Homework Responsibility and Monster Equations

Yikes, it’s Saturday, not Friday.  I was so energized after a after a FABULOUS week of teaching and I couldn’t wait to blog.  I really meant to post last night,but I just didn’t have it in me!  So, here is my favorite Friday – on Saturday!

This week my “No Homework Responsibility Binder” blew me AWAY.  I have kids turning in late homework right and left.  Last year, when they didn’t do homework, they took their zero and moved on.  This year, they are doing it – even if it is a week later!  I believe that it is the format of the binder and the new incentive that I have offered for making up their missed homework.  I only check homework for completion.  At the end of the grading period, they have a homework completion grade that is equal to one test grade (50 points in my class).  Every time they do not have their homework, they lose 2 points.  It can add up (or rather, subtracts) pretty fast.  This year since I am not tracking missed homework (the binder does that for me) I am freed up to offer an incentive.  WHEN they make up their homework they get half credit back.  It’s working like a dream and almost every student has made up every homework assignment so far this year.  I’m in heaven.

I love my green, yellow, and red baskets (thanks @fouss) where students turn in EVERY paper and assessment!  They put their paper in the green basket when they felt they understood it well, the yellow basket is so-so, and the red basket is my “SOS – HELP ME I’m lost” basket.  If kids turn in a paper to the yellow basket but do very well, I always put a “Go Green”! on their paper.  I want them to be confident in their math abilities!

My other favorite this week is MONSTER EQUATIONS.  The kids can’t get enough of them.  I love their monsters!  When we moved to x/2 = 3 this week we got to draw HALF of a monster.  How much fun is that?  Then I got to say, “If HALF a monster can eat 3 people, how much could an ENTIRE MONSTER EAT.”   (** Note, I am also modeling this on the balance scale and then writing out the steps. **)  It really makes equation solving fun.  A student even made me three adorable monsters (with google eyes and everythign) and brought them to me Friday.  I meant to take a picture and post it, but forgot.  I will though – they are so cute!

Homework Policies – MS Sunday Funday


This week’s theme is Homework Policy.  Next week, the theme will be “Favorite Math Class Games”.

Read the High School Sunday Funday Posts!

Also, grab the MS Sunday Funday logo at the top to link back to this page.

The No Homework, “Responsibility Binder”

The homework discussion came up over and over at #TMC12. No one is totally happy with their system, but here were some common themes.

We were all more concerned that students attempted the problems.  Several of us give the students the answers when assigning homework.  I’m in this category. I like them to check their answers as they work so they know when if they are doing it correctly.  It also allows me to tell them that I all already know the answer, I want to see HOW they came up with that answer.

As they already have the answers,  I do not grade homework. I just check it for completion as they are doing a “bell ringer” activity. For their grade, I start them out with 50 points at the beginning of the trimester and dock then two points everytime they miss an assignment. For most kids, this is a real grade booster as 50 points is equivalent to a test grade in my class.

Last year, I saw an amazing Student Responsibility Card on Hedge’s blog.  I totally stole it, but but made it into a half page to save paper and made it YELLOW.  Then, I had students fill out this yellow slip when they didn’t do their homework.  This was a great idea, as I never had to “record” who didn’t do their homework.  I just collected the yellow sheets and then recorded it at the end of the trimester. This took almost no time and was a record, in their own handwriting, of who had not done their work.  The biggest problem was that I just stacked these in a pile and didn’t really look at them until the end of the trimester.  So, unless a student was very obvious (no homework several times in a week), I missed accumulating homework incompletion.

My second problem was that I thought that filling out yellow sheets would thwart most of my errant homework kids, but it did not.  Seventh graders can be quite persistent, and homework incompletion was no exception.

In a discussion with Sean Sweeny at the airport (yes, we were all still talking math right up until we got on the plane), he told me that if one of his students doesn’t do their homework they have to stay after school or to do a study hall to make it up. I believe he said that this was a school wide policy. Sean said that this was pretty effective in getting the kids to do homework on the night it was assigned.  They knew they had to do it anyway, and no one wants to sit after school doing homework.  So, his students were pretty good about doing their homework.

This year I would like to do something similar, but more organized. And, I would like to make the students more accountable for completion of their homework.  My fabulous director always says that if we are assigning homework, then it should be important enough for every student to complete.

