# Ep 41: Homework Pt 2

March 30, 2021 Pam Harris Episode 41
Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris
Ep 41: Homework Pt 2

It's part two of our series on homework! Last time we heard Kim's perspective on when and what kinds of homework to give. Now it's Pam's turn. As a teacher for both high school and university classes, Pam gives an insightful look into when homework is necessary, and how we can always allow the humanity of our students to have precedence.
Talking points:

• What does the research say about homework? How does it vary by grade level?
• What is the purpose of homework?
• How much homework should students have?
• What topics should homework cover?
• The role of students' humanity in grades and homework.
Pam Harris:

Hey fellow mathematicians. Welcome to the podcast where Math is Figure-Out-Able. I'm Pam.

Kim Montague:

And I'm Kim.

Pam Harris:

And we're here to suggest that mathematizing is not about mimicking or rote memorizing. But it's about thinking and reasoning, about creating and using mental relationships. That mathematics class can be less like it has been for so many of us, more like mathematicians working together to solve problems. We answer the question, if not algorithms, then what? Alright, y'all, we are excited for this episode. Because we started last week talking about homework. We told you last week that we kind of didn't even really plan out what we're going to say. We usually have sort of an outline and some thoughts kind of ahead of time, and then we kind of roll on those. But we kind of were interested to see what each other would say. And it was a lot of fun. If you didn't listen to Episode 40 head on back, listen to Episode 40. It will start you off and kind of what we think about homework. But we ran out of time. Who knew Kim and I could be so long winded?

Kim Montague:

We knew.

Pam Harris:

And so we decided to continue. We have more things to say about what we think about homework. We hope these will be helpful ideas for you to consider as you consider how you handle homework in your math class.

Kim Montague:

Yeah, it was kind of like a welcome into our typical phone calls. Yeah.

Pam Harris:

Yeah. Hey, before we actually start, let me remind everybody that we are going to have on Episode 50, we are going to have a question and answer. We will take your questions, we will talk about the most asked questions. So if you have a burning question you'd like us to address on Episode 50, then email Kim at Kim@mathisFigureOutAble.com. And then we'll get those questions answered on Episode 50. So that is kind of exciting. Alright, Kim. Back at it.

Kim Montague:

So we talked a lot about what Kim thinks about homework. I don't know that you really shared about your homework experiences or what you think about homework as a teacher.

Pam Harris:

Alright. Well, thanks for asking. So let me

Kim Montague:

Pam Harris:

Yeah, in fact, I used to say that one of my goals was to create questions for which students could not memorize their way through. That they had to think. They had to think and reason. So I would change that now a little bit to be questions that they can't just cheat site their way through.

Kim Montague:

Right.

Pam Harris:

That they actually have to think and reason about. Now, are those trivial to ask? No, of course not. Those aren't trivial questions, they aren't trivial to create. Hopefully, we'll have some ideas in future episodes. Also on the website, like all the places where you can connect with us at MathisFigure-Out-Able.com where we can help you kind of think about some of those kinds of questions. So I don't - let's see, how do I say this? Kim absolutely doesn't like homework. I'm not quite that hard nosed about homework. I do think homework can be a little bit helpful. But I really want to think about the kinds of things that I send home for homework, and I absolutely agree about delay.

Kim Montague:

Can I ask if this is what you mean? So you know, we're getting into high school classes. And homework might be, "Hey, today, we talked about method A for solving a problem. So homework tonight is method A's practice." And then tomorrow is method B's version of solving the same kind of problems. So now you do practice for that kind.

Pam Harris:

Sounds a lot like you're doing systems of equations. That could be an example right? Like today, we today we talked about substitution, tomorrow, we're gonna talk about elimination. And that's what the homework looks like. You're saying, that's kind of a traditional typical room setting.

Kim Montague:

But here was an interesting, I got really excited about, hey, here are some problems. Which method would you prefer to use for this problem over this problem, or this problem? And I was like, I can get on board with that. There's some thinking involved.

Pam Harris:

Some strategy.

Kim Montague:

Yeah.

Pam Harris:

Which method would you prefer to use for this problem? And why?

Kim Montague:

Right?

Pam Harris:

And then and then go ahead and solve it, and then let's check to see which one, you know. Are you glad, it would be also nice to look back, are you glad you chose that method? Or do you wish you would have chosen the other one? The work becomes much more about thinking and reasoning and much less about mimicking and just getting an answer. Yeah, totally. Totally. Totally could go with that. Um, so.

