September 2, 2016

Homework, Take 2016

Going into the teacher days this week my mind was still on renovating my kitchen, but I wasn't worried. It's my tenth year teaching, how much prep did I really need to do? We'd gone into my classroom once already and set everything up. I'm not teaching any new preps, I can get everything done in the remaining week with little brain power. Are you laughing at me yet? Because you should be! My class sizes are different and I have an honors section this year. I started last year with some great intentions but when my co-teacher was out for cancer treatment (she's back and healthy!) I let a lot of things drop. Thank goodness I have some great new teachers in my department who are asking all sorts of important questions and getting me thinking. One important question was homework in Algebra:

After two days of discussing homework and thinking about all the things I've tried and considering all the thing I've read, we have an almost plan.

We want:

  • students to practice every day - since we don't have class every day that means giving homework
  • students to review old topics as well as get more practice on current ones
  • students to do the work and find it valuable

We don't want:

  • to spend our lives grading homework
  • to spend half of class going over homework
  • to depend on technology (working in school or kids to have access outside of school)
  • kids to be overwhelmed
  • kids to be rewarded for copying 
  • kids to be penalized for not doing something they already know how to do.

Our Plan:
There are two parts: daily assignments and weekly assignments.

The daily assignment (which isn't really daily but bi-daily since we only see our classes every other day) will have ten shorter and more straightforward problems. Seven of them will be on the current unit. Three of them will be review from past units (potentially a review topic that will be useful in the next unit). We started to do spiral review homework last year but we were also building our entire curriculum last year so we couldn't keep up with it. I'm hopeful that we will maintain this practice throughout the year. We won't be grading these problems, just checking for effort at the start of each class. Those points for effort won't be factored into their grades, but we will record them. If a kid is aceing all the assessments and not doing homework then nothing happens. But a student who is struggling on tests/quizzes can see the correlation between homework completion and understanding.

I'm glad I'm writing this post since we didn't decide how we will go over the homework. In my precalc class I project the worked out solutions and then students ask questions. In Algebra we used to send a kid up to each board to do a homework problem and then we would look at all of them and ask questions (to clarify for the kid who posted an inaccurate solution or a kid who couldn't solve it at home). Maybe I'll pick three of the ten to have kids do on the boards and post answers for all of them?

The weekly assignment is one I've been pondering all summer. First, I liked that Landmark gives long term assignments - I think planning your time is an important skill to learn but I always do it for my students. Second, I've been reading a lot about social justice and seeing a lot of "politics" posts. I want students to have a chance to express their opinions. I want to talk about important issues in a safe space and in an approachable way. I want to teach students that opinions need to be backed by facts. I want to show how statistics can be misinterpreted and used inappropriately. I want students to recognize when math can help them make sense of the world. My first idea was to have students choose articles on their own and then write about the math. But then when we were looking at the do now's I've used in the past I lamented that I always wanted to spend more time on the debate day - would you rather or always/sometimes/never questions. We realized we could combine all of these ideas and have students do one longer, opinion based assignment each week. Every Monday or Tuesday we will give students a prompt. It could be an article, a would you rather situation or an always/sometimes/never statement. Then they will have to respond with:
1) Their initial opinion. Without calculating what is your initial reaction to the article or your initial choice?
2) Do some math! If the article said something is a 20% increase from last year, find last year's value. For the would you rather determine the yearly cost of each. Test some cases of the always/sometimes/never statement.
3) Their final opinion. Did the math change their interpretation? Are they making a choice based on the math or are there outside influences? It's homework so there's plenty of time to tell me about all their personal experiences that influence their opinion.

I'm looking forward to grading these and hearing from every student, something I never had time for during an opener. I'm hoping to start with some fun ones (longer or deeper pool?) and as we go to mix in some questions about people massaging data to say what they want and using data to show inequity in the world. These questions will not be related to our current content but they will be steeped in the math practices (they should use 1-6 every time!). I hope that students enjoy the opportunity to share their opinions and that they will start suggesting articles for us to assign. Maybe if it goes well once a month I will have them choose their own article. I hope that the outside of class assignments spark some conversations that carry into class. I hope that the practice of sharing initial opinion, reasoning and final opinion will influence them to be willing to change their minds based on evidence and reasoning both in my classroom and outside of it.


  1. Tina, love it. Before I read this, I was thinking of trying something similar. Do you plan on posting the articles/readings that students receive? I need some recommendations.

    1. It took me forever, but here is update one. Another post with an article on racial bias coming soon!