Yes to More “Homework” – Read On Before You Judge!

Yes To More Homework!

Did the title grab your attention?  It was meant to just get you in but please read on before you shoot me down!

When I say more homework, I mean it in a different way that the bare title may suggest.  What I really mean to say is that that work that is done in school needs to be applied more to our students’ lives (outside of the school.)  The days where students just come to class, write notes, complete worksheets, and score well (or not) on tests, are being challenged and questioned.  I want my students to bridge the gap between what they learn about in school and how it can be applied to their own individual and unique lives.  I feel when that is done, authentic and genuine learning happens.

One example I will use to make my point is a Scientific Method Assignment that I have all my science students do at the beginning of each course.  The assignment can be on anything the students choose, but it must show good scientific practice and it must be done OUTSIDE of the school.  Of course the preparations and student-teacher interactions are done in class but the rest, outside of school in a context that is purely unique to the student.  In previous talks with a number of students around their school work, one common theme arose: When they were done with their studies, the rest of their life starts.  I want to continue to change that.

Some of the work that the students produced from the Scientific Method Assignment was simply stellar.  One student chose to test which smart phone was easiest to text with (based upon how far/close the keys were on the qwerty keyboard or touch screen.)  He had a number of smart phones and had members of his family text-type a pre-set sentence and timed it along with counting the number of mistakes that occurred.  He had multiple members of his family participate; he had his grandparents who had never used a mobile phone before, his parents and siblings, and even his young nieces and nephews.  This student had a sample size of 15 over multiple age groups and experience levels participating.  He was participating in a science experiment at home, with his family, and explaining the process to all of them along the way.  Another student chose to practice basketball free throws for 30 minutes each day, and track his rate of improvement.  This particular student had yet to make a graph in his life.  In addition, he feels he is a rather weak student in school.  He came to me after school to teach him how to graph his results.  That in itself was simply awesome!

The great thing about these experiments was the students were able to choose their own activity based upon imagination, creativity, and interest, and personalize the entire assignment.  It wasn’t thirty students doing the same assignment given to them by their teacher in one classroom.  It was 30 students doing 30 individual and unique assignments!  I admit it did take a lot more time and support to get the entire class off the ground, but the experience was priceless.  When the students had a chance to present their individual assignments to the class, they were so proud of their work and you could see that they all internalized the process and were speaking from the heart and without script.

It is one of my goals as an educator to make school relevant to the lives of my students.  I find that this definition of “homework” makes learning much more relevant and engaging in the lives of my students.  What it comes down to is if I am providing them with worksheet after worksheet, I am the one doing 80% of the work and they are only doing 20%.  No wonder there is so much memorizing and short term retention of the supposed learning.  When students must relate their school work to their own individual and unique lives, it changes memorization into application.  So from here on, homework (or meaningful learning) is my motto.  Some may call it something else but this way of looking at it has given my students a whole new appreciation for what used to be something that was dreaded, avoided, or keeping them up to all hours of the night.

Ways I have made more “homework”:

Scientific Method Assignment (as outlined above)

Worksheets split down the middle with “Knowledge Base” on one side (facts, rules, information) and with “Home Learning” on the other (where the points in the KB side must be related to an actual life experience.  This way I get some insight into the interests my students have outside of school too.

Acid Base Lab in which students are given litmus paper to take home and use on household items of their choice, in addition to ones that I have provided in class

Classification assignment that required students to use items from their space outside of the school.  Some used the clothes in their closet and others used equipment of their favourite sport.  One did this assignment and helped re-organize  the family business!

Using social media so students can engage in learning at home.  I have had students use http://www.twiducate.com to comment on science related articles and videos they find on youtube, etc. for scientific literacy.

Anything you would like to add?  Please leave a comment!  Thanks for reading.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Yes to More “Homework” – Read On Before You Judge!

  1. I would love to know more about your scientific method project. I’m always looking for better ways to engage students with the scientific method. I try something new every semester, because though students are somewhat engaged, and kinda getting it they aren’t really excited about their learning yet. Do you have an outline that you would give the kids? Any advice or guidance – sounds like something I would love to try next semester!

    • Alyssa,
      To tell you honestly, I don’t have a handout for this but I will try to give you as much guidance as possible. I found that every time I gave a handout, it puts kids on a track and limited their creativity. I did give the kids a handout on what a traditional lab report should look like but the rest they had to create and fill in. Further, I did give them a short amount of notes as to what a hypothesis was, observations, data table, etc. are and a flow chart of the scientific method. We did spend a lot of time conversing with each other (student to teacher and student to student) about the scientific method in which they made a lot of ‘group’ notes too. The first ‘formal’ thing I had them do was post their hypothesis on http://www.twiducate.com so I could comment on it and also so the entire class could see each other’s hypothesis and feedback (also to eliminate redundant experiments.) Then the students were able to send me updates each week about their progress. Some kids really got into it so I allowed them to extend the ‘soft deadline’ as long as they were doing good work. Again, I was able to comment on the process as it kept going. The feedback I gave them mostly centered around sample size, consistency of factors/variables, etc. This process seemed to give the kids the impression they were in charge of their learning and project. I hope that helps!

  2. Alyssa,
    To tell you honestly, I don’t have a handout for this but I will try to give you as much guidance as possible. I found that every time I gave a handout, it puts kids on a track and limited their creativity. I did give the kids a handout on what a traditional lab report should look like but the rest they had to create and fill in. Further, I did give them a short amount of notes as to what a hypothesis was, observations, data table, etc. are and a flow chart of the scientific method. We did spend a lot of time conversing with each other (student to teacher and student to student) about the scientific method in which they made a lot of ‘group’ notes too. The first ‘formal’ thing I had them do was post their hypothesis on http://www.twiducate.com so I could comment on it and also so the entire class could see each other’s hypothesis and feedback (also to eliminate redundant experiments.) Then the students were able to send me updates each week about their progress. Some kids really got into it so I allowed them to extend the ‘soft deadline’ as long as they were doing good work. Again, I was able to comment on the process as it kept going. The feedback I gave them mostly centered around sample size, consistency of factors/variables, etc. This process seemed to give the kids the impression they were in charge of their learning and project. I hope that helps!

  3. it does. thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Bernie,

    I’m sure the title of your post got some attention!

    The example from your Science class is great on a number of different levels. Most importantly, it shifts the focus from ‘teaching’ to ‘learning’. You have differentiated the assignment so that students can choose a topic that interests each of them. Also, in many cases your students’ exploration forces them to talk and explain to their parents or others who many need to be involved. Not only does this help your students create deeper meaning but it also communicates to parents/others an idea of what the student is doing in Science class. Combining this assignment (or any other) with the use of Twiducate or any applicable social networking tool provides your students the opportunity to receive descriptive feedback from you and from their classmates. Well done!

    Aaron

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