Kim Montague:

So you gave homework?

Pam Harris:

I did give homework.

Kim Montague:

Can you share a little bit about like, maybe when or how often? I don't know that we really talked about that. When. or how often or, like, maybe I gave a couple of examples of types, maybe you just said that. But what was your general thoughts about that?

Pam Harris:

Yeah. But I'll be honest with you, I haven't taught high school for a while. So in my university classes, yes, I give homework every class period. But just briefly, I don't know if any university people ever listen to the podcast, but, my methods class is a three hour methods class, which is typical. But it's three hours in one block. So I teach once a week for three hours. If I taught three days a week for one hour, then I might probably have less homework. I would definitely have less homework per class period. But since I only see them about 13 to 14 times in a semester, it's really important for them to do some stuff in between. And so yes, I still give my university students homework in between. But again, the questions I asked are dramatically different than the ones I might have asked when I started my teaching career. And then similarly, I'm not teaching high school right now. But if I was teaching high school right now, I would be thinking about less homework, I would probably still give nightly homework-ish, because when I say nightly homework, I really mean like four times out of the week. But the homework would be different. And it would probably not take as long as I used to give. I was much more in the mode when I first started teaching high school, about practice. And we need to have lots of practice. And it needs to be like practice, practice, practice. They need to see all kinds. Because if you're rote memorizing something and mimicking it, you got to see all the different variations and you got to like, figure out how to apply that thing that you didn't come up with, that method that wasn't yours, you need a lot of practice in order to mimic somebody else's method. If you're really thinking and reasoning and using relationships, then you need far less of that rote practice over and over and over, you just don't need as much. But what you can get is some work on... hopefully I don't regret saying this, a little bit of muscle memory on stuff that we've sort of already kind of done well. Now, I want you to continue to think about it. Because remember, listeners, we're taking the long view. Both Kim and I now have, maybe you were always this way Kim, I was not. But it's less about in this chapter, we're writing the equation of line. I'm going to write equations of the line all year long in Algebra I, we're just going to continue to get better at it. So I'm going to send homework home about writing the equation of a line after my students are all pretty good at doing it, at least with one strategy. And then we're going to continue to build strategies about that. And we're going to continue to come back at it over the year so that they get more and more sophisticated.

Kim Montague:

Yeah, so that would have been for me like it's fair game, you know. So, like in the first couple months of school, then we're going to work on some particular things. And then in the third or fourth month of school, then some of the stuff -

Pam Harris:

In class?

Kim Montague:

Yah, then of some of the things from the first nine weeks, six weeks, couple months. I can pluck out of some of those ideas and maybe use those for homework.

Pam Harris:

Yeah. And it's a great way to sort of spiral review, keeps things fresh. But it's not just about review. So maybe we have to come up with a better word. It's not just spiral review. It's spiral progression.

Kim Montague:

Yes!

Pam Harris:

Right? Because we want kids to get more and more sophisticated as they go. More and more efficient and using important strategies. So it's not just spiral review, it's sort of spiral progression, bringing back things that we've done before, and helping kids get more, more good at them more. Oh, gosh, more sophisticated.

Kim Montague:

Well, and I also think that we can connect ideas. So you know, if I'm needing to send home homework, there might be some things that I'm going to do to preview. So hang on, hang with me. So if I'm going to be working with a new strategy, like the Over Strategy, and I'm going to be talking about, you know, using times 20, to solve times 19, or times 100, to solve times 99, then I might reintroduce the idea of how do you multiply by decades? Or how do you think about decades to use those decades with numbers near there? Does that make sense?

Pam Harris:

Yeah, absolutely. So you know, you're about to do something like, solving systems of equations? And so you might do some work with writing the equations of lines or graphing lines or something. So that then you can use that in solving systems. Or you might solve a system before you solve a system of inequalities, system of equality equations before you solve a system of inequalities. Or you might solve an inequality in one variable before you solve the inequality in two variables. Even if you know, like, yeah, you might do the thing you've done before, that sets you up for success in the next thing.

Kim Montague:

Right.

