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What about homework?
Posted by Diane Davis on May 25, 2019 at 9:26 pmI have used some 3 Act Tasks to generate deeper thinking and interest in problem solving. I am wanting to use tasks and activities to actually introduce concepts (like ratios for example). I understand that I want the students to do their own thinking first, then I choose certain solutions to highlight. So after all that is done the kids have seen some new tools (maybe a ratio table or double number line was introduced), what do the kiddos do for homework? Do I ever say “I want you to practice this tool on these four problems for homework”?
Kyle Pearce replied 3 years, 9 months ago 9 Members · 8 Replies 
8 Replies

I believe there are times you need to assign homework, but the homework should be of practice, not deep level thinking questions. I turn to John Hattie’s work from Visible Learning in mathematics where he uses effect sizes to measure weather an activity has a value of learning that you would want to use it. He uses 0.4 as his cut off that anything less and 0.4 is not worth your time doing as it will not have the effect that you would like it to have. The effect size for elementary is 0.1, middle school is 0.3, but high school is 0.55. I like to keep the homework short because you have to check it the next day which I want to be quick when I do assign homework.

The homework doesn’t have to be additional practice. It can be related to the actual task or other applications. Using your example of ratios, the homework may be to find ratios at home or bring a recipe to use the next class. I love using baking to teach ratios.

There are a myriad of thoughts on this topic. I’ll list a few teachers and reasearchers thoughts on practice and homework below then follow up with my thoughts.
As Shawn mentioned above, John Hattie does suggest homework for highschoolers.
Dr. Peter Liljedal suggested after the open task, having the students do 46 problems independently to practice the new skill, though I’m not aware of his stance on homework.
Dr. Jo Boaler suggests that homework should typically be a reflection on the math lesson (reflections greatly serve to reinforce learning) and/or maybe an inquiry project (i.e. having the student look around their house and see if they can connect things in their life to the math less) to quote Dr. Boaler from her book “Mathematical Mindsets” :
“Homework should be given only if the homework task is worthwhile and draws upon the opportunity for reflection or active investigation around the home. If homework was used in this way, and we removed the pages of mindless practice that are sent home daily, we would enable millions of students to use their time more productively, reduce stress, and take a giant step in promoting more equitable schools.”
Dr. Boaler also points out that assigning homework is a matter of equity, as some students have home lives that make it very difficult to get homework done, and so by assigning homework you are effectively providing opportunities for some students but not all, for this reason she is against assigning homework, but suggests the above if you aren’t ready or unable to not give homework.
Dan Meyer, the creator of 3act math, was also against giving homework. To paraphrase his logic, he said that his students practice a given formula or idea 2030 times before they leave his class, so he saw no need, though when his school switched to block scheduling so he saw the students every other day, he resorted to assigning one problem for homework just to keep the concept fresh in students minds.
In his book Necessary Conditions (which is kind of a handbook for putting together an inquiry based classroom) Geoff Krall suggests that homework or no homework can work either way, the key is to “make homework work for your student, not the other way around.”
From the reading I’ve done, it’s clear to be that there isn’t a clear cut answer to the question of homework, as all sides I think have solid arguments. It seems clear to me though, that if you do assign homework, keep it short, like what Shawn said he does. If you don’t assign homework, make sure the students are getting plenty of opportunities to work with and wrestle with the concepts.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this question because I’m going to start teaching in the fall. I’m currently leaning towards a simple reflection and an open math question or inquiry task. Something like “what are some areas you find ratios around the house?” or “Create a problem that uses a ratio, and then solve it.”
The principle of an inquiry based classroom is that students should be able to explore, create and try their ideas. Assigning loads of drill type problems is counter to that philosophy, as it suggests reinforces the idea that math is more about finding answers than the journey to those answers. On the other hand students need to master these ideas, both to move deeper in their exploration of math and to satisfy the standards. My thinking is currently that class should provide enough opportunity to practice the ideas that homework becomes about enrichment and playing with an idea more, and less about mastering the idea, as is the traditional purpose of homework.
I’m not 100% satisfied with my stance right now, but I think I’m just going to have to try it out and refine from there.
I’d love to hear what everyone else’s opinions are.
Sorry for the long response, as I said, this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

Great summary George!
I’ve also done a ton of thinking on this too.
One technique I employ in my high school classes, which I learned from Henri Picciotto, is called Lagged Homework. The idea is built on spaced practice instead of massed practice. For example on tonight’s homework assignment there are a few questions on today’s learning and a few other problems on past learning (a week ago, a month ago). You can read more from Henri here in an article on more than just homework.
We also bring up the idea of lagged homework in our Getting Started Guide To Spiralling mini course in the Growth Lab.


I appreciate that synopsis of views. I have been shifting what I do in class, but not so much what I do for homework. Very interesting. I’ve ordered the Krall book–looking forward to it.

This year I tried something new for me. I would give students practice problems in class by way of a worksheet of some kind. I never collected it, but I did give them access to the answers if they wanted them. The next day, to start class, I would give them a short quiz on the content of the worksheet. They had the ability to do the full worksheet if they needed the extra practice, or not do it if they didn’t need it.
I have mixed feelings about the success of this. For some students it was great, they understood the concept quickly and didn’t need to spend time practicing. For other students, they really needed the practice, but didn’t do it because they knew it wouldn’t be graded, they never fully connected that it was graded by grading the quiz!
With the quizzes, they often took a big chunk of class time. I think I need to make them shorter. I’m really not sure. I just know that I don’t like assigning long sets of practice!

For many years I used to give homework….maybe 56 problems. When my daughter was in 3rd grade she struggled to make sense of math. Evenings were spent butting heads…it was a battle between her exhaustion (7 hours of school plus homework time is a lot for a 10yr old), my inability to do it right (that’s not how we’re supposed to do it, mom). After that, I stopped giving homework and haven’t looked back sense. A whole new perspective is brought to homework giving when you have first hand experience with a child who struggles……that is a reality for many of the kids in our classrooms.

Great point, Licia!
I think homework must only be limited to tasks that actually help students practice things they CAN do (not new or extension concepts that they have to figure out on their own – or with their parents).
A great idea for elementary grades is having students go home to TEACH their parents how they solve certain types of problems. Again, they must be at the level of readiness where they aren’t still figuring it out, but rather trying to deepen their understanding.
