March 11, 2013

Building Better Homework

Homework is one of the pillars of traditional education.  It's a nearly universal concept in K-12.  However, stress fractures have started to form recently due to the tide of support for homework reform voiced by students, parents, and education reformers.  I've never felt good about the concept of homework, especially as a student who worked and played sports through most of high school.  Now as the parent of a 1st grader who regularly gets math and reading homework I can see how much "extra practice" cuts into the valuable daylight hours kids have after they get home from school.   I've written before about my abolitionist spirt in regard to homework.  I feel home practice can have value, but I really think a guiding principle comes from Joe Bower, "homework should be inspired, not assigned".

Recently one of my colleagues, Amy Degitz, at Wabash Middle School came up with an ingenious idea for homework.  She was studying Ancient Rome and designed a project-based learning lesson where students were required to build a model of something from Ancient Rome, but they had to build it at home.  Their homework assignment was to build.  They had to apply what they were learning in school to a home build project that most of them were very exciting to do (see trebuchet on the right).  I plan on having Amy write a guest blog to give more details, but Amy had another stroke of brilliance.  She made all the students write a proposal for their build and sign a contract that their parents had to sign, agreeing to the final product, work time, and due date for their project.  Students made everything from an aqueduct to Roman armor.

Everyone was on the same page with the project due to the contract.  The students were excited and motivated and they REALLY knew their stuff!  Talk about a win-win.  I was lucky enough to be a judge and grill several of the kids with questions.  I was shocked at how much they knew about their particular build topic and its connection to Rome.  Like any good teacher, I stole this idea immediately.  In fact, I called an audible right in the middle of my current world religions project and inserted a home build component with a contract for students and parents.  They were very excited!  We started three days ago and I've already received about a dozen emails over the weekend about advice on their projects.  Students will have about 2 weeks to finish their home build and I will make this a regular part of my class.  To me, this is what homework should be--not worksheets or other mindless memorization exercises.  Homework should be an engaging, authentic, creative application of what students are learning in school.  A home build is a great concept to build better homework.



4 comments:

  1. In my point of view homework doesn’t have much effect on children rather it makes them ignorant.

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    1. I don't want to defend homework in any way, but what do you mean it makes them ignorant?

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  2. I LOATHE assigned homework as a teacher, parent and student. HOWEVER, as a lover of Science Fair, my family & I annually celebrate and enjoy "homework" such as what you've described above. My daughter and I tear apart old speakers to figure out how they work. My son and I mess with liquid nitro to see what inspired food applications result (and what we can break into a million pieces after freezing). When it's fun, it isn't work, right? It's a Master-Apprentice relationship with your kids (John Abbott, 2004. Reuniting Thinking With Doing).
    This is the paradigm shift educators need... Homework should be an exciting, shared learning experience that happens annually.
    If it isn't, then don't send it home.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I completely agree. I would like to see K-12 education world "shift" to this method on a much broader scale. It would involve parents and enrich a student's experience with learning and "making".

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