Pam Harris:

And that might sound like, "Well, yeah, Pam, you do the skill before it comes to the next skill." But it's less about the skill till the next skill. And it's more about the big ideas, and what's sort of happening, that will set the groundwork for kids really thinking about what's happening in the next bit. Yeah, cool. I like it. Kim, did you grade homework?

Kim Montague:

Pam Harris:

Excellent. So I totally concur with a lot of what you just said about the grade reflecting your understanding, how well you are really grasping the content that you're supposed to be at that point.

Kim Montague:

Pam Harris:

I'm with you on that one. I never took points off for no names. I also never took points off for like the organization part of it. Or, you know, like, yeah, that's not important to me. I needed to know whose it was. And we had conversations, you know, if you didn't put your name on things, and if it didn't have a date on it, we had conversations about why that was helpful, but not grades on that. However, Kim, you might find it interesting that I didn't grade for accuracy on homework. If you looked at my whole grading system, and this is still true, to a point with my university grading system, that there's a little bit of effort that gets graded kinda in that if you give a good go at homework, then you get credit for that homework.

Kim Montague:

Yeah. Okay.

Pam Harris:

So, does that make sense?

Kim Montague:

Yeah.

Pam Harris:

So, you know, that's how you get an effort grade. Just as a little aside, sometimes my students would say to me, "Hey, Ms. Harris, can I get extra credit?" And I would be like, "Oh, extra credit. You mean, you mean you've done it all? You understand everything we've done? You've completed everything and you're like, you're so solid on all that we've done and you've turned it all in that you want to go above and beyond?Like, you want extra credit?" And at that point to a T, 100% of them would look at me and go, "Oh, no, I mean, my grades aren't good. Or I didn't turn that in or, like, can I, I want to do other stuff, you know, like so that I can bring my grade up." To which then I would respond, "Oh, you want alternative credit? Like you didn't do what we do in here. You didn't want to learn the things you're supposed to learn in here. So you want to do something alternative? No, I don't give alternative credit."

Kim Montague:

I've never heard of alternative credit.

Pam Harris:

Kim Montague:

Which I think speaks to a little bit about what we feel about the homework, right? Life matters more. The human person that we are talking to matters more than doing your homework that night.

Pam Harris:

Absolutely.

Kim Montague:

And we want to honor that more than we, you know, want to be hard-nosed about get your stuff turned in on time.

Pam Harris:

Kim Montague:

Oh my goodness. There's so many things? Yeah.

Pam Harris:

So is that a whole other one?

Kim Montague:

Could be.

Pam Harris:

Alright, let's finish up with this one. Y'all, when you think about homework, what are some of the important things that maybe you pull out of today? I'm gonna say I think the most important thing that we talked about today, Kim, is the humanity of our students matters more than the grade on that homework. Let's talk to our kids. Let's get behind maybe why things are the way they are.

Kim Montague:

Pam Harris:

Thank you, privately. Ask for an exception privately and also talk to students privately. Get to know the human beings that you teach. And then it's not about being walked over. It's not about like, "Oh, you didn't get your homework done again." Okay, pat him on the head. Give him an A anyway. No, no, no, no, no, like we're gonna we're gonna find ways like my cooperating teacher did to help them accomplish the things that they need to be successful, to be understanding what's happening. It's all about the person, the people. So much fun. Alright, so remember to join us on MathStratChat on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on Wednesday evenings where we explore cool, interesting math problems with the world. Hey, in case you don't know, they're actually not like crazy math problems. So they're very accessible for the most part. Almost everybody can solve almost all of the problems that we throw out on MathStratChat. So take a look at it.

Kim Montague:

And hey, if you don't find it something that you can think about right away, you can still join in by reading what other people are doing.

Pam Harris:

Absolutely. Oh, and if I can just say, thank you so much to the people that are beginning to comment on other people's strategies. That's actually my hope. My hope is that MathStratChat turns into a global conversation. What it's kind of been in the past is people put their strategies in and then I kind of talk about, you know, like, way to go, you used the blank strategy. And I start describing them and everything, but it's turning into more of a conversation with everybody, which I think is much more helpful and fun! So feel free to comment on other people's strategies.

Kim Montague:

If you find this podcast, even as crazy as we are, helpful, please rate it and give us a review. We would appreciate that.

Pam Harris:

And if you're interested to learn more mathematics and you want to help yourself and your students develop as mathematicians, then don't miss the Math is Figure-Out-Able Podcast because Math is Figure-Out-Able.