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One teacher explores meaningful math homework

By Emily Viele

It's another typical day of math class: students shuffling papers, whispering, paying attention to the lesson, and then I see Eric… slyly doing his homework DURING INSTRUCTION!!!

This scene was occurring on a daily basis. Throughout the year the homework in math class was the same every day. Always from the book, always the odd numbers so they could check their answers in the back of the book. This was a source of frustration for me for many reasons. First, the homework did not seem to help students understand the concepts any better. Second, many students were not doing the homework. Third, many students would try to do their homework during the lesson, which meant they were not participating in class. I wanted to find a way to get students excited about their homework, while at the same time having it become beneficial for them.

After doing some research on homework, I found that homework becomes essential when it provides opportunities to integrate and expand school learning, reinforces independent work-study skills, involves students personally and offers a variety of learning opportunities. I decided to try out these ideas in my class for six weeks and to keep track of what happened.

My primary forms of data collection were surveys, student observations and homework completion. I surveyed the students when I first began my research and I asked them about homework in the classroom, what they liked and didn't like and what they wanted to change. Throughout the inquiry process, I observed students' reactions to homework assignments. We also discussed the homework at the beginning of each class.

When I began this study, the student completion rate for homework was 81%. When I looked at the data, it was not always the same students not turning in their work, it was a variety of students; however, the type of homework not being turned in was mainly repetitious and either from the book or a ditto.

The homework that was assigned and collected during my inquiry process had a completion rate of 96%. This homework was designed to allow students to explore math, play games and make choices. For example, one night I asked students to measure the perimeter of any 5 objects they wanted around their house using different forms of measurement. This activity helped them review perimeter and emphasized the need to have a standard form of measurement. In my notes, I wrote that they came back to class “excited to talk about what they measured” and “really engaged in their homework.” Students seemed to enjoy this assignment and I had 23 out of 24 students turned it in.

Another day, I asked students to make up story problems using mean, median, mode and range. Students were able to use real-life situations in their stories and were able to see how these math concepts relate to their lives. Students returned to the class eager to share their problems with the rest of the class.

Through this inquiry I have been able to see a difference in my students' work habits. I believe that this was a successful intervention and I plan on using varied forms of homework in the future. I believe that having students explore their thinking and the math concepts is far more beneficial for them than completing computation after computation for homework.