I had read Alfie Kohn’s deconstruction of homework a few years ago, and adjusted my practices somewhat, but when I arrived at my current (IB) school I followed the party line and started assigning plenty of homework to my math and physics students. Our student handbook asks students to be ready for “3+” hours of homework every night from their six courses.
Three hours of homework every night?!
I tried to be lenient, extending deadlines and minimizing what I asked. Now, with the new curriculum for IB physics, I don’t need to assign long lab write-ups. But I still feel the homework I have been assigning has been a heavy burden with marginal benefits. Kelly O’Shea wrote about her efforts to kick off homework, concluding that a better question to ask is, “how do I want my students to spend their out-of-class time?”
Tomorrow I will assign my first take-home-and-do-it-alone assignment to the grade 11 physics class. I will require that it be handed in, complete, before students write a make-up test on the Constant Velocity Particle Model. I will also provide feedback to other students who wish to hand it in.
On that note… time to go write a homework assignment!
Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to do a better job of helping my students see the “big picture” view of what they’re learning. It’s easy to get bogged down with particular equations or specific problem types. I want my students to know what they’re study, and why, at all times.
One way of meeting this goal is to send out a weekly email update. In addition to assigning homework, delineating support and extension readings, and restating the major ideas and themes, I try to give a picture of how this topic fits into the larger panorama of science, math, or human knowledge.
The advantage of doing this via email, as opposed to posting it on the class website, is that students are already comfortable with the email reading apparatus. They’ve also incorporated it into their lives. I want my students to reflect on the value of set theory at precisely the time when they’re relaxing after dinner, or riding the bus home from school — not while they’re elbow-deep in homework.
Further, by putting the homework assignment into email (as opposed to posting it online), it is accessible in a familiar way. I don’t need to worry about students having difficulty accessing it, not looking at it until the last minute, or conveniently forgetting they have to do it. Simply by typing my words into a different box, I’ve moved the out-of-class portion of my class from a passive to an active form of communication.
The students have responded to it, too. During class today, approximately half of the students had read and thought about a syllogism I’d written at the bottom of the email update I’d sent the previous evening (formal logic starts next week).