Winter Break Goals

I have a lot I want to accomplish over winter break this year; I figured if I wrote a post about it, I would be held a little more accountable. 🙂 We will see how it pans out.
Blog – Day #1 of Winter Break

Winter Break Goals:

  • Blog daily (I have a long list of things I’ve been meaning to blog about…they just may get done this way.)
  • Clean up google reader (Everyone has written so many fantastic posts, I can’t wait to read them…perfect for avoiding time with relatives when you need a break from holiday festivities.)
  • Finalize group work norms & incentives (Need students to figure out how to work together better and work on Math Practices. Less social talk & more math talk.)
  • Work on Interactive notebook pages for upcoming units (Find or create foldables.)
  • Work on High School placements for students (Need to finish so I can conference with each student when we get back to school.)
  • Finish planning Linear Equations unit for 8th Grade CCSS (Want to make time for more investigations. I really want to do Barbie Bungee…)
  • Write sub plans for 2nd day back from break (I’m attending a training and have a great math sub. Still nervous about what to do on that day though.)
  • Clean my house
  • Take dogs to dog park
  • Write thank you notes to students & mail them

I think that’s it.  Oh and somewhere in there I want to relax and take a nap. 🙂

The value of homework

Homework has always been the thorn in my side as a teacher.  I understood it’s importance, but have struggled to get the students to understand the importance. From the beginning of my career, homework was a completion grade, quite often I would “check” it through homework quizzes that had questions from that week’s homework that we had specifically gone over in class. Then I wasn’t happy with that and switched it up to points 2-1-0. I would walk around and check for completion while they were checking with their neighbor. Switching to Standards Based Grading 3-4 years ago has helped my Algebra students understand a little better the importance of practice not points, but it hasn’t helped my Pre-Algebra students. It sounds like I run my homework similar to Andrew Stadel; I don’t collect homework. I don’t check it off that they did it.  I don’t keep track. They do spend the first 5 minutes checking with their table, while I go around and stamp their homework (if it is done) & take attendance, but I just stamp for completion and don’t keep track. Then I will go over any questions they couldn’t agree on at their table or questions they had good discussions about. Recently I have noticed a strong decline in the amount of homework that is being completed and discussed, either that or I am getting more annoyed with the whining “I didn’t understand it”, “It was too hard” or “I forgot” that comes from a multitude of students on a daily basis. I know it isn’t entirely the time of the year because I know I’ve been kind of ignoring the issue for a month or so now, hoping they would turn it around.  Andrew StadelChris Robinson, Hedge, and Fawn Nguyen were discussing the lack of homework completion the other day on Twitter and I shoved jumped right into the conversation.  I need a better focus on my views on homework and how to make it worthwhile in my classroom.  Since I jumped into the conversation a little late, they had already done a decent amount of leg work and came up with a few warm-up questions to pose to the students on Monday.

1. Briefly explain what reason cause you to regularly complete or regularly NOT complete the homework assignments.
2. What incentives would motivate you to complete more homework assignments?

I had students complete the questions on a note card and attempted to give very little direction or any examples. Unfortunately one of my Pre-Algebra classes didn’t understand the word incentive so I tried to explain it with an absurd example, “An incentive…like if having a pony would get you to complete your homework.” Somehow that helped them understand, but as you will see below also prompted them to tell me that a class pet would be a great incentive.  As they were leaving class, students were offering cages and toys for some class pet (I think someone said hamster), while I was mumbling something about it being too hard to have class pets these days due to all the allergies students have.  Just to be clear, we will NOT be getting a class pet.

