I normally only post nerdy ideas regarding chemistry teaching, tech hacks, and a myriad of other random things related to STEM education. However, after reading the recent debates regarding the efficacy and appropriattness of homework online this past week, I feel a need to comment. Before I begin, I'm just going to out myself directly and say I DO assign homework. I assign homework after every class period. I enjoy incorporating homework into my practice and find it meaningful, for my practice. With that said, this post is meant to be a response to the superlative and polarizing conversation I am observing regarding homework. More importantly, the oversimplification of a very nuanced pedagogical strategy. Below are my thoughts regarding the major arguments against homework I have read.
Argument 1: Equity at home.
Argument 2: Use of classroom time.
Argument 3: Students stress.
Argument 4: Student passion. Student play.
For me, homework is a complex and controversial aspect of our vocation because of the reasons (and many more) stated above. With that said, I also firmly believe, that well intentioned, growing, and passionate teachers, understand their discipline, environmental context and most importantly, students, well enough to see the homework debate as a spectrum, one that has some good points to make, and one that does not. For me, I am not a fan of anything that uses superlative statement in a career that is so nuanced. Students aren't electrons or plants. Neither are teachers. That's what makes the social sciences so great! We can plan, and research, and grow, but in the end, our relationships with our students will guide the decisions we make. Teaching is an art. I alluded to assessment above, and I think that is one feature of teaching that should be incorporated into all conversations about homework. Keeping that in mind, and the knowledge that I AM JUST ONE TEACHER among millions, I want to share my homework strategy, because this is my blog, where I share ideas :).
As a chemistry teacher, I assign a problem set from our book for homework over the course of one learning cycle (usually about two weeks).. Usually about 30 problems. We use our time in class for negotiating lab phenomena, asking and answering conceptual questions. We also use our class time for negotiating and working together on VERY difficult problems. When a two week "learning cycle" is over, students take a quiz. The quiz looks very similar to the problems from the practice set and the phenomena discussed in class. I DO NOT GRADE HOMEWORK. However, the students work through it because it helps them prepare for the assessment. I give traditional assessment because I believe in the skills it builds in students, and for that reason, all of our questions are short answer, and ask students to think critically through situations. This is true for my AP AND non-AP sections.
When that is all said and done, students write a blog post where they reflect on the homework problems, those they understand and didn't, the labs in class, and the quiz. Click here to see my students's blogs. In addition to the quiz, this blog is the only other thing I grade. I care about their reflection, not checking off their "reps". This process, I feel, models what we want from our students. We want them to develop a Growth Mindset. We want them to reflect. We want them to publish their work and be strong digital citizens. All of these things can't be reserved forthe 50 minutes that I have them in class. Homework is a simple term, for a complex phenomena, and is just one facet of the vocation. I challenge all of my colleagues to respect the art of teaching, as deep attention to that, will create a culture of meaningful work, some which will naturally seep outside of the regularly scheduled classroom time. That's just MY opinion. Thanks for reading :).
Experimenting this year with very organized student blogging. With respect to assessment, at the conclusion of every learning cycle students take a quiz and then produce a "cycle blog" where they discuss what they did during that cycle include pictures and videos of their activities and reflect on what they understood and didn't understand on both summative and formative assessments.
This blog will take the place of any formal lab reporting (except in AP chemistry where students will still be required to produce lab reportsa) and also will take the place of formally checking off homework as students will be required to reflect on their learning.required to reflect on their learning. Thus, with respect to summative assessments, the year will be filled with rotations of quiz then blog, quiz then blog, quiz then blog. I really struggle with assessment, and I'm hopeful that the structure will both make grading more organized and meaningful for students, and help me keep track of what students are lacking with respect to skills and reflection.
Below is a screenshot of the instruction students received tonight as they work on their first blog post of the year.
For the past two years I have been leveraging the "Explore-Flip-Apply" learning cycle framework in my chemistry class. I love this framework as it simultaneously merges two important facets of instructional design: 1) Lecture is delayed while student curiosity is cultivated and misconceptions are harvested and 2) when lecture does appear, it is removed from the classroom, reserving the "community" learning space for higher order skills and deeper levels of rigor.
After facilitating a number of NGSS trainings this past school year I found myself reflecting on the BSCS 5E Learning Cycle that the standards promote as an instructional process in the context of the NGSS Science Practices.
This cycle, and the myriad of other learning cycles designed to facilitate inquiry, although present different vocabulary and quantifiable structures, all can be boiled down to three phases: Phase 1) Student Exploration; Phase 2) Content Explanation; Phase 3) Content Application.
