Curious Homework

Yes I know – it is a disputed topic.  And I am not going to list the rights and wrongs of it here.  (I will save that for another day!)

Instead I would like to share a new idea I have started this term.  But first I will give you a bit of a background of the evolution of my homework.

Fresh from University I remember hearing positives and negatives from homework instantly.  There is too much.  There is not enough.  It is too hard.  It is too easy.  What does it have to do with what the students are learning?    Why haven’t you marked it? I am sure you too have heard it all.

So like a fresh graduate I tried to do it all.  Personalised and levelled homework, set especially for the needs of individual students, which I would read through and write feedback for each week.

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Drowning under a mountain of paper by net_efekt @Flickr

It didn’t take me long and I realised I couldn’t keep up.  My classroom teaching was falling victim to me organising homework.  So I started to set open ended tasks each week, which would be based on work we had covered.  Better? – yes.

Then I wanted to give students more ownership in their homework.  Hence came the grid with a range of ‘activities’ students could do, usually based around an inquiry unit we were doing.  I even extended it to include a presentation to the class.

Now this year it has started to take some more changes.  Still using the grid with a list of activities, I used this to help students reflect on how the learn for our term 1 inquiry topic, how do I learn best?

Students could pick from a range of tasks based around the multiple intelligences but they also had to reflect on them.  When it came to the presentation students would discuss why they chose the music tasks first, whether it was to get it out of the way or because they new it would be shorter.  They would discuss how some tasks were harder than others or if they need help with some and not others.  The students were all reflecting on how they learnt and realised that sometimes we had to work hard and other times things came really easy.

Finally I thought.  I am onto a winner here!  But still by the time it got to the end of the term only half the students had completed the expected homework or remembered to bring it back to school.

So this term I put it back to the kids.  I shared with the kids the issues I had from the previous term and asked them what we could do to have more students completing homework.   I asked the students who had never returned homework, what stopped them from doing so.

Now you might be expecting me to give you all of these great answers but actually I don’t have any.  If anything I realised that kids do or choose not to do homework for a plethora of reasons.

But I did discover something.  Kids are curious.  Well, actually I already knew that but just hadn’t applied it to homework.  I also realised they wanted a bit more freedom.  And they wanted the opportunity to learn ‘weird stuff!’

So this term we have a set of questions students are endeavouring to answer in their homework.  There are 15 in total, with the opportunity to make up your own. And even the types of questions vary:

What is magic?

Who is the best superhero?

What is radiation?

What are the affects of uncovered food?

How do people in different professions use mathematics in their lives?

Are certain foods better eaten together?

Does the Internet make learning easier?

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The kids can take any angle they like with these and present them in any way.  And boy, they are keen.  On the first week of school we had 90% of students return their homework.  The day after I shared the question I had a reluctant ‘homeworker’ deliver his report on what radiation is. On presentation day we had magic tricks, surveys, PowerPoint presentations, artwork, animations, photography and some great discussions.

Will it change again next term?  Probably!  But it is nice to see the kids more empowered by their homework and wanting to learn.

Check out the Homework Grid


Random Wall of Questions

Quite often in our class the kids will ask me questions.  Especially questions I have no idea of the answer.  And I think that is great.

But what used to happen is I would say the standard response of, “Mmmm.  I am not sure.  Interesting.  Maybe we could investigate this.”  And of course never find time to come back to it.

So a few weeks ago we started to wonder what happens to all those random questions.  Do they get answered?  Or do they just stay floating around?  Did we think we would be better people if we were more dedicated to answering our random questions?

Random? I hear you say.  Things like;

  • Where does the word Pyjamas come from?
  • Why do leaves fall off trees?
  • Is water alive?

So we decided it was time to start respecting these questions some more.

ENTER RANDOM WALL OF QUESTIONS

So how does it work?

  1. Students think of random question and writes it in a cloud on the wall.
  2. Students and teachers walk past the wall and ponder the question.
  3. The wrench is added to the wall to suggest ways we could find out the answer to the question.
  4. When an answer is found it is written on a brick to be added to our wall.

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What are some of the questions the kids have come up with?

  1. How much wind speed would it take to fell a tree?
  2. Why do watermelon have two different coloured seeds?
  3. How do I sleep?
  4. What would it be like if there was an extra letter in the alphabet?
  5. What does the ‘san’ mean at the end of a person’s name in Japanese

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So now we are looking forward to answering some of the puzzling questions.