Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Making Math Homework Work

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Making Math Homework Work

Article excerpt

Learning and understanding happen over time, sometimes through perseverance and often with a few missteps along the way. Math teachers integrate ways for students to practice within the class setting, but most of us also send work home regularly. Sometimes we use small sets of math problems to introduce a new topic, but the intent of most math homework is to provide extra practice.

Teachers, parents, and students often hold contrasting expectations of math homework. Students expect homework to be an extension of the classroom activity. Because they expect the teacher to provide the correct answers when they go over the homework the next day, they are often content to just write any answer to every problem. Parents believe they should check their child's homework and offer assistance if their child is "stuck" on something. They, too, expect homework to be an opportunity for their child to practice a skill introduced in class.

My parents and I typically aren't on the same page at the beginning of the year. If I don't explicitly communicate my expectations, they become frustrated. Do any of the following complaints sound familiar?

Parent: I have a degree in rocket science and I can't do this sixth grade math problem.

My Response: It's true that math expectations have changed in response to years of underprepared high school graduates. Those changes have trickled down, and we are working to provide better mathematical foundations for students. More effective strategies involve less memorization and more grappling with mathematical problems.

Parent: I'm just not good at math and neither is my child.

My Response: In fact, we are not a society of innately math people and non-math people. Instead we've had different opportunities with mathematics, and some of us, more than others, enjoy exploring math. Consider the analogy with reading. Few folks would publicly proclaim, "I'm just not a reading person. I've never been able to read." Yet, somehow it's acceptable to label parents and students as not being "math people." Generally this attitude comes out of frustration when parents don't share the same expectations as their child's teacher.

Parent: This way doesn't make any sense.

My Response: That's absolutely right. If you jump in after the initial lesson and try to interject at the point of homework, it may not make any sense to you.

The parent has metaphorically walked in 30 minutes into the movie and is surprised because he or she can't follow the plot. But it's okay if parents don't understand. Instead, parents need to understand what we expect their role to be and they need the tools to fulfill that role.

What Are your homework Expectations?

Surprisingly, the most logical solution may not be to remediate parents, but rather to explicitly describe teacher expectations. Consider the following steps:

Step 1: Define your expectations.

Students should not be expected to get every problem right on the first try. Students can benefit from grappling with a problem over a period of time. One problem may be explored over three or more class periods. Help students accept the idea that disequilibrium is expected in the midst of learning a new concept.

When students respond to a math problem, I ask them to write how they approached the problem. When students struggle with a problem, they may write a question or series of questions that, if answered, would help them work the problem. Students benefit more from this reflection and dialogue than they do from one-on-one parent tutoring.

Select a homework rubric and share it with parents and students. …

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