Math Homework Ideas

It’s entirely possible that when I found out (last spring) that I would be teaching 2 sections of math this fall, my very second thought was – “How will I deal with homework?!”  I knew I didn’t want to do it the traditional way — students do homework, turn it in, Sarah drowns in grading, finally finishes, hands it back…wash, rinse, repeat… And so I scoured the mathtwitterblogosphere for ideas.  I was so excited to find Sam’s homework survey from awhile back, as well as Julie’s summary analysis of the results.  As I got more confident that the evidence for me not grading their homework was solid, I started trying to figure out what that might actually look like (since I never had a teacher like that, nor are their any in my school… at least not yet :)

As I zoomed in on every math homework related post that came through my Reader, and especially those related to middle school, my ideas began to crystallize.  Here’s what I’m thinking at the moment (we start school on Weds so I’d better get this hammered out!) –

  • I won’t give homework, I’ll assign practice – yes, it’s semantics, but I want to reinforce the why (I’m already working up my own version of this great Super Bowl story from Coach K :)
  • Students will always have acccess to the answers, and will be expected to check each problem as they go.  This also provides inherent motivation to show their work – we all know the answer, what we want to know is how to get there! (I really like this format for having students remedy mistakes when they get a problem wrong.)
  • I would like students (or at least, most students) to get to the point where they can choose the problems they solve – i.e., find the problems that are challenging for you.  I’m not really sure how to get there, but I think I might start with tiered assignment options – i.e., do problem set A, B, or C…?  Clearly, this idea needs more work.
  • I think we’re (the humanities teacher is going to do something similar with the grammar/skills practice he assigns) going to use these 3 reflection questions when they have finished their assignment:

1) What did this practice help you learn?
2) What specific question(s) do you now have?
3) What specific problem(s) are you still having trouble with?

Sidenote: I know those questions were inspired by something I read online – if you were the author, please let me know so I can credit you!

  • In the past, we’ve had a really wide spectrum in terms of students who put no effort in to their homework and “finish” in 5 minutes, to students who will sit an agonize over an assignment they don’t understand for way too long (to the point that their get mad that we’re assigning hours and hours of homework).  So all homework in my classes will come with a specific time limit, as well as guidelines for what that looks like.  Something along the lines of: “Please spend no more than 20 minutes completing your Practice, and then spend 5 minutes on the Reflection.  Remember, that’s 20 solid minutes, not 2-minutes-text-a-friend-2-more-minutes-eat-a-snack-3-more-minutes-yell-at-your-sister-and-go-complain-to-your-dad…Hey, look 20 minutes and I only got 3 problems done!”
  • My plan is to check homework in each day, and keep track of completion for the purpose of communicating w/parents when it becomes a problem, but not to use it as part of their grade at all (here’s our middle school wide version of the Oh No!  I didn’t do my homework! form that’s been going around).

Finally, a question for all of you INBers… where do students do their homework?  And do they take their INB home as a tool to use on it?  I’m really excited to start using INB’s, but am still really unsure of where homework might fit into that picture…


6 thoughts on “Math Homework Ideas

  1. This is a great post. Lots of deep thoughts here. I’m in my fifth year and I still don’t think I’ve ever come up with a HW policy I like. You’re making me reconsider a bunch of things. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Malcolm. It’s great to hear that a more experienced math teacher thinks these are good ideas – it’s good to know I’m headed in the right direction :)

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  3. I like your idea of students having access to the answers as they work, especially on more difficult assignments toward the end of the year. Using the reflection questions is also something that intrigues me. My post was over fixing mistakes and is linked here, but I’m glad I checked your site because you’re making me think and giving me some great ideas to expand on!

    • Thanks, Kellie! It’s great to hear that I’m giving ideas to others, not just taking them :) – and thank you for the inspiration re: how to help students with error correction!

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