Meaningful Homework

IMG_5277On a quest to find more meaningful work for students to do at home, my 5th-grade team has been toying with projects. We have refined our ‘Homework Matrix’ through the year. Basically, students are responsible for producing 4 projects per trimester. Some have been to look for the International Space Station (ISS). Others have been to create a sculpture that can be placed outside. However, I think my favorite has been the ‘Create a shadow box about someone who is important to you.”

The students have been creative, caring, and proud of their work. The shadow boxes range from an actual shadow box to a large wooden box, to an old drawer, to a picture frame that was painted. They have talked about their sisters, moms, aunts, dads, and cousins. I love seeing what they have to say, as presentations are a given in my class, and what they include. Even more fun, is hearing how families are working together to create these projects.


It’s Okay To Fail

This has been a BIG lesson for one of my students this year. She was not a fan of failure and learning from her experiences. In the beginning of the year, she would completely shut down, pout, and refuse to make eye contact if she didn’t get something right. We have worked hard on this: the student, the family, her classmates, and me.

So our Trimester 3 homework gave the option for students to create an artistic expression of something they felt was important that they learned this year. This student chose to draw about failure! I am amazed at how far she has come this year. She is truly an amazing person!

IMG_5267 (1) Special thanks to the student and parents for granting permission.

Winter Break Activities

This week I started my Winter Break. A glorious 3 weeks off from school. That also means that the students will most likely have 3 weeks off from practicing any of their skills, including reading. The no reading thing makes me sad. In an effort to combat the ‘Winter Break Slide’ (very similar to the Summer Slide) our principal requested that we give homework. As I am not a fan of homework, I designed a Winter Break Activities sheet.


Since the students only need to choose 3 activities, it gives them some ownership and flexibility. I also tried to make them a bit more interesting as well as non-tech friendly. However, I think my favorite part is the Kindness Calendar. The calendar is ‘homework’ that everyone can agree on.


One student noted that many items were ‘chores’. I told her it was my present to the parents!

‘Homework’ Reimagined Update 1

A little over a month ago I shared out my (and my Partner Teacher’s) latest idea of ‘Homework’. Get a copy

Each Friday during Genius Hour I meet with students to review their ‘Homework’. This week I had 4 students that were able to present. Some took a different approach to the homework than I had intended. The results? Amazing!

One student created jewelry from ribbons, beads, and old hair decorations and fastened them with a barrette. This student is thinking of creating more and selling them. Another made a ‘sculpture’ that had a live plant! My students are amazing!

Homework Parents Like

Tonight we had our Back to School Night. School starts tomorrow and as per tradition, we hold our Back to School Night the night before school starts. It’s smart. It’s a long day for us teachers, but I really like it.

During the Welcome presentation, I talked about homework. As usual, parents politely listened to my spiel. I’m sure that what I said about homework was NOT something they had expected. It’s 5th grade. They’ve heard it all before – expectations, do homework, come to school on time, yadda, yadda, yadda. However, this year my partner teacher and I agreed that we needed to do something different with homework. So, we created this (make a copy of your own):

I began by asking how many of them had signed a homework log/reading log either knowing that their child did NOT do the homework, or weren’t even sure if their child did the homework. At first, most were hesitant to admit it. Fortunately, my translator’s daughter is in my class this year. She eagerly raised her hands. That got the ball rolling. I then went on to say that I don’t always check the homework, and the kids don’t always take their time and will rush by putting anything. I then explained our proposed homework. I read some examples and pointed out that there would be no fighting and no tears for this year’s homework. This led to several parents openly smiling at the idea, commenting on what a great idea it was, and how happy they were with it.

My principal is more nervous with this idea. He fears that we are not preparing students for high school. But, um, they are 10. They are in 5th grade. And high schools need to change their focus too. High schools have clubs where students indulge in their passions. Hm, maybe more elementary schools should have passion focused clubs.

