Supporting Students – Homework

As I teach an accelerated math class, I feel that a small amount of homework is crucial for success for my students (and, not just “doing” homework, but doing it well).  I got closer to being happy with my homework system this year, but it still took too much time for me to  check and especially to record.

What I did this year:

  • Published solutions – This goes first because it is KEY and so amazing.  I published fully worked out solutions to homework every day by 3PM.  I encouraged students to check homework AS THEY WORKED instead of afterwards.  No-one learns well when they are practicing incorrectly.
  • Required students to check their completed homework against my solutions and mark the ones they missed or did not understand with a different colored pencil.  Kids really did this at the beginning of the year.  It made such a difference.  They knew which ones they had missed and we hit the ground running everyday.
  • Assigned a manageable amount of homework.  I aim for no more than 30 minutes each night.
  • “Lagged” the homework.  I assigned previous material each night and starter homework (easy, skills based) on new topics.  I only assigned tougher questions after we had been working with the material a couple of days.  This way there was no pressure to finish my lesson so they could do the homework.  Also, students didn’t complain as much about not understanding how to do the homework.
  • Checked the homework each day, 2 points per assignment, 1 point for incomplete homework.
  • Entered the grades in the grade book once a week.

What did not go well is that checking homework took up too much of my class time.  I walk around with my grade book, stop at each child, look at their homework, then take time to record the grade in my gradebook.  And, after Christmas I did not do a great job of checking it everyday.  As a result, many students stopped doing it.

Additionally, some students never checked their solutions online.  They did their homework as fast as possible, just to get the credit.  They had zero idea if they were doing it right.  They did not care if it was correct, as long as it was “complete”.  This did not help them and wasted my time looking at their barely complete work day after day, trying to decipher if they had actually done it or were just scribbling anything down.  This has to stop.

I loved Amy’s post about accountability.  And even though I hate taking the time, if I really want students to be accountable, I need to make sure they are actually doing their homework well, and be more systematic about checking it.  I also loved how Julia is planning to check homework next year.

Next Year:

So, here is what I am planning for next year.   I am still working on it though and any thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated.

My biggest change is that I am going to have students keep a Homework Journal.  I will require every student to do every homework assignment (even Delta Math problem sets) in a graphing composition book.

  • Lagging Homework and publishing the answers as I did last year.
  • Require students to check answers and mark ones they did incorrectly with a different color pen/pencil.
  • Homework Journal – Students will do all of their homework in a graphing composition book.  The only thing in this book will be homework.  Our calc teacher does this and loves it.  He talks about it all of the time so I have to try it next year.  He calls it a journal and encourages them to write in it.  He tells them to write what did they not understand, what questions they have, and so on.  I could even have them write about how well they felt they understood each assignment.  I do a red/yellow/green for each assessment and think this may be valuable for the homework assignments as well.
  • I will have a section in the back of the journal for their weekly Delta Math problem sets.  I want students working these problems out (and Photo-math is a problem).  Hopefully this will help with both things.  This will make it take longer to do some sets, so I will assign less problems per set.
  • Incorporate “Criteria for Credit” to illustrate to students what a well done math assignment should look like.  A teacher at my school has the students create and then follow this criteria at the beginning of the year.  It is great and I am going to adopt it.  I have also talked her into guest blogging about it now that school is out!
  • From Julia – Each day I will circle any questions they did not fully and correctly complete with a red pen.  I will walk around the room and do this, I will not take them up.
  • Students are encouraged to complete circled problems ( to earn partial credit) before the homework journal is graded.
  • On quiz/test day (or about once every week), I will take the journals up and grade them.  I will take off full credit for every problem not completed, and give half-credit back for any completed circled problems (problems that were incomplete before).
  • Absent students would need to write down each assignment in the book, and ideally complete them before taking any assessments.  I would like to check this, but it may be too hard to keep up with.

