Monday, May 24, 2010

Creativity and Homework

With permission of the author I quote an email from the National Science Teachers Association physics list. There has been quite a debate there about the value of homework. In our one to one district there is also a lot of debate about the value of homework. A laptop environment can render completely useless anything that is copyable. There is no hurdle to it at all. For a while in my physics class CAPA and WebAssign helped, and they still are great tools for kids interested in learning and collaborating, but many kids now cheat on these too. The Internet is filled with answers.

I've personally fought the battle regarding homework, and here's my ultimate conclusion:

Homework should be a creative product. Yes, it should allow students to practice concepts taught in class, allow students to do work outside of the constraints of class time, and it should NOT be copyable. In physics, this can be a challenging task, where standard problem-solving is the norm.

I'm lucky in that I teach a primarily conceptual class. Still, here are some of the things I've done...

1) Photograph (or find online) a picture of an interesting atmospheric phenomenon involving optics. I provide a rubric in which I require students to elaborate on how the electromagnetic spectrum, diffraction, refraction, reflection, dispersion, etc. Then I can display this student work in the hallways for other potential students to see!

2) Create a "story book" involving simple linear displacement, constant velocity, and constant acceleration. Students represent their story (5 or more motions) through pictures, x-t graphs, v-t graphs, a-t graphs, and dot plots (vectors). Students LOVED this assignment.

3) When it comes to doing traditional problems, I have students practice 5 questions or so (I do not grade this), and then I require them to write their own problems, or even to administer them to another student. This is great, because students must confront issues like "What is a reasonable mass or weight of an elephant?"

With all of these approaches, I've NEVER had a student cheat off of another. Students feel like the homework is worthwhile. I don't assign a lot of homework, but when I assign it, I try to make it reasonable and relevant.

I quote this email in entirety because I agree so much with what the author has to say. I will add two reflections to hers.

First, I think that teachers from all disciplines could help make these assignments for each other. In fact I think in all subject areas it requires dialog outside of your department to come up with these. People not in your area will force you to be creative with how you express yourself, and assignment making is one of the ways teachers express themselves. My first year of teaching I was grading a boring assignment in the lounge and I was exhausted by it. A veteran teacher looked over at me and said, "Boring assignments make boring grading." First I thought ouch. Then I thought true.

Second, I learned at MACUL a few year ago the 80-20 rule: 80 percent of the work on a project is the last 20 percent of the presentation. In the film industry once the actors are all filmed, the real work begins, even though 80 percent of what is seen in the movies is on film. The lesson in this for teachers was that since for the most part we are looking for the 80 percent, do not expect the 20. The content and the analysis and the creative direction are what is important to us, not that every i is dotted. My observation here is that if you ask for the 80 percent a lot of kids will give you the 20 percent for free on their own time, because they love the assignment. You can call that homework I guess, but if you require it then it will not get done as well.

Posted via email from Jim's posterous

No comments: