did I mention that I flipped my class?   My homework is watching videos and taking notes and sometimes completing Khan Academy exercises.   Classwork is where we solve problems together.   So, I feel that homework is less stressful in my class, just watch videos and take notes.   But back to my thoughts about other work outside of class.   I put pressure on my students to come in outside of class to work on improving their understanding.   I offer extra credit and I offer a variety of ways to earn it including finishing their classwork problems, studying for a test, reviewing the results of a test, Khan Academy and even some novel things like playing the game, Dragonbox.  So, with me, I am asking my students to do homework and I am asking them to put in some extra time aside from the homework.   Of course, not all students need to put in this extra time.  Some attend class, do their homework and get the grade they desire.  But, for students that are not getting the grade they desire, I feel they need to put in some extra time.

Don't know that I have any specific conclusion.  Just wanted to write down and share my thoughts and see what others think.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mr. Weingarden, I appreciate your post. As a fellow math educator, I see my students bombarded by other math teachers' HW, as well as their many other assignments. Coverage of the topics is necessary, and I believe it can be done with relatively fewer problems, that still offer the outside-of-class exposure and continuity. I admire your flipping your class, and offering ample alternative learning/credit opportunities for your students. If you'd like to reach out, please feel free at Warmly, Robert