After seeing this great idea on Pinterest from Leslie at Jack of all Trades, I made a no homework binder.  I call it a “Responsibility Binder”.  I still want students to fill out a sheet when they don’t do their homework. It was so valuable to see their reason WHY they didn’t do their homework in their own words.   But instead of loose half sheets, it will be organized alphabetically in a binder.  Another improvement is going to be the addition of a “date completed” column on this sheet.  I want to give the students ownership over completing their homework.

Even if students don’t do their homework initially, they will still be required to complete it.  And this should be an easy way to have the student keep track of it. If they don’t complete two or three in a row, I’ll intervene.

There has been much discussion on Twitter about having an electronic GDoc Form that students filled out when they did not do their homework.  I really liked this but I can’t make it work because I want students to go back and fill in the date when the homework is completed.  I don’t want them to have access to the GDoc as they could change it, or get confused about which column to write it in.  I could have them fill out another GDoc when they complete their homework but I’m afraid they won’t be able to keep up with this.  I am thinking that a hard copy record in a binder is going to work best for me right now.  I am still working on this in my mind however because I do love all things electronic.
Here is my proposed sheet. I would love any suggestions!

Read other #made4math posts here!

Google Spreadsheet and the Wiki for Assigning Homework

I used to keep a plan book.  It was ok.  But, I never actually wrote my plans in it bc those squares were too small.  I just wrote down the lesson title and the homework assignment.   As I got busy, I would often forget to write things down it in.  Especially when I made changes in assignments.  The plan book was one more thing to keep up with and drag back and forth to school every day.  The idea was to use the plan book for the next year as a guide.  But I did not refer to it as often as I should have (only about once a unit) because then I would have to take TWO plan books (one for last year and this year) home every night.

Now, I’m all electronic when I plan.  I made a Google Spreadsheet that lists the date, lesson, homework, and any important links the students will need.  I love this way of giving homework, because then students can easily find the links I want them to access.

I then embedded it into my class wiki.  I only embed one week at a time so my students won’t get confused when looking at the whole document.  (It is blank right now because I still haven’t planned week 1 for this year yet – ACK!)

At the bottom, I provide a “6th Math Archives Page” link so absent students can refer back to the previous week(s).

To make things easier for me when updating and going to a new week, I have two separate tabs in the GDoc spreadsheet.   One is the current week and the other is the archive page.

I put the current week’s assignments into the 6th and 7th tabs.  These are the tabs that I had embedded into the class wiki.  6th 2011 is the entire year and it is what I use for the archives.  I start a new tab for each year (you can see the 6th 2010 and the 7th 2010 from two years ago).  This way I have a record of multiple years of plans and homework all in one place.

Read about other teacher’s Favorite Fridays here!

Smarties for My Smarties – After School Math Help Incentives

Once a week I offer after school math help for each subject.  After school math help is great because it’s a small group so I can focus on exactly what each student needs.  Students come to after school help if they have been absent and want to catch up (very needed in winter months), If they would like help on the current topic, or if they would like to do their homework with me.

Unfortunately, after an 8 hour school day, no one is very excited about after school math help.  In fact, I think I heard someone say, “Dreading it.”  So, I decided to spice it up a bit for the students (and myself) by adding a bit of after school sweets to after school help.  I figured if they decided to come to after school help, they deserved a little sweet treat!  Each student that comes to after school help gets a roll or smarties and a tootsie roll.  This may not sound like much, but it’s a fun treat at the end of a long day (and the beginning of 45 minutes of math).  The little bit of sugar gives us all just the edge we need to help our brains make it through 45 more minutes of learning.  But, it does more, with the addition of some music, a little candy makes it a lot of fun!  Today my fabulous 6th graders even talked me into a bonus – one single smartie for every question they answered correctly.  I had a blast with them, and they even came up with a cute slogan, “Smarties for Smarties.”

After school help today was FUN, the students were awesome, and I’m really looking forward to spending more Wednesdays with my amazing 6th grade Smarties.

Update:  Today when I came into class this was on the board.  I’m just happy to know that my students enjoyed it too.  🙂

Google+ (Google Plus) for the Classroom

Last week Twitter was a flutter with talk of Google+.  Via invite (thanks Kate!) math tweeps from around the country were able to sign-up, add circles, and connect.

I am a technology junkie, so I love exploring new technology as soon as I can get my hands on it!  Google+ has potential.  The two things that appealed to me the most were the circles and the “Hangout” features.

