April 06, 2021
Pam Harris
Episode 42

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Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris

Ep 42: Homework Pt 3

Apr 06, 2021
Episode 42

Pam Harris

In this final episode in our series on homework, Pam and Kim discuss what types of homework teachers should send out, as well as some important pitfalls to avoid.

Talking Points:

- Pen and paper homework
- Games as homework
- Using homework as a teaching tool, not for the sake of work
- How real math changes homework dynamics

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In this final episode in our series on homework, Pam and Kim discuss what types of homework teachers should send out, as well as some important pitfalls to avoid.

Talking Points:

- Pen and paper homework
- Games as homework
- Using homework as a teaching tool, not for the sake of work
- How real math changes homework dynamics

Pam Harris:

Hey fellow mathematicians. Welcome to the podcast where math is Figure-Out-Able. I'm Pam. And we're here to suggest that mathematizing is

Kim Montague:And I'm Kim. not about mimicking or rote memorizing, but it's about thinking, about creating and using mental relationships. That math class can be less like it has been for so many of us, and more like mathematicians working together. We answer the question, if not algorithms, then what? All right. So for today, we are going to finish up our diatribe on homework. What does it mean to give homework, we have a couple of suggestions we'll give today that you're going to find really useful about homework and we're going to wrap up our session on homework. We've been talking about some important things. We started talking about, If you send home homework, then make sure that you delay it so that it's accessible to the kids when they get home. We're not about making people crazy with homework. Also delay it so that it doesn't make the parents crazy, because the kid is frustrated. And then they inadvertently revert to algorithms or rote memorized stuff, because that's kind of all they have. Or they might use other sort of cheat sites to kind of help them. So delay homework, so it's accessible and not make everybody really crazy. That was kind of our first big point. Another big point that we made is humanity over homework, we really want you to consider your students in their lives. Not just, "what you don't have it? Well zero for this homework." Yeah.

Pam Harris:Today, we want to talk about a couple of other things. Last sort of thoughts about homework. So, Kim.

Kim Montague:Yes.

Pam Harris:Let's talk a little bit about different kinds of homework to start off today. So tell me, did you send paper pencil homework?

Kim Montague:Yes.

Pam Harris:And we think that's a decent kind of homework, right? Like, we still think you can give homework where the kids solve some problems.

Kim Montague:Yeah. Because I also want kids to get some practice at modeling their thinking, right? That's a huge area that, you know, we've talked before about what kids can do kind of in their heads and their thinking, and then communicating mathematics is so important. So modeling, their thinking is definitely something that we give them an opportunity to give a go at.

Pam Harris:Absolutely. And that's sort of thing they can practice, right. Again, we're delaying that it's not the first time they've ever seen a model, and then we send it home that night. Now use this model. No, no, no, like, we're gonna develop that model over time, we're taking the long view. But once we have students in our classes successfully using that model, to represent their thinking to use it as a model, as a tool for solving, then yeah, we could give homework where we say to them use a ratio table to solve this proportion, use a ratio table to solve this division problem. Use a graph to determine the derivative or use a graph of the derivative to find the integral like either way, right? We could go either direction. And those just sort of really skipped grade levels there. We can give them the opportunity to use models judiciously after they've kind of owned them. And they can kind of practice that at home. That's absolutely one outcome we want, where we'd have kids using paper and pencil.

Kim Montague:Yep.

Pam Harris:So that's a fine thing that we can send home for homework. What's another kind of thing that we can send home for homework?

Kim Montague:Well, this might be a little telling about the grade levels, but I would sometimes send home games that we have played before. We've talked about games before and games that have some sort of strategy, and games that are interesting to play more than one or two times. Again, talking about humanity with kids, you know, I want to know if they have somebody to play with when they get there. But sending home games was often a fun way to get parents involved in what was happening in the classroom. But it wasn't just sit next to your kid while they bang out some problems.

Pam Harris:Yeah, exactly. So I love that you brought the humanity back in there, we want to kind of know about that, help kids sort of find some ways that maybe they can hop on a zoom and play with their cousin or you know, that there might be some alternatives you can help them think about as you want to play that game. You might have to think about electronic versions of the game or ways that they could sort of do that remotely, if that's kind of their only option, especially in the age of COVID. And pandemic restrictions. So, Kim, I wish we had more secondary games. We have a few, we have a couple. I don't know if we've talked about them on the podcast at all. We might have to do that at some point. There are some games that we can play at the secondary level. Again, not near as many. I think we could get a bang for our buck playing some of the elementary games. Yeah, at the secondary level. So hey, we'll make a commitment. We'll talk about some games across the curricula in later podcast episodes. What were you just saying?

Kim Montague:I was just gonna say you know what I've enjoyed doing with some of my older kids is getting on Desmos and doing some things with him there, you know, yeah, because I know a little bit about Desmos. But there's some stuff that you can set up, right, like as a teacher for the student to do?