I was going to tally up all of the results from all four periods together, but as I read through them (Middle School students are the best entertainment.), I realized very quickly that there was a distinct difference between my Pre-Algebra student responses and my Algebra student responses. Algebra for my students is an accelerated class at the 8th grade level, so they do tend to be more studious and responsible.  I wanted to then tally the results by course. Here are the results: (Someone needs to explain to me how to put tables in a blog)

FYI: I do teach about 120 students, I did not record responses that were off topic which is why they don’t add up to the right amount of students. 🙂

My Thoughts: (Reminder I do teach 8th Grade)
Reasons for not doing homework – I wasn’t surprised with Pre-Algebra having more students say they don’t understand or they forgot. Years of teaching have proved that to be the case. The 3 responses for distractions are home were from the students I know take care of siblings many of the hours they aren’t at school. Algebra responses were strongly not having time to do it, outside activities and they were busy, which I probably should have combined.  A lot of students in those classes are heavily involved in multiple sports, music, dance, etc. I am just fine with the response that if they understand it, they don’t do it.  I was happy only two students said they hated math; my goal is to change that.

Reasons for doing homework – I feel as though a lot of the responses from Pre-Algebra stemmed around getting good grades and it will help them, which did surprise me because I don’t feel as though that is what I see in the classroom. The parents would kill me response while morbid, was a little refreshing, I wish more parents were on their students to complete homework or to at least work on school work at home. I LOVE that so many Algebra students said it helps them to understand and to practice the skills, YEAH! They get it.  Why them and not all my students?  I also enjoyed so many of them saying that doing the HW helps them know if they understand the material. I wanted to do a cartwheel, they get it, they really do.  And to be honest, they don’t have the missing homework issue as bad as my Pre-Algebra students…the students that do are the ones who are struggling on skill quizzes.

Incentives – I love middle school students.  They really came up with some good incentives. Just to hit on a few…
Incentive Card Signature – We do have a grade level incentive program that ALWAYS gets tossed to the side as the year goes on. It’s similar to a Caught Ya Being Good system, where we give signatures on a card and full cards get them food, candy and other incentives a few times throughout the year.  It is such a pain to have them take out their cards and then I sign them.  I want to create a stamp, maybe then I would do it more.  It seems like they want me to.
Fun worksheets: Really? I thought the homework was fun or at least interesting.  There are comics and jokes and the homework is almost always self checking with answers provided.  Apparently my version of fun is not their version of fun, the “punny” jokes must need to go.
Extra Credit: I don’t offer it, they know this because THEY ASK ALL THE TIME. Why write it down? Do middle school students ever listen?
Less HW/Less problems: Really? The max is 20 and that is very very rare.  It’s usually 6-10.
STAR Card: My personal incentive system. STAR stands for Students Thinking & Acting Responsibly. I made them through VistaPrint. But again, I just don’t use them enough. I like to hand them out to students when they are on task and so many other students aren’t. It is a little overkill with the grade level system.  I am only still using them because I have so many left. But I do need to find a way to use one incentive or the other.
Stickers: The students love getting stickers when they master a skill. They keep begging me to buy scratch and sniff stickers, but they are expensive to give daily for homework.
Candy: I dislike eating in my classroom and try to avoid it at all costs. I also am not made of money and don’t want to buy candy all of the time.

I loved the student who said if you don’t do homework you need a punishment of some type, like a name on the board or something.  I do like the idea of if they have it all week, maybe they get something.  I have no idea what though. A lot of the Algebra students talked about high school placement, that’s only because we’ve been talking about it and we discussed what an Honors student looked like.  It’s on their minds I guess.

Overall – They really aren’t completely motivated by points, which is good, but I do need to find a way to work something in.  Years ago I did a chart for each class and they would put an sticker (again with the stickers) on the days they had their homework. It was a great visual to see who had it and who didn’t. I have also tried if everyone has their homework the class earns a tally mark, the period with the most tallies at end of week, month, etc. would win a popcorn party. I keep trying things and they don’t stick, I think because everything is too hard to keep up as the year goes on. Plus with the 42 or so minutes I have for class, I dislike spending too much time checking homework.

I guess I have a lot to think about.  Suggestions are welcome.  I want to figure this out so I can come back in January with a solid plan and actually carry it out.