Mildly boring, but important nonetheless. I gave homework in Calculus! On a regular basis! And the kids did it nearly every time!

Last year was not nearly as successful, though there were bright spots I used to build with this time around. Here were my considerations when setting up a homework system:

  • homework respects students' time, assignments are given Monday, due Friday
  • homework respects students' time, assignments might take 30 minutes to complete, max
  • homework is not meant to be a struggle, material is at least a week old
  • homework is not meant to be a struggle, solutions are posted online
  • homework is not meant to penalize, multiple assignments were lumped together into one grade
  • homework is not meant to penalize, students could complete older ones and receive credit
  • homework has purpose, students are told upfront the reasons I assign it
  • homework has purpose, a focus on old material helps build retention

Providing solutions was an incentive I started last year. It contributed to what little success I had with homework. The second factor was the nature of the assignments. Last year I handed out textbooks and cobbled together problem sets from the book. They weren't perfect and it was hard to find problems that aligned well with what we were really up to. This year I said forget it, no textbooks, and I wrote my own assignments (hw1, hw2 are the assignments, anything else was just classwork). They are short, they are focused, and most importantly, they serve to spiral back. Only old material goes on homework. I use it for retention purposes. My goal is not to make a student struggle with unfamiliar material they just learned, it should reinforce ideas with which they are comfortable.

They took advantage of the solutions too:

The spikes are Thursdays (and Friday mornings), because teenagers. Many of them don't even use it, which is totally cool. Others like playing a game of find the error (I am Supreme Lord of Errors you guys). You might say, well aren't they just going to copy it and pawn it off as original? Sure, maybe. It's usually easy to root those kids out come assessment time. But recall my design goal, homework is not meant to penalize. If you stress the purpose of the assignments, you'll get kids on your side. Respecting their time is huge too. Long, daily assignments are just asking for trouble and cutting corners. Some of my lowest performing students tell me they'd rather turn in nothing than a series of copied answers, because they want to learn. It's crazy. If your homework is a means of punishment, well, you're going to earn every bit of the resulting culture.

Props to my kids for doing a great job so far, we'll see what happens as Senioritis beings. And props to the Calculus people at TMC15 for helping me think through this issue.

AuthorJonathan Claydon