Pam Harris:Absolutely. So Desmos.com is not just a free graphing calculator, but it has these activities that teachers can set up that then students can go in and mess with. And in those activities, some of them are very much game like - marble slides is very game-like, there's a lot, I can't even mention all of them. So there's definitely some wonderful things that you could do, that aren't just games. So now shifting a little bit, so games in computer so we can do some computer kind of oriented homework. However, when we talk about computer oriented homework, we much prefer that computer oriented homework like games on computers, like the Desmos, teacher activities on computers, we are not big fans of just number crunching, problem crunching computer kinds of tasks. We don't feel like that's real mathematics, it's not kids really reasoning. It's just kids mimicking procedures. If you find a computer task where kids are just supposed to recall from rote memory, mimic procedures, those are not the computer kinds of homework things that we are recommending.

Kim Montague:One of the things that I love about Desmos, right is it's an activity where the teacher would assign it, and they would know something about it. So part of the problem that we have seen with some of the computer programs is that as cool as they might be, the teacher can't see everything that is gonna be the student view. And that's problematic, because you don't know what your kids are going to be working on. I mentioned this a week or two ago, that if you don't have the opportunity to view the homework, you cannot predict some of the struggle that your kids will have, or some of the things that they're going to encounter. So if you are sending home something that is, hey, hop on this site or hop on this program -

Pam Harris:Do these levels, you have to do so many levels a week to get credit.

Kim Montague:Yah, that's gonna be hard for a teacher to even know what the kids gonna get.

Pam Harris:Sure. And then if you just sort of blanket do this many levels every week or do this many lessons or something. If you don't know what the lessons are like some lessons might take a whole lot longer than others, some might be more difficult. And then you run into the possibility where, we've seen some students in some of these sort of apps, where they can kind of go further than we really want them to not that we want to halt the progression. But because the apps aren't that great, or maybe specific levels aren't all that great, then students kind of get into content accidentally, that they're not prepared for. And then everybody's frustrated, right? The kid is frustrated, because they can't do the math, the parents are frustrated, because my kid was assigned this thing and they can't do the math, then kids and parents are frustrated, because especially if the teacher is grading that, "Oh, you didn't finish your assigned thing for the week", and then they get points off for content that they're not even supposed to be learning I mean, so there's like - we don't want kids to be off into content that isn't even their grade level content. So if you're taking a grade on - don't take a grade on that just just don't, don't take grades on stuff that's not their content. So be really cautious listeners as you assign homework for students, if you haven't seen it, and that can be hard if it's a computer app where there's lots of levels and avatars and kids are going everywhere. If you don't know what it's asking, just be cautious about how you assign the number of levels or number of lessons because you don't know kind of how long they take what they look like. But also because you're not sure that they're clear out of their content. And now you're taking a grade on them completing something that isn't their content. I'm repeating myself.

Kim Montague:I think it's worth repeating. So you mentioned last week, I think it was, that you gave homework, either nightly or like maybe four times a week, right? I have always so much appreciated my boys teachers, we have had some of the best teachers ever. And one of the things that I love so much about them. And first of all, we have landed in some not so big on homework, teachers. Praise praise. But one of the things that I have also loved is that there is always been a lot of great communication about, hey, this big project thing is coming up. And here's about when we'll have some homework and need some project time. Because there is nothing worse as a parent - well, there are lots of worse things - but as far as homework, there's a lot of anxiety and struggle related to Hey, we're going out of town for the weekend. Pre COVID. And we're going to get a letter home on Friday afternoon that says this weekend you got to construct this thing or create this slideshow or whatever. It creates a little bit of a problem, right? When you're trying to decide if you're going to do the homework on the road or cancel the plans, or the kids kind of in the middle with, I've got to do this thing. So the communication has got to be a thing. And one of the things that as an elementary teacher we did from time to time was, this is the homework of the week. And so whether you have plans on a Thursday night, Tuesday night, Monday night, whatever or two of the nights -

Pam Harris:You've got baseball, you've got basketball, you've got cheerleading, choir, you've got church, youth group, whatever. You can sort of plan around that.

Kim Montague:Yep. This is the homework for the week. And you know what everything is so that you can do it when it fits your family's schedule.

Pam Harris:But wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, like the homework is the thing that we did that day? And if I don't see how they did that night, you know, how do I know what to do the next day, right?

