I've been thinking a lot on alternative ways to assign students homework in Math class. Out of habit, we tend to assign students practice problems, go over the answers at the beginning of class, and then jump into another concept. We create this routine in Mathematics class that can sometimes prevent deeper thinking. This has become such a routine that our students expect the worksheet, expect the answer key, and expect to have their teacher rehearse those practice problems in class the next day.
How do we break this cycle? We start assigning homework differently.
To begin, I am an advocate for student choice and voice. I do not believe that students can grow as learners without giving them an opportunity to discover how they learn best and demonstrate their understanding in their own way. I believe that voice and choice can apply in many ways in the Mathematics classroom ranging from choice in the manner they present their ideas on a project to choice in the manner that they demonstrate they have practiced their understanding of concepts. I want my teachers to be thinking about voice and choice when they assign homework, developing a menu where students can self-select what experience will assist them best in their understanding of concepts.
Here are some menu ideas:
1. Write a blog post about what you learned today.
I love writing in Math, hence the "Writing in the Language of Mathematics" blog. Keeping a class blog on concepts allows for all students to read through the interpretations of concepts by their peers and creates a valuable resource for review before a test. Allowing this to be credit for homework validates that some students need to revisit and summarize their notes and insights from the day's lesson in order to process information and feel confident in it's application. Create a template for this where students have the opportunity to summarize vocabulary, provide an example, make connections between concepts, and ask some lingering questions. Wouldn't it be fantastic to revisit this in class and have students support each other's understanding of concepts?
2. Choose a concept that you did not understand and research it.
There are always those topics that take a while for students to understand. For some students this is their entire Pre-Calculus course, while for others it might be one part of a problem that they didn't quite get. Why have students rehearse on a worksheet what they did not understand in class? Instead, have these students identify the concept they did not understand and fine 3 videos that explain this concept in a different way. Students can submit what they found in a class discussion board or blog and discuss 3 things they learned from the videos.
3. Choose a concept that you are interested in and find it's real world application or discover its history.
Why should social studies have all the fun with historical events? Most Math was discovered and most Math has a real-world application, but for some reason we do not take the time to discuss this with our students. Have students find information on the history of a Mathematics concepts and discover why this Math was invented and what we use it for in the real world. Concepts as simple as Matrices have a practical application and can support the conversation that Mathematics is used to explain and make more efficient the world around us. Students can create a blog post on their discoveries or report out on their discovery through a video or during a class discussion.
4. Recopy and reorganize your math notes
Mathematics is a course where note-taking is critical to your understanding. Some students need to take the time to organize their notes, outlining processes for solving problems and expanding on vocabulary terms to include visual and algebraic examples. Making this an option for homework gives this task value and affords students an opportunity to look again at the day's lesson and reorganize it in a way that makes sense to them. You can have guidelines for this, including that they must show their original and revised notes in order to receive credit.
5. Create a video explaining a concept you learned in class today
Have students walk you through a concept they learned in class using proper Math vocabulary and explaining their thinking. The act of making this video will deepen their understanding and serve as a resource for their classmates. You can create some rules here to ensure students are being thorough in explaining their thinking and you may even want to have them explain more than one of the same problem. Students that choose to do this will be assisting you in creating a library of resources for their peers.
6. Have a default worksheet handy
Sometimes students will want to just practice problems, especially when they are not used to being assigned non-traditional mathematics assignments. Give them this opportunity, but also encourage them to try some of the other options.
Be careful not to make this cumbersome for you! Fair is not always equal, but homework credit should be simple. It is the effort that counts. If the structures and expectations are in place for each of the above assignments, then all homework should be created equal in its grading and its credit for the student. A simple full, half, or no credit can work on any of these assignments. It doesn't have to be complicated for it to be worthwhile for kids!