The circles allow you to categorize your GooglePlus friends.  This solves the problem of friending your students.  Friend away, because with circles you can specify exactly who will (and who will NOT) see every post that you share.  You can pick a circle to send a message to, or even just one person.  This is similar to the private messaging in Facebook, but it is rolled into the front page.  You don’t have to go to a separate place to send a message, you just type it right into your stream (status) and then pick who you want to see it.

The Google Hangout is Skype-like as it uses your webcam and mic for interaction.  You see who you are talking to on a large center image.  However you can also see all of the people “hanging out” in your room at the bottom of the screen.  The neatest feature is that when a person talks, the large image automatically shifts to the person talking.  It does this via sound.  So, even when no one was talking, the screen would shift to the person making any noise (like a dog barking in the background).  Reportedly, up to 10 people can “Hangout” at a time.  We had 6 or 7 last week so I haven’t tested this limit yet.  In Hangouts you can also chat and watch YouTube’s together.  I pushed every button in every box to try it all out.

An advantage of using Google+ in my classroom is that my students will not have to sign up for another new account.  Since I use Google Docs daily in my classroom, all of my students already have Google accounts.  My students currently sign up for my MathReuls wiki, Google Docs, and use an online book.  I like that they will not have to sign up for any additional accounts.

Once Google+ opens up and allows everyone to join, I can envision this as my new “Homework Hotline” in the evenings.  I use a Google Document for my current “Homework Hotline”, but it is cumbersome explaining problems to students by just typing.  Too much gets lost in translation.  It is confusing.  I tried Scribblar, but my students had to create new accounts to use it so I decided against it (update below).  I like that I can talk, Skype-like, to students.  Each student can talk and it will switch to their face so I can see who is asking the question.  We can also type in the chat as we talk.  A disadvantage of Google+ as a Homework Hotline is that currently there is no “interactive whiteboard” feature to draw or upload images into yet.  However, you can just write something on paper and hold it up to your webcam for students to see.  Think old school meets new technology.  I actually may like this better for now as every student you are working with online will need to write down the problem and work on it for you to see instead of all drawing on the same interactive whiteboard page.

Until Google+ becomes readily available for all, I will continue to search for an easy to use, feature rich site for my Homework Hotline for the fall.  I am currently experimenting with Dabbleboard with my fabulous math teachers Tweeps.  There is no required sign-up, so my students can just click the link and join right in.  It has an interactive whiteboard, image uploading, and a chat feature with webcam.  However, the webcam was unreliable at best.  We could either hear voices and see no picture, or see the picture and hear no voices.  And then, the voices kept freezing.  Frustrating.  So, this only be useful as an interactive whiteboard, sans voice.  So I will keep searching this summer!  If you have something great that you use, I would love to know about it.


It turns out that students do NOT need to create an account to join a room on Scribblar.  They do need to “sign in” but they do this as a guest so they do not need to create an account or a password, they simply type their name.  Their name shows up inside the room so I will know who I am talking to.  Scribblar has more features than Dabbleboard and uses Latex so I will be using that for my students until we are all on G+.

Student Made Geometry Booklets Improve Assessments – Creativity Strikes Again!

I was not looking forward to teaching the geometry chapters to my students this year.  These chapters are full of definitions and formulas.  My own children are in first, third, and fourth grade.  The homework that they bring home indicates that the kids have been seeing the same basic definitions and shapes from at least the first grade, and the same formulas from at least the fourth.  This all equates to me teaching the same thing to the same kids, again.  Can you say Snooze-Fest?

I considered doing a short geometry review and then just diving into fun geometry problems!  However, I have students from several different elementary schools.  I have learned this year that I have to be careful not to generalize and assume that all of the students have been taught (and will remember) all of this previously taught information.  I did not want to skip over the basic definitions that they will need for our more advanced geometry problems if they have not seen them in the past (or they were actually snoozing).

My solution was to have the students create their very own Geometry Booklets.  They made them from folding copy paper in half.  Each night, I assigned my students sections of their textbook to extract and copy down definitions and illustrations.  What they needed to find each night was easy as all of the important definitions and terminology are either hi-lighted yellow or outlined in green boxes.  I encouraged (but did not require) them to be creative and colorful at night!  It told them that it was THEIR book!

The next day class we played games and did activities using the information that they scribed the night before.  They were able to reference their booklets for these games and activities.   To motivate them to get all of the required information into their booklets, I let them use the booklets on geometry unit quizzes and tests.

