Thursday, March 2, 2017

What happened when one school banned homework — and asked kids to read and play instead



Mark Trifilio, principal of the public pre-K-5th grade Orchard School in Vermont, sat down with the school’s 40 educators last summer to discuss the soon-to-start new school year and homework — how much kids were getting and whether it was helping them learn.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Scaffolding word problems



Word problems...ugh.

Of course we all know the trope: students can't do them, students hate them, blah, blah, blah.

Today I had a couple of very sincere teachers asking me how to help some of their students who are struggling with word problems. I did my best, but really I was just doing a bunch of hand waving and using big words like "pedagogy", "schema", and "comprehension". The truth is I wasn't entirely sure how to scaffold word problems for struggling students.

 I perused my Google Drive looking for ideas and found these gems, so I thought I'd share them.
Click to view the Google doc

The 8-Step process for drawing the bar model for word problems

I got this many years ago at a Singapore Math training and often find myself reciting it as a mantra while I'm trying to solve a word problem. Interestingly, the same 8 steps are mentioned in Eureka Math Grade 1 Module 6 Lesson 1.

The 8-Steps of  Model Drawing 
1. Read the entire problem.
2. Turn the question into a sentence with a space for the answer.
3. Determine who and what is involved in the problem.
4. Draw unit bars of equal length.
5. Re-read each sentence one at a time and revise the bar(s).
6. Put the question mark in place.
7. Work computations to the side.
8. Write down your answer to the problem.

Step 2 is really important because it verifies early in the problem-solving process whether the student even understands what he is trying to find.

Step 4 is surprisingly important. By starting with bars that are of equal length, the act of modifying the bars in Step 5 provides clues as to what kinds of math will be used to solve the problem. Resist the common urge to skip Step 4 and jump straight to creating the drawing! Once the model is accurately drawn, the necessary calculations practically leap off the page.
Click to view
How would this look for a 2nd grade problem? Check it out...
Brienne has 23 fewer pennies than Alonzo. Alonzo has 45 pennies. How many pennies do Alonzo and Brienne have altogether?



Click to view

A graphic organizer

Long ago I was given a graphic organizer that accompanies the 8-steps. I modified it so that teachers can give the struggling student a sheet for each problem to be solved. The problem goes at the top and then there are work spaces provided along with the 8 steps explicitly listed along side.

What I've learned

Far more important than the calculations is the model drawing. Spend far more time with your struggling students on the model drawing, since it is far more important than the actual calculations. Once the model is drawn, some students will use subtraction to solve the problem, while other students will solve the exact same problem using addition. Using the drawn model to understand the problem is far more profound than simply teaching students to look for key words.

In a nutshell:
Key words? Not good enough.
Drawing a model? Good!
.
.
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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rethinking Homework

If you are a mathematics instructional coach then I can't express enough how important it is that you join National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM). A benefit of membership in this fine organization is the Marshall Memo, which is a "weekly round-up of important ideas and research in K-12 education. This alone is worth the cost of membership!

Today in the Marshall Memo is a wonderful summary of an ASCD article about homework. Before you read the summary, please do two things:
1. Join NCSM
2. Join ASCD

Now, read on...
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(Originally titled “Does Homework Help?”)

In this Education Update article, Alexandria Neason reviews the research on the impact of homework, which is decidedly mixed. One study showed a correlation between completing homework and better scores on unit tests, but the link was weaker in elementary schools. Other studies found no strong evidence of homework leading to higher grades. “We still can’t prove it’s effective,” said education professor Cathy Vatterott, author of a 2009 book on homework. “The research is flawed and idiosyncratic.”

What’s indisputable is that lower-income students find homework a challenge, and not completing homework has a disproportionate impact on their grades. Myron Dueck, a Canadian school leader and author, says one of the most serious effects of homework is “the exacerbation of social and economic inequities that already exist.” Students who are struggling with food insecurity, unstable housing, noisy and distracting home environments, inadequate computer access, after-school jobs or child care, and the normal challenges of adolescence often find homework too much to handle. And indeed, studies of high-school dropouts cite homework as one of the top reasons for throwing in the towel.

Given this gap-widening effect (“We are basically punishing them for their poverty,” says Vatterott) what should schools do? Neason summarizes some possible policy tweaks:

• Beef up the rigor and engagement of in-school lessons so that missing homework takes less of a toll on achievement. One district made a point of including music and sensory objects in heavily scaffolded lessons.

• Give students opportunities to complete homework in school with a conducive study environment and good computer access.

• Use homework to reinforce already-mastered skills or complete assignments that were launched in class rather than introducing new material. “Homework should reinforce students’ confidence in their abilities, not shatter it,” says Neason.

• Don’t assign busywork. Each homework assignment should have a clear rationale and add value.

• Don’t assign homework that requires students to buy special materials like poster board.

• Don’t portray homework as a test of responsibility. Students may be ashamed to tell teachers about out-of-school struggles that make homework difficult for them to complete.

• Rethink the weight of homework on grades. Students might be graded on what they learn rather than on process pieces such as homework assignments. One approach is to make homework optional and check for understanding with a quick quiz the next day.

• Rethink zero-to-100 grading scales, which have a devastating effect when a student gets a zero for missed homework. A 6-5-4-3-2-1 scale mitigates this effect.

• A variation on this is limiting homework to 10 percent of students’ grades or giving a grade of incomplete with time to complete it, perhaps during lunch or recess.

• At the elementary level, eliminate homework entirely. Some elementary schools have stopped assigning homework and encourage students to play and read after school.



“Does Homework Help?” by Alexandria Neason in Education Update, January 2017 (Vol. 59, #1, p. 1, 4-5), ASCD member log-in access at http://bit.ly/2k4lvyc

Monday, January 9, 2017

Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement



People’s fear and anxiety about doing math—over and above actual math ability—can be an impediment to their math achievement.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why Kids Should Keep Using Their Fingers to do Math



Nearly all kids learn how to count using their fingers. But as kids grow older and math problems become more advanced, the act of counting on fingers is often discouraged or seen as a less intelligent way to think.

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Sunday, November 6, 2016

A school's "no homework" policy led to kids getting better grades and it's a super inspiring story



In grade school, homework was the bane of our existence. It wasn’t uncommon to glance around to see a classmate working on assignments for other classes during lectures, or to see students hard at work in the library or at the lunch table.

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Stop the Homework Insanity and Let Kids Be Kids



I have so many fond memories of my childhood. Growing up in a relatively rural area of Northwestern New Jersey sure had its benefits. As we returned home from school each day, my brothers and I would jump off the bus and diligently make our way about a half-mile back to our house.

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