All the learning cycle structures mentioned above are grounded in a timeless (technology transcending) system designed to motivate students to seek information. Such structures seek to, as J.J. Abrahams says: "...intentionally withhold information" in order to create a sense of engagement in the context of a quest to fill a specific, salient, information gap. It comes as no surprise that this quote comes from a writer and producer. Indeed, if one investigates the Joseph's Campbell's "Hero's Journey", a structure that many books and films are based on, you will find striking similarities between it and the typical learning cycle. I have written and spoken about this overlap a number of times. Click here and here for samples.
In an effort to better articulate my lesson planning process, both personally, and for colleagues, I am planning on using a new template that intentionally leverages language from the Hero's Journey. Click here for the beginnings of that work in my AP Chemistry class. Of course, I will never share this process with my students, as my job is to set up the conditions where they, the Hero's, will shine. I am a big fan of lesson planning templates as they help anchor me into a chosen pedagogy (inquiry based learning/delayed direct instruction) that I believe deeply in. Below is an outline of the structure I plan on using for the 2015-2016 school year. Note, the below cycle is merely an outline, and does not include specifics about formative assessment benchmarks or lesson specifics.
Phase 1: The Call to Adventure (~ 15 minutes)
A situation is presented designed to spark questioning about "Topic X".
Phase 2: Entering the Unknown (~45 minutes)
A guided challenge is assigned requiring student to seek answers to their questions about "Topic X".
Phase 3: Meeting the Mentor (~10 minutes)
A tailored lecture is presented where additional information and tools related to "Topic X" are given.
Phase 4: Transformation (~50 minutes)
A new challenge task is presented which requires student to apply understanding of "Topic X" to a new scenario.
Phase 5: Mastery (~ 50 minutes)
A content/skills assessment, private mentor reflection and individual public reflection re: "Topic X" is assigned.
Spring semester grades are due tomorrow. Along with a grade (A,B,C,D,F) we must provide a "comment" for each student. Comments provide students and parents with some qualitative information regarding student behavior, performance, etc. Although a fabulous idea, given the 100+ students I must provide a grade and comment for, I always find myself doing one of two things: Either 1) writing WAY too much for each student, and thus frustrating our admin with the need to produce an extra long report card for that student or 2) fizzling out at student ~ 24 and providing a stock comment for the strong student and a stock comment for students that need improvement. Below is one such example:
Frustrated with the cognitive dissonance that exists in spending the entire year committed to motivating students to ask questions, negotiate complexity and develop a love for the inquiry process, while simultaneously being required to judge my students with one letter and a one paragraph comment, I decided to "hack" the system a bit. In lieu of providing one comment for each student, I wrote one letter to all of my students, and then provided a link to the letter in the comment box. See screenshot below:
Although each student will receive the same letter, I was able to take the time necessary to clearly write a reflection that used chemistry as a window to impart a few words of advice as their journey continues. In an ideal world, and hopefully in years to come, I will be able to write a tailored letter for each student, in the context of our current system, I feel this letter is a good start. The letter is embedded below for you to read. In addition to the below letter, I had direct conversations with students and parents that needed a more personal touch, both positive and negative. I am hopeful that this combination of a grade, thoughtful letter, and individual conversations, will add more meaning to a process that often inhibits meaningful learning in my classroom practice.
Just sent this message to my students via a Schoology update the night before quarter 3 grades come out. I am not normally this agro about assessment, but my fingers just couldn't stop writing. I thought I would share:
FULL DISCOLSURE: While I understand the importance of grades in applying to college, and with your parents, I fully believe that grades are the enemy of true engagement with beautiful phenomena such as Chemistry. I L O V E my "job" and find awarding one of basically three letters (A,B or C) to you, you amazing, diverse, beautiful, people, who deserve paragraphs and paragraphs devoted to your names, is extremely counterintuitive and offensive. You are more than an "A" or a "B" and if there is one thing I have learned on my quest to live a life where I L O V E my vocation, it is that we all carry genius with us...and we are all on a journey to find that genius...where it hides, and what feeds it. I feel grading you is plain offensive. At least the way we do it...I have done it. Perhaps that means I have yet to figure out a way to make it meaningful...and I'm on the that journey. But, here we are, and we have to do it...and maybe thats why I try to put so much into each class...to fight the system, and make you forget, maybe for a split second, that an institution is awarding a letter to your name...to describe the beauty of you. Ok, done ranting. #teammusallam