I am optimistic that this will be a success. I explained to parents that we would like each child to read 20 pages daily. I am hopeful that with this user-friendly homework, parents and students will honor the 20 pages. At the very least, parents have this year to relax and have peaceful evenings knowing that there will be no fighting over homework.


Homework: We STILL Hate It

homework [url=][img][/img][/url][url=]”I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” – Author Unknown[/url] by [url=]Brian Metcalfe[/url], on Flickr


I’ve been thinking more about Homework and why I hate it so much. Then, I began to look at it from different standpoints: teacher, student, parent.

Why Teachers Hate Homework

No, I do NOT speak for all teachers. In fact, I know several teachers who advocate homework. This is a collection of reasons I have heard several teachers make:

  • The parents end up doing it for the kids.
  • We have to take time out of our learning day to correct it.
  • The same kids consistently DON’T complete the homework. It becomes a (losing) battle.
  • If we don’t correct it together, I have to take time out to do this menial task.
  • [at middle school] One kid does the homework and their friends copy it before school starts.
  • [at middle school] The kids stopped hiding the fact that they copy it.
  • The kids who need the practice either don’t do it or do it wrong.
  • The kids who don’t need the practice do it – what a waste of time for them.

Why Students Hate Homework

Yes, there are some students who like homework.

  • It’s boring
  • Who wants to do a worksheet?
  • It’s too hard and there is no one at home to help them.
  • They are in charge of younger siblings.
  • They may have several responsibilities to do once they get home.
  • They’d rather be playing (wouldn’t we all?)
  • It’s not meaningful.

Some other points I thought of:

  • Not all students have a home to complete their work.
  • Not all homes have a quiet space to complete work.
  • This is an intrusion on family time. As a teacher, I get upset when a parent tries to intrude in my area (classroom).
  • If I were to work all day, like the students do, and then were asked to go home and do more work on my time, I’d be a bit put-out.

Why Parents Hate Homework

Yes, there are some parents who request more (and I have my own thoughts on that).

  • It becomes a nightly battle.
  • There is yelling, screaming, and crying. Who wants that in their home?
  • It can take ‘forever’
  • Everyone is tired when they get home.
  • You have to find the ‘right’ time to do homework.
  • There is always something to do – ballet, baseball, etc.
  • It’s frustrating
  • The higher kids get more homework

Thank you to Amy (Jenkins) Shwartzhoff for her insight from the parent perspective.



Homework: We All HATE It!

Yes, it’s true, even teachers hate homework. We all know that kids hate homework and really, who can blame them? I mean they are in school all day working and then have to come home and do MORE work. Parents hate it – many find it a nightly struggle to get their child to do it. Whether the child has difficulty or wants to play outside, or both, homework is creating friction in homes. And finally, teachers hate it. First of all, we have to check it. Many times it’s done quickly and with many mistakes. This is painful for us! Secondly, we have to ‘get on’ those students who don’t complete it or complete it haphazardly. Again, painful and a losing battle.

I could go on and on about why homework is wrong on so many levels, but I’ll save that for another post. I’ve decided that next school year, I’m NOT giving homework! Instead, I’m giving activities that can be done at home. I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t that homework?”

The answer is, “NO!” and here’s why:

  • I want it to be fun.
  • I want it to be low pressure.
  • I want the students to have a choice.
  • It would be super awesome if the whole family got involved in some of the activities.
  • The students have the option to do it with their friends. For example, if one activity they choose is to learn a dance and teach it to the class, why NOT have a few students learning the same dance to teach to everyone?
  • If a student doesn’t do it, I’m not going to freak out.

So here’s my proposal: Create a ‘Home Activities‘ choice list where students choose 2 activities to complete during a month. At first, I was going to have the students do one each week, but quickly realized I was creating way to much work for myself. Definitely, NOT what I like to do. Since this is my first attempt, I am sure that it will evolve. I also welcome feedback. While this first ‘choice list’ has few digital choices, I plan to create another with more – create a video, take artistic photos, podcasting, etc. I can also incorporate more digital choices into this list as well. However, many of my students come from lower income families and don’t yet have a strong sense of digital citizenship. These are things that will need to be taught before I ask them to do several digitally related tasks.

