One topic that ALWAYS gets people a little ramped up is...
"Although the debate about homework generally falls in the "it works" vs. "it doesn't work" camps, research shows that grade level makes a difference. High school students generally get the biggest benefits from homework, with middle school students getting about half the benefits, and elementary school students getting little benefit (Cooper et al., 2006). Since young students are still developing study habits like concentration and self-regulation, assigning a lot of homework isn't all that helpful."
So, that being said, I DO give occasional homework. In fact, I do require my students to read a minimum of 20 minutes daily at least 5 times per week. Why? I am wanting them to build a reading habit! There are no rules--it can be the same book they are reading at school, articles online, cartoons, magazines--anything that builds their "readerly life".
I also at times will assign homework something like this: "Find someone not in our class to teach about the difference between potential and kinetic energy." By keeping it this open-ended, it can be a parent. A babysitter. A sibling. A friend. Even ME if necessary. This type of homework is fast and easy and is very reinforcing of what is being done at school.
Finally, I do assign a little math homework at times...but not what people might typically think. I do not want parents having to teach math. I'm a little possessive of that! I don't want homework to be stressful for anyone--so any math homework I give is either fluency work (skills they are secure with and are just building automaticity) or open-ended in nature. If I don't think a student can handle a task, I replace it with a fluency game. Because I believe this strongly, I will often assign a practice page from a unit earlier in the year. Of course, it's super important to communicate this to parents...that the homework doesn't match the topic OR level of classwork...and that it is meant to build responsibility and fluency not reinforce that day's lesson.
When I talk about open-ended homework, I am referring to work that is, by its very nature, differentiated. Check out these pictures from some homework we did within the last week or so--and note that these would be FANTASTIC for classwork as well--but they are wonderful for homework because they are so flexible. I love using these--we had done a multiplication review (it IS testing season) so I gave them one to do--and then space to make up two similar problems. When they finished, they needed to check them on a calculator and find any errors. There are so many problem types that work for this--and once students learn the process, there is no miscommunication on directions.
So anyway...I thought I'd just spark some discussion--either in the comments or in your own mine--about your own thoughts about homework for elementary students. There certainly are MANY points of view--and many, many different situations. I have actually changed my point of view over the last five years or so; I think it's always important to continually refine our beliefs and seek out deeper understanding. Hope I got you thinking!
Want to see where I got these homework sheets?
I can find the perimeter of a rectangle by using the perimeter formula.
Then, the teacher models how to do the problems...talks through them...gives some guided practice...some independent practice--and then assesses student understanding. It works--for some.
Instead, I really try to find ways to put students in situations where they are exploring, looking for patterns, and deriving their own rules. I have found that this type of learning is more engaging, more meaningful, and "sticks" with the learner so much better.
Here's what this looked like with area and perimeter in my room last week. Had I used our math series in sequence, the progression would have looked something like this:
1. Teach the formula for the area of a rectangle.
2. Teach finding the area of irregular shapes by decomposing into smaller rectangles.
3. Teach the formula for the perimeter of a rectangle.
4. Practice problems with area and perimeter.
I've been doing this fourth grade thing a long time--and I know my students aren't ready for that yet. We still have a TON of misconceptions that need to be worked out before we move to formulas! For example, many students still aren't crystal clear on the difference between perimeter and area--so I certainly don't want to teach formulas for concepts that they aren't confident about!
Also, students aren't ready to flexibly and correctly use labels (a "precision" issue!) related to units of length (ex. cm, in., m) as opposed to SQUARE units to measure area (we like to call it "squarea" to help with that!)
I also know from the past that students really struggle to even COUNT the squares on the side of a shape and often get confused between "inside" and "outside" of shapes.
There are other things that come up--there always are--but to jump right into formulas certainly doesn't give students time to explore, get these misconceptions corrected, and allow the time for them to build and deepen their own understanding. Here are a few snippets of what I did BEFORE we tackled some of the work in our math book!
