“You give us more homework than any teacher, in any subject, has ever given us before” (disgruntled yr 9 student).
Why do we set homework? And more importantly, is it having a positive effect on students understanding and enjoyment of maths? These are some of the questions that I have been grappling with over the past few days. My disgruntled year 9 student decided to produce me two graphs to compare the number of homework tasks, and length of task of four of his subjects. The picture tells the story…..
NBCS currently has a 30 mins/5 days maths homework policy for students in years 7-10. For some students this is just what they need, and that’s great. But I think that for far too many of them this is just a total waste of time. Dan Meyer (my favourite Blog) has some great points here.
So after reading plenty of different opinions I thought i’d ask my year 8 class their opinions. The responses were as I expected; some loved being told exactly which questions in the exercise they were to complete each night. Others hated the 30 mins a night as they wanted to spend 60 mins one night to fully understand a concept, and then have a night off. One or two said that they usually understood the concept after one or two questions. One girl said she likes to write up in words how to solve problems as it consolidates her understanding. Another boy said he loved using mathletics because he was able to get check his answers immediately (plus get bonuses for his character to help with his street cred).
So I made a deal. You get to choose your homework. Today I gave them one task for everyone (that the vast majority said they found really useful) and then the choice of 3 options. 1. A set of questions from the text. 2. A set of questions on mathletics with a score > 85% 3. Two questions. One tough, one tougher (took Dan’s idea).
In a couple of weeks I will be setting them a topic test with the first question asking them which homework method they have been using, and the number of hours they have spent on homework each week. I’m interested to see what happens…..
So what were the results of this first experiment? 7 chose to complete the textbook exercises, 11 chose the online mathletics, 7 attempted the tough/tougher questions, and 3 chose to do no homework. I was somewhat surprised that only 3 chose to not do anything; either they were fearful that there would be consequences for doing none, or they are more conscientious than I thought!
But here’s the thing that surprised me most.
One student managed to get the correct solution for the ‘tougher’ problem. He said that it took him about half an hr, and multiple pages of working before he was happy with it, but he did in fact get the correct answer. Just take a look at the question again, and remind yourself that the lesson introduced equations with pronumerals on both sides. This student isn’t right up the top of the class in results either, but he was totally motivated to stick at it, and apply different things he does know to get the solution.
To be honest I didn’t expect any students to come up with the correct solution to this problem now; my plan was to revisit it later in the year and see if anyone could get a solution then. The other students in the class were blown away that one of their peers could get the solution. Let’s see how many have a real go at the next one.