Kim Montague:No

Pam Harris:Or if that's confusing to you go back and listen to podcast episode, I think it's 42 or 43, where we talked about delaying homework, right? So what we do tomorrow isn't so dependent on what happened in homework the night before, right? Because we've delayed homework, then we can give some grace period for kids to plan when they're going to do it. And we don't have to have it, you know, tomorrow so that I can do the next lesson right away and all the things. So delaying homework has lots of really nice side effects. And that's one of them is that we can give kids a longer period of time before they have to turn in that homework. Now not too long. And you're going to have to weigh that out a little bit. You know this teachers, we don't want to give them so much. Oh, your homework, all of it's due at the end of the month, well, then they're not going to do any of it until the day before the end of the month, right. So we need to help them learn. But also give them opportunities to learn. Oh, so that didn't work so well to wait until the day before it was all due. How could you do that differently this week? And you know, help kids sort of learn how to navigate that kind of thing. But that's very helpful. All right. So Kim, we've talked about some types of homework that it doesn't just have to be paper pencil, that you can also send games home, you can send some computer things home, if you've looked at them, we can also send some things home where we ask kids to use strategy to look at problems and think about what the way they would ask those. So different kinds of things that we can send home with kids. I want to tell you a story that came up just the other day. A colleague of ours, and I'm going to leave her nameless, because I want to keep this confidential, not about her, but it's about her student. But a colleague of ours is teaching a remote class to eighth grade students. And she took over the class at the half year mark, which is, as everybody knows that difficult that so she's trying to create relationship, and it's all new expectations, and you know, all the things. And as she took over this class, she had a student who has consecutively turned in homework that's completely incorrect. Like the entire homework, every problem is incorrect. And so she had a private conference after noticing this pattern, you know, with just a few homework assignments, and said, Tell me what's going on. And the students said, Well, I did the homework. And she said, Yeah, right. Right. But like do you not understand? And she says, well, doesn't matter. You know, like I did the homework, I should get credit. And she keeps digging. And the students said, no really like my entire school career, the only thing I've had to do is do "the homework" and I get credit, it doesn't matter if I've done it correctly, if I understand what's going on. And my friend was like, wait, what, like how is that even a perspective? So one of the things to consider teachers as you give homework is are you inadvertently sending that message that as long as you've sort of, quote unquote, done the homework, then you get credit for it and we move on and that your grade kind of reflects this, I don't even know if I can call that effort, because it's not really effort -there's so many things that come out, does the student understand that math is Figure-Out-Able and that what mathematizing means is to use relationships and connections you own to solve problems? I mean, no, the student is so clear that it's about mimicking and it doesn't really matter if I mimic correctly as long as I just sort of mimic I get credit. So now you might be saying Pam that's why I grade the homework! There's gotta be a better way than the student getting zero for really trying and and honestly giving it a good effort, and a student getting 100% for putting a bunch of slop on paper that she knows isn't correct, because that's going to give her the grade and we move on we played the game. Oh, if we could make all of our classes less about playing the game, and more about mentoring mathematicians. We just want to leave you with this hope hope that if if we can do more real math, then a natural outcome of that is that kids aren't stuck in all these sort of artificial, weird places like thinking that they can just do the entire assignment incorrectly and still get credit.

Kim Montague:I was so glad you brought that up. Can I bring up one more thing? I was thinking of a story, as you were telling that. I will never forget, one of my boys came home really sad one day, because they had done homework that had taken quite some time. And it was rare. So I was like, let's do it. And the next day, the teacher collected the homework, put a paperclip around it, and he found the stack in a recycle bin. And it had never been looked at.

Pam Harris:Oh. Oh.

Kim Montague:I had to have a conversation with him about how he had put forth the effort he had done a lot of thinking, and I didn't have an answer for him. But -

Pam Harris:You didn't you didn't have an answer about why that would happen?

Kim Montague:Right. It was probably just, I needed to give practice and I wasn't gonna take a grade on it. So I didn't. But we are about mentoring mathematicians. And if you're going to mentor a mathematician, then part of that mentorship is examining their thinking. And so when we do give homework than we take the time -

Pam Harris:Or assignments of any kind, right? When students turn something in, it shouldn't just be thrown in the recycling bin. So teachers, you might be like, in that moment, be saying Pam I do not have time to grade it all. Okay, then maybe consider, would you consider assigning less. Assign enough, what you can look at. Yeah, in some way that so that the student is clear that you are putting their humanity ahead of drudgery that it's not just about students being compliant. I mean, that's just screams compliancy, right, that we just want kids to just do the thing. I don't care what how you're doing the thing or what the result was of the thing. And it puts us in these crazy places where students are really clear, as long as I did it, you know, it looks like I did it, and I turned it in, I'm going to get credit for it. Or could we use these opportunities to actually help mentor mathematicians, we would suggest that if we are about teaching real mathematics,

Kim Montague:If you find the podcast helpful, anyway, would that it will help you rethink all these other practices that inadvertently get us into these crazy places, where math class becomes much more about compliance and much less about learning, mathematics and becoming mathematicians. Well, that was fun. We just did our three part series on homework. I hope some of it was helpful. I hope the upshot of just teaching real math is going to help you rethink however you want to do homework. If it's more about teaching real math, that should be helpful. Listeners, please remember to join us on MathStratChat on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on Wednesday evenings where we solve and chat about problems with the world. you please rate it and give us a review? We would so 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 the Math is Figure-Out-Able Podcast is for you. Because math is figure-out-able!

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