Math Homework is a Hot Topic

Yesterday I spent some time reading some replies in an online class that I’m taking. I also read Homework: How Much is Enough? by Cindy Couchman. Everything that I’ve been reading lately talks about how much math homework is needed.

I know that everyone knows about the old school way of doing things, which is sending students home with 20 – 30 problems to practice what was done in class. However, we are starting to see that 1) it is not getting completed and 2) does it really help?

If students are not understanding the assignment and we as teachers send them home to work, they miss every single problem. Did the homework help them? NO!!! In fact, it hurt them. No they have to relearn and unlearn everything. Practice is wonderful if they fully understand it!

Now one of the things that Cindy said is, I used to coach and think of myself as a math coach most days. I preached constantly – you practice like you play in a game. If that is true, shouldn’t they need to practice? a lot? on their own? That is a really good question. I’m not a coach and I didn’t play sports in school, but do coaches tell the team members to go home and practice alone. I’m sure that students have pick up games, but is that really practicing? Coaches are there to coach and help them along. Even during a game (the test) the coach is there to help them out and lead them. So are tests in the classroom really teaching anything?

I guess I’m looking at all of this and at the school that I teach at. We are a Project Based Learning (PBL) school, yet you don’t really see the PBL in the math classroom. I have been trying to figure out how to lose the current online program and bring the PBL into the classroom like they have in all the other classes. Is it going to be a lot of work? Heck yea! However, I’m willing to do it.

My thoughts are though, that where Science and Global Studies have 2 or 3 week long projects, math will much shorter ones. I used some guinea pigs (I love my students to working with me) that included 2 sixth graders and 1 eighth grader. I drew a right triangle on the board, then gave lengths to the two legs. I looked at the sixth graders, knowing the eighth grader knew, and asked if they could figure out the hypotenuse. They both turned to their computers and did a little research. After a bit a student said, “Is it Pythagorus?” I asked him to explain. He went on to give me Pythagorean theorem. I then asked the kids to use what they knew to go about solving it. They plugged in the numbers and figured out how to do it in about 10 minutes.

So my thought is that math PBL will include students having small “projects” to figure out math. Then after a few projects they will have one large project that covers many of the smaller ones and how they work together. That’s math! It continues to build on upon earlier aspects. As middle school students they are still doing addition and subtraction, which they learned in kindergarten.

I know this is possible. I’m trying to figure it out. Any input would be well received. Is this possible? How can it work? Any thoughts or concerns?


About Anthony Purcell

I am Anthony Purcell and I am currently teaching math in Oklahoma.
This entry was posted in Education, Math, Project Based Learning. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Math Homework is a Hot Topic

  1. Wow…you have a very interesting take on learning. I love that you view the classroom as a team, and so, each child works together to achieve success. I’ve never thought of it like that before…I wish my math teachers in primary school thought the same way as you do. I think that giving children homework to practice problems that they don’t full understand can be difficult; the child can pick up poor habits and continue doing the same types of problems in the incorrect manner over and over again.

    Although I can’t be much help to you here, I do think that you’re on the right track! 🙂

  2. Nigel says:

    ” . . . do coaches tell the team members to go home and practice alone?”

    Yep, I had coaches in cricket that demanded that we practice basic skills at home. I can’t recall the number of hours I spent alone at the nets sending ball after ball down the pitch until I could bowl a certain type of delivery at the right line and length almost automatically.

    “So are tests in the classroom really teaching anything?”

    Lately there have been numerous studies published that show that testing is indeed important in making learned skills permanent. If these studies are correct, tests in the classroom really do benefit students.

    “He went on to give me Pythagorean theorem. I then asked the kids to use what they knew to go about solving it. They plugged in the numbers and figured out how to do it in about 10 minutes.”

    But can they, given one side and the hypontenuse, then use the Pythagorean Theorem to discover the length of the unknown side? Being able to find the equation and then plug the numbers in is one thing; being able to manipulate the equation (without help from the net) to solve for any unknown side is another.

    • So how do you engage your students within the classroom in order to ensure that they are learning how to solve the equations correctly, thus ensuring the same correct procedures are done at home?

      • Nigel says:

        PCC, I’m not a teacher, have taken no classes on teaching and/or pedagogy, and have no intentions on becoming a teacher. However, I do know that there is no one answer to your question; the method used to engage kids differs depending on individual interests, abilities and prior knowledge.

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