I felt that this was similar to “flipping” the class because they gathered the information from their textbooks at home and then worked on problems in class.  Most of my students liked it because they got to be creative with their booklets and they felt like they were “getting out of” math homework.  And, they LOVED using these booklets for tests and quizzes.

For the big geometry unit test I let them use their booklets.  The test covered two chapters of geometry.  Overall, my students scored higher on this assessment than they had scored on any other major assessment all year (and I usually only test on one chapter at a time).  But, what amazed me, and them, the most is that many of the students didn’t really need to use their geometry booklets during the test.  By writing it down each night, and then going over it each day, they had already processed the information.

To create the covers for their booklets, we integrated with Art and Gardening.  Students studied cubism in art and then visited their garden to pick a subject for their covers.  Their covers had to be modeled after cubism and include four different geometric shapes.  In art they sketched their garden subject using geometric shapes.  They then used a wide array of materials of various textures and colors to finish their covers.  Our Art teacher did a fabulous job with this and their covers turned out beautifully!

To showcase their work, I made a slideshow of their books to the tune of “The Nonagon” by TMBG.  We all really love that song!  I included the cover and one page on the inside of each book.  I collected their booklets and will return them to the students to use next year during the geometry unit.  I may even have them add on to the books.




Why I Assign the Odds

Assigning odds allows the students to check to see if they have the correct answer to every single problem that they attempt.  This is important because I do not want them practicing 10 homework problems incorrectly.

Scenario One –  Student gets a correct answer
If they do the first problem and see that they have it correct, they gain encouragement and confidently move on to the next problem.

Scenario Two –  Student gets an incorrect answer
If they do the first problem and then see that it is incorrect, they know they did something wrong.  Hopefully they will not continue to do the remainder of the homework incorrectly.  A student that does an entire homework assignment incorrectly has not only gained nothing, but they have committed incorrect practices to memory.

My hope is that once they discover a problem is done incorrectly, they will research how to do it right.  They can read their book, look back into notes, search the net, call a friend, ask a parent, or email me.   I would rather a student not do the homework than do 10 problems incorrectly.

I will look at the students’ homework each day.  I am not looking for the correct answers because they already have these.  I am looking for the correct procedures.  I want to make sure they each know how to get the correct answer.

I believe that homework should be practice.  But for homework to be productive practice, students need to do homework correctly.  This means having the answers to all of their homework problems while they are working them.

Homework Paradigm – Part II or Wanna Be Happy? Then don’t grade homework

I analyzed the homework survey results from Sam’s blog.  He asked teachers a series of questions about their homework polices.

What I was most interested in how teachers were grading and if they were happy.  Sixty-eight percent of teachers that answered the survey are grading homework for completion only.

Homework Graded Pie Chart

However, I was most interested in which teachers were the happiest with their homework procedures.  Apparently…

Teachers who are the happiest with their homework procedures are NOT grading homework, not even for completion.  I was thrilled by this result.  Forget the fact that I am going to be a happier person if I do not have to spend many hours grading homework.  Apparently I will also be happier with my homework system if I do not grade homework.  This is classic win-win.


Numbers.  Sam received 40 responses, which satisfies the minimum number required needed to perform statistical calculations.  However, I did not run the numbers through any tests, I just analyzed the resulting percentages, quick and dirty.

Subjectivity. As the responses were open-ended response, I had to use my judgment in categorizing the responses regarding happiness.  I used a scale from 1 – 3.  With 1 being very forms of not happy (i.e. – dislike, hate it), 2 being somewhat happy, and 3 being happy or very happy.

Best Homework Practices – Summary of Ideas

I pulled these ideas from the teachers comments in the survey and my own thoughts.  Specific quotes from the actual survey are at the end.  Many of the ideas here came from and are presented on the Math Teacher Wiki Homework page.


  • Create the proper homework culture at the beginning of the year
  • Be consistent – do not give up or change it
  • Call homework “assignments” or “practice”
  • Do not make it a large percentage of students grade if you do decide to grade it


  • Make it relevant (homework as preparation for class discussions)
  • Include review problems
  • Exit Card – One problem each day at end of lesson to be quickly graded, then can base hw off of that (maybe the hw levels)?
  • Differentiated HW –
    • Optional Homework
    • Assign section only – do as many or as few as you need (time limit idea – work for 30 minutes)
    • Pick 5 problems that are not too easy for you to do out of section
    • Recommended / Suggested problems from teacher

At Home:

  • Put the responsibility on students to self-evaluate what they don’t understand
  • Online homework evaluation each night
  • Law of Diminishing returns – don’t kill em with homework. A Duke Study cites a “10 minute per grade level” rule that my school lives by.  I love it.
    • STOP after you have worked 30 minutes on hw (with no other distractions)

After the Homework is completed:

  • Have students put up problems they don’t understand, other students work them on board
  • Red/Yellow/Green
  • Homework Quizzes

In Summary:

I think our major problem as educators is that most students are not intrinsically motivated to do homework.  Until we can change this, I don’t think that any of us are going to be very “happy” with homework results for long.  This got me thinking…

What is the motivation to do homework?

