Monday, November 28, 2011

Math Class Experiment: The Week with No Homework!

It's nearly January and an entire trimester has once again passed in the blink of an eye. MEA came and went,  then Halloween, Thanksgiving, and in just a few weeks, it will be Christmas Break!! Time sure does fly by faster as we age; especially as educators and parents, often with multiple jobs and time commitments, chauffeuring children and keeping a home. Are we stopping to appreciate the time we have, before it's gone?

There is a brilliant article called "Why Does Time Fly By As You Get Older?", by Robert Krulwich, that discusses precisely this conundrum. The video of children playing at a beach/carnival is a must see! My brain was forced to slow down and enjoy every second of its beauty. What the article delves into, is the persistence of new memories and experiences, and how the quantity of novel information processed by a youthful human brain can make time seem to pass more slowly than it actually is. Conversely, we have fewer and fewer "firsts" as we age. Traditions form, birthdays, anniversaries and holidays blend together, and less novel information is stored to document the passage of time.

Which leads me to wonder, what does time feel like to teens these days? Online? At sports? With family? What about in school? Do traditional textbooks and pencil-and-paper assignments create any meaningful learning for students anymore? Heck, I can't even get half of them to bring a pencil to class!

There seems to be a perpetual recurrence of early-winter laziness, lack of organization, and general apathy to studying that surfaces each year in the student body like a bear preparing to hibernate.

On about my ninth hour of correcting unit test after unit test on the road to Michigan (back seat, NOT driving), I began pondering the cruel irony of my self-imposed situation. 60+ hours per week (20+ unpaid) are eaten up developing sophisticated curriculum, matching appropriate formative, ongoing and summative assessment, delivering said curriculum, and then processing and analyzing the results. Compared to an average of 10-15 hours that students put in over the course of the unit. I think I'm "winning" by a ratio of about 4:1. How did this come to be??? Shouldn't the work get easier and faster each year?

Well, for starters, the age/experience factor takes several assumptions into account. First, that teachers regurgitate the same material, the same standards, year in and year out, with the same labs, the same tests, the same assignments and the same tools and teaching methods each time. I know very few teachers who actually operate that way. The standards and textbooks alone change every 5-7 years, which is about how long any particular teacher is usually teaching the same subject to the same subgroup of students, if s/he is lucky.  Reassignments, modifications and increases to workloads are the name of the game in the current "market" of increased demand on test results and decreased/deferred school funding.

Second, technology has increasingly become not only an expected, but essential and required component of our daily teaching. Smart lessons (good ones anyway) take a lot of time to write. Internet teaching resources are abundant, but quality materials take time to find. And often don't have keys. Third, the old-school hand-written grade book is a think of the past. Correcting, grading and assignment feedback has become electronic, requiring timely correcting and reporting in order to appease parents and keep students accountable. Oh yeah, and let's not forget all the meetings required before, during and after school for IEP's, PLC's, curriculur teaming, school-wide planning, and mandated teacher training hours.

Add that to all the extra work that I've created for myself. Owwwiiee, meh Zombie Brain hurts, says IcanHazCheezburger Cat. While venting all this to some fine mother hens at Thanksgiving, I blurted out, "Maybe I should give the kids a week off from homework next week". While subconsciously, my internal monolog is saying, 'Maybe I should give myself a week off from planning and correcting a week's worth of homework'. 

Rest assured, Nay-Sayers, we are not having a week-long party or watching movies all day. There would still be lessons and class work, which I could assign as homework if they're being lazy in class... and kids might think of extra credit, and they have test corrections to complete, which is kind of like an "optional" homework... So it's OK, right?!? Parents are getting a week off from hassling their little kiddos about the homework too! Break for all!

Well, I went ahead and made the decision NOT to give homework this week. I still have great lessons planned, with a modified "flip-lesson" on Wednesday, and interactive Smart lessons on Tuesday and Thursday. My experiment, if it really is an experiment, is to determine if the students really learn any less. Or if the freedom from homework will help them focus more. Or better yet, their malleable and anxious teenage brains might actually benefit from the brain-break and stress relief of that metaphorical homework weight being lifted off their shoulders. For the time being, anyway. Performance Assessment to follow in a few short weeks to analyze the results! Stay tuned.

P.S. if you are as interested in human perceptions of time as I am (duh, I'm a Zombie after all!), then check out this neat Time lab, correlated to national math standards: 

I'm thinking it will fit right in with upcoming units on non-linear data :o)