Our first investigation simply involved asking the students to build a rectangle using 12 tiles. Students were able to do this with ease--and then I asked them to measure their rectangles, jot the answer on a sticky note, and come up to the group to share.
We had an amazing discussion about how to measure a rectangle! Some measured only one way ("Mine was 6 squares long.") and others used two dimensions ("Mine was 3 one and 4 the other."). I asked if anyone measured theirs and got 12. No one had. This led to a great chat about whether or not we should measure the INSIDE of a shape or the OUTSIDE--until we realized that BOTH could be valuable! We came up with all sorts of real world examples when we would need to measure the outside edge or "rim" (peRIMeter) like fences, wallpaper borders, door frames, and so on. We also then talked about times when we might need to measure the entire area ("SQUAREA") in units that take up space...like for carpet or tile or planting sod and so on. Once students were comfortable that there is more than one way to measure a rectangle, it was time to roll!
We continued building rectangles with set areas (like 12 square inches) and finding all sorts of different ways to do it--and we then compared the perimeters. This was a great way for us to really stress the difference between measuring and counting the inches along the edge and the squares inside--two ways to "measure" rectangles. Students started to notice what happened when they built long and skinny rectangles versus short "chubby" ones--and even were using correct vocabulary words like "length" and "width" and "perimeter". We recorded our findings on a sheet and practiced using the correct labels--inches or square inches.
When it was clear that we were in pretty good shape in this department, I wanted to test their group work and problem solving! This time, I told them they did NOT need to use rectangles--and that I wanted them to work in teams of 6 to solve a problem. We talked about the problems that can arise with big groups (people being "bossy", people getting off-task, etc) so we set goals to stay focused and to strive for equal participation. The task? Have each person in the group create a shape with an area of 24 square inches--where no two people have the same perimeter! This meant some people would have to give and take--and MAN it was interesting to watch some groups function (or NOT function as the case might be!)
As the groups solved the task and could prove that all 6 figures had different areas, they transferred their solution over to a grid page...
I mounted them on black paper and hung them in the hall. They have been receiving lots of attention from passers by!
The next day, I knew I wanted to continue to push their thinking before we dug into the formula, so I used this task--find three different rectangles that meet specific area and perimeter guidelines. I reminded them that we have different tools in our classroom...tiles, graph paper, and so on--and sent them off to explore with their partners.
The discussions were amazing--and again, I reminded them to use the vocabulary list we had started on the board (I love to do this to keep that academic vocabulary fresh and accessible!) as they talked. I circulated and asked questions, asked groups to show me their strategies, and so on. Once they felt they had a solution, I told them to actually BUILD their rectangles! Once they had their exact dimensions, it was time to replicate them with paper strips!
It was amazing...as they worked, even MORE questions came up...some struggle with making right angles...some needed ruler help. It was fascinating to watch--and I was able to do some "just in time" interventions. The end product? More "Area Art" to hang in the hall!
By this point, I was feeling pretty confident that we understood the key differences between area nad perimeter and could find the area and perimeter of rectangles. That lesson in our math series where I was supposed to TELL them the formulas? Yeah...wasn't necessary. They EASILY figured out the area and perimeter formulas as they worked through these investigations. When I showed them the lesson, they laughed! I heard things like, "Of course you multiply the length and width to get the area." and "There are lots of formulas to find the perimeter--not just the one in the book!". We had fun making a list of all the formulas we could think of--and then evaluated which ones made the most sense to us!
There was a lesson in the book that was worth our time--finding the area of irregular shapes--but the students were SO comfortable with rectangles that they idea of "decomposing" these odd shapes was absolutely no big deal....but I want to talk more about that later because this post is already ridiculously long! Thanks for sticking with me...I always just get so excited when I see learning make sense to my students--and that they can enjoy that learning process!
Want to see these activities and more? Just click the image below.
Want to pin this post for later? Here you go!
Thanks for stopping by--and check back for "part two"!
Today I thought I'd use one of my sorts that we didn't get to earlier as a great test prep review of multiplication and estimation. I thought, "This will be an easy one...a good 25 minute warm up."