Homework is the definition of anti-climatic.  It comes at the very end and doesn’t play into the story at all.  The lesson is finished, the homework is independent, it won’t even be “really” graded, and tomorrow we will be talking about something entirely different.

Why would students care about homework?  Because we force them? Because we are going to give them a bad grade?  Because we are going to call their parents?  Because they are going to be “embarrassed” that they did not do it?  These are not motivators – these are threats.  These threats are what lead students to do a poor, sloppy job on homework, the period before it is due, half-copying from their classmates.

In order to change the effectiveness of homework assignments, we need to change how these assignments work.  We need to make homework relevant, not only to the lesson of the past, but also to the lesson of the next day, if possible.  Can we make it practice of the current day, and the topic of the next day?  If this is too hard to accomplish, then what CAN we do to motivate students to do homework?

What can we do to make homework important to students, to make it relevant, and most importantly, to make them want to do it well?

Continue reading

The Homework Paradigm

Student homework is my Achilles Heel, my fatal flaw as a teacher, my nemesis.  The only thing I am worse at in teaching is taking daily attendance.

Some math teachers do not give or are doing away with homework.  I am not sure how I feel about this yet.  I feel that mathematics is a building skill, like a musical instrument, or a sport.  The more time you spend practicing the better you will become.  But, that practice has to be done well to be effective.  Also, I don’t feel that you need a large amount of practice, just a little bit every day.  Since most students have math class five days a week, is this enough practice?  Do students get enough practice by doing mathematics each day in class?  Many times I have seen students really feel like they “have it” in class, only to get home and have trouble doing it independently.

I worked as a research director in television advertising for a while. The rule of thumb there was “Frequency of 3”.  This meant that the consumer had to be exposed to the advertisement at least three different times in order for it to be effective. There was NO WAY any customer was buying ad spots where they were getting less than a frequency of three.  The sales people didn’t even pitch it.  Even the noobs knew this.  I think about this every time I consider throwing out homework.  I worry – is once in class enough, even if it IS independent practice? Because, it is only ONE event, not three.

Homework’s Flaws:

  • Checking homework the next day takes forever
  • Assigning the correct amount / level of work
  • Going over homework questions.  Students are either in two camps here – either I didn’t explain it enough or I am killing them explaining it too much.
  • Going over hw can really eat into new lesson
  • I feel bad bc I push hw questions aside in order to do the new lesson
  • If you make it for a grade, some students will copy other’s hw
  • If you make it for a completion grade, they will write anything down just to get “credit”
  • It is not effective if not taken seriously, (ie. copied, write down anything)

Reasons I feel homework is important (if it’s done effectively):

  • Students can figure out what really do and do not know how to do
  • Students can take more ownership of their mathematics learning.
  • Students practice more, thus they learn more

Fortunately, some wonderful teachers ( McTownsley and Shah )have gotten a big jump on me, and I can’t wait to learn more from their ideas!

At this point I am still going to assign homework for my classes.  What I would like to do is:

  1. Effectively checking that it was attempted / completed
  2. Ensuring it is effective
  3. Motivating students to really DO the homework effectively.
  4. Assign reading and a few problems of the next section to get the students thinking.

I would like the students to do homework and then I will check it, but not grade it.  I feel that the student wants to be acknowledged for their effort, and am hoping that just checking it but not grading it will give them the external praise that they like.  As I plan on giving them all of the answers AS I give them the homework, I feel that grading is pretty pointless anyway.

I would love to develop a hw system that works for most and can easily be adapted for all. I know that I am dreaming here.  But, if I can’t figure out why this is so hard to do, then it should be doable!  Luckily, I have amazing math teacher tweeps who are hard at work on this with me as well over at the Math Wiki.  We plan on sharing ideas then building something together, or at least that is my plan!

Please join us over there and add your ideas and methodology.  It is a public wiki party and everyone’s invited!