Last year I walked around recording their homework scores as I went around the room on my grade sheet.  This is such a pain.  It takes time to look at the work, then time to put a grade down.  And I don’t even mark on their paper.  With Julia’s new system,  I can just walk around the room circling without having to record anything.  So checking homework each day should go much faster.  Then I can take the time once  a week to get the grades down.  And, since incomplete homework is already circled, it should not take long to grade (hopefully).

I love the idea of homework quizzes, but I don’t know if I would keep this up.  Making, distributing, grading, and recording a quiz takes a ton of work, even if it is online.  And I don’t want to create more work for myself.

I am hoping that more work setting things up at the beginning of the year will make the rest of the year easier.

 

First Day with Make It Stick, Jo Boaler, and Plickers

I want students to be less stressed before math tests.  I do not want them cramming the day before, asking me how to do every review problem because they have already forgotten, then asking me for more review problems to work.  I want students to connect the ideas not only of the current unit, but of the previous math ideas that are also incorporated into the current material.  I would love if students saw math as connected ideas, rather than “a long list of procedures” to be memorized.  I want students to learn conceptually, not procedurally.

This is tough to accomplish, as many of their math classes have been taught procedurally.  I used to think that they would be so happy to have me as their teacher!  I throw the rules of math class out of the window, and help them discover concepts on their own!  However, I found last year that this was not the case with many of my students.  Many were uncomfortable with the fact that I was disrupting their flow.  These honors math students have been successful for many, many years learning the formulas and practicing, practicing, practicing until it was perfect.  And their grade was perfect.  They didn’t want to struggle to “discover the formula”.  Struggling and not knowing make them feel insecure.  Instead, they wanted the formula right away – so they could have more time to learn it, practice it, and get a jump start on tonight’s homework!  They did not want me wasting their time.  I kept telling them this was not the best way, but they did not believe me.  So instead of telling them this year, I am going to have them read the research for themselves.

For the first day this year, the students will enter the room and then write their thoughts to these questions. (questions are a work in progress)

  1. What is math?
  2. Finish these sentences:
    1. The people that are the best math students….
    2. The best way to learn a new math concept is to…
  3. How do you study for a math test?

I will then give them a Plickers survey to find out their thoughts on math as a class. I use Plickers the first day because a few students will not have their technology ready. Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 8.46.54 AM

We will briefly discuss their answers and then I am going to show them this four minute video by Jo Boaler.

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I need to ask them to write after seeing this video.  I’m still working on that and would love any thoughts or suggestions.

For homework, I am going to have them read excerpts from Make It Stick, The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown.

This fabulous book talks about how people learn, and what you can do to make learning stick.  It is full of real life examples and specific strategies.  The ideas and strategies are summarized in one of the last chapters of the book.  After having them write and discuss how they think they learn best, I am going to have my students read some excerpts of this chapter, then discuss it as a class.  This should benefit them not only in math class, but in most of their other classes as well.

The next day in class, students will pick out what they felt was the most important ideas from the reading and share them.  From this, they will decide on a learning goal for the year.  I then had them fill out  a Google Form to record their “one thing” they wanted to try from “Make It Stick”.

Stick

I will keep doing discovery and conceptual learning in my classes.  I am also replacing “massed practice” with interleaving practice and lagging homework this year.  I am hopeful that having knowledge about how people learn will open their minds to this new style of homework.  Winning over their mindset is half the battle!

This is all still a work in progress!  And if you want to join in on the planning, I’d love to have you!  I will also be talking about my first day plan at the Global Math Department Webinar this Tuesday evening at 9pm EST.  Please join in the conversation!  I hope to have it more polished by then, as I start school August 17th!

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Julie Reulbach

The Files:

The amazing Meg Craig made a booklet foldable that is the entire activity in one!    I love collaboration!  (I pretty much copied hers for my one sheet).  🙂
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To Grade or Not To Grade: Homework in Math Class

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Next week:  Blog about Spiraling Review from Past Math Topics

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.  🙂

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!