At the end of the month, the students can showcase what they’ve been working on. Not sure how this would work. Maybe as they complete an activity they share it with the class. That way there won’t be 30 projects to present in one day. As I’ve said, the kinks are still being worked out.

So, here’s my first attempt. Feel free to take and amend to fit your needs. Please remember to share out! We’re all in this together.

HomeActivities1 (PDF)

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 4.15.15 PM

After-School Tutoring

The last few days, I’ve had students contacting me, at home online, to help them with their math homework. The first time, the student contacted me via email and we had a series of emails going back and forth. In class the next day, I mentioned how a student contacted me for help and how awesome that was.

The next day, I received a chat invite via Google Hangouts on my personal GMail account. My students know what the email is, but never (until now) use it. It’s used for web tools sites. She choose to contact me on this account as our district has disabled chat on the student domain. Here is a portion of our conversation:

How #awesomesauce is that? Next, I’m secretly (well not so secretly now) hoping that someone will figure out how to do the video chats and we’ll do a study group hangout.

This is what makes my job so awesome!

Gamifying My Homework

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by -nw-:
creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by -nw-:

Okay, well I haven’t gamified ALL my homework, really just the Math.

I’m not a fan of homework to begin with. Study after study has shown that it does no good. Those who can do it, don’t need the extra work while those who can’t, rarely have someone to help them. So what’s the point? I speculate that it comes down to the fact that, ‘it’s the way we’ve always done things’. But I’m not here to talk about the Pros and Cons of homework, I’m here to talk about a small success I’ve had with it this year.

As my district has a homework policy – I have to give it – I have strived to make it meaningful. Years ago, I assigned 20-30 math problems nightly. I know, what was I thinking? Then I scaled it back to around 8 problems and until recently it was closer to 3 or 4 per night. I tried making those problems easy enough to complete at home, yet incorporate some higher order thinking skills.

The problem? The students rushed; it was all meaningless for them. And I was frustrated with some of the half-hearted answers I was getting.

The solution? Gamify! Oxford Dictionaries defines Gamification as, “The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity”. In other words, making it a game. There are several application that can do this. I could have chosen to do it on my own, or use one of the programs available. I chose the latter. Since my homework is done online, it was only natural to find a program that worked for me. I chose Mangahigh. While there is a paid version that allows me to track the students’ progress in great depth, I opted for the free version.

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by rledda82:
creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by rledda82:

I have talked with parents and students about this shift. Everyone is in agreement that it is better than the problems. Parents have commented that their child begs, “One more game Mommy, I’m trying to beat ____.” Students are working towards goals. In this particular program, they earn bronze, silver, or gold badges. While the students are striving to obtain the badges, what’s really driving them is their competitive nature. They are trying to beat their friends, and me. I also signed up as a student and take all the challenges. The students LOVE coming to me and bragging how they’ve beaten me. Several have commented, “It’s way more fun [than the problems]!”

What I’ve noticed is that students are spending more time on math. I no longer get emails from students complaining that they don’t understand. I now receive emails telling me how many challenges they have passed and how many badges they have earned. I received an email from a student this evening. She was proud of herself for passing a challenge, beating me, and earning more badges. I told her how proud I was of her, and she responded:

“Thank you, I love Manghigh. It is super cool!”

In short, we are all happier. I am no longer frustrated that students aren’t taking their homework seriously. I am happy that they are spending time ‘playing’. They are happier, as are the parents. There are no more tears from students complaining that they don’t understand what to do (let’s face it, we’ve all been there. We can do it in class then when we get home, we forget how to do the problems), and no more frustrated parents.

This is why I have gamified my Math homework!