To homework or not to homework!

That is the question?! The famous homework topic, conversation and should students have them or not!

I was one of those teacher that always believe that 15 to 30 minutes of high school math was

“expected”! I would actually tell students and parents about that expectation. I’m writing this now and the hair (what is left!) on my neck is raising! But, to my defense and probably for some of you guys who still believe in that expectation, that is “how it was” when I went to school!

Until I started to read and research about the effects of homework! I did some researches about the benefits of homework (I found 10 times more articles/research about the negative effects of homework instead!) I don’t remember which one got me thinking about my practice but I sure remember when my own kids started to get homework! After reading a lot of articles and looking at documentary and YouTube videos about that subject. More resources link below. 

I decided one year to change my practice to NO HOMEWORK but you must work during class! The only time they would get homework would be when a student didn’t work during class. To be honest, it was difficult to manage at first. Because, the famous “Telephone Game” effect occurred! You remember the one you played during pre-school and laughs when the last person told the teacher what they got as a message! We know that after the third person, the message got skewed! So, the same thing happen when I told the students about no homework. They heard, that in my class we don’t do any work! After some tweaking and lots of clarification the students got it. It didn’t take too long to have it work. 

At the first parents teachers interview! “Why is my child not coming home with some math homework?”, “Are you covering the curriculum?”, “Is my child lying to me?”, “How can you do this?”, … Yes, even got some phone calls. Even got some requesting homework! WHAT? WHY? At first I told them about my approach and most parents got it but some where not supportive and questions my methods. But, not knowing, a parent at the same parents/teachers interview, told me my soon philosophy to use for the skeptical! The line is: “… is struggling in math but I can’t help my child because I wasn’t good in math or with any numbers as a matter of fact.” First, what? You believe because you struggle in math, therefore your child will struggle in math! Sorry, their isn’t a math gene in our DNA! Anyways, I stop and ask the parent to repeat that line. But, I wrote down, “I can’t help my child with math homework”. My brain went on over drive with that. Another parent sat down and question my methods. Perfect! Before explaining and defending my “no homework” practice. I ask, I just wanted to check if you are a math teacher or have access to one in the evening? “No!” Ah, Ok. So what if I told you that my believe is that your child has all the support they need when they are in my classroom or in the school. Instead of trying at home and get frustrated or practice and develop a bad habit for solving the math problem at home. Even worst stop trying and believe they are not good in math because of DNA! (no I didn’t say the last part but taught about it!)

I much prefer that your child spend time being a child at home and play outside, spend time reading for pleasure, participate in an after school program or get good quality family time. OMG! BINGO! I even surprise myself when I said it! The parent sat back in the chair and said: “OMG! That is the best thing I have ever heard from a teacher!” So, I told him to please write this to my principal! No, but I wanted too! That night, after testing that little blur. I use it with all my parents, believers or skeptical and it was a Success. So, from then on, I always use it. Never had a problem!

That is my story and my philosophy about homework. But, what about resources to back up this? Here are some resources that I found about homework:

January 27, 2018 – Very recent and must read for teachers: THE MOST FRUSTRATING THINGS ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL (ACCORDING TO STUDENTS)

Stanford research shows pitfalls of homework A Stanford researcher found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance and even alienation from society. More than two hours of homework a night may be counterproductive, according to the study.

This kind of busy work, by its very nature, discourages learning and instead promotes doing homework simply to get points,” Pope said.

The Truth About Homework Stress: What Parents & Students Need to Know and TEACHERS! Also, great resources in that article, books, …

When homework stresses parents as well as students
Read more about homework on Motherlode: Homework and Consequences; The Mechanics of Homework; That’s Your Child’s Homework Project, Not Yours and Homework’s Emotional Toll on Students and Families.

This is why I’m against… homework  We are all busier these days. Quality time is at a premium. Let’s get rid of the homework and build in more family activity time, writes Eric Nolan.

Hope this help and hopefully for those who still give homework, this will start the process of maybe it is time to review why are you still giving homework. If you are one of those who believe or use the excuse that you don’t have enough time during class to cover everything. Or, you need to use the entire class time to explain your concepts, please check my Part 1 and Part 2 of Talk like TED post.

TED Talk vs Teaching Part 2

How to try that? Is it possible? Is it manageable? As mention in the previous post, we condense the curriculum outcomes as much as we could. In other words, we reduce the amount of time spend on certain curriculum outcome. Like factoring trinomials,

instead of doing 20 examples on the board and every iteration possible. We did a quick review of maybe the top 4 different scenarios. Mind you that they started to learn this process in grade 9! Then we went on and tried to reduce other concepts. Instead of doing all the possible ways that could be asked about solving an equation, we showed them the major way in order to solve the majority of them. Then they would go to work. So to clarify this, we didn’t do all the examples on the board. We left the easy iteration ones out in order to leave them with a little “connecting the dots” we called it! So that students could figure it out on their own. For those who struggle what did we do? As mention in the previous post, the students who struggle started asking questions when we were circulating in the classroom. Or, they would physically move to the designated area of the classroom for extra help. That is a place to work with other students or that we would show those missing examples and review the concept.

To our surprise, we realize that we assume way too much for the students. We assume that all of them needed over 20 examples on the board and that they needed to see all the possible iteration of the concept. We assume that students would struggle with some concepts so we took a lot of time presenting. I remember teaching for almost an entire class! Which left not much time for students to “Do the Math”! After the cutback, we notice that student was making better connections or connecting the dots. Why? Because they were doing it and not us. They were connecting the dots in their own way. Which is better for understanding and mastery. Remember the old saying and still applicable today: “If you understand it, you can teach it to your younger sibling!”

Now, does it always work at 100% Absolutely NOT! Some concept is very difficult to understand mind you mastering them. So, we needed to spend more time on examples but we always tried to leave enough time during the class so that students could try a few questions. We would start the next class with time to finish the questions with us.

Then, I got interested in the “FlipClassroom“! Amazing concept and very useful. In today’s world, a lot of people consume information through video platform. They are a variety of ways to do this. I choose to create video tutorials. The student would come to class and take a Chromebook.


Then they would go to a specific link to watch it and try the example along the video. I used PlayPosit to achieve this. See the picture, that is how it looks in my class for that day. The best comment that I ever got for this platform is one of my struggling students said: “Thank you Mr. T for this, I can go at my own pace.” WOW! Another thing that we sometimes forget. “My own pace”! Some need more time.

As a group of math teachers, we realize a few things with this approach. We assume too much before actually seeing the students. We did most of the connecting the dot for them. Which didn’t help them in the long run. We really enjoyed the effect that we didn’t expect. The struggling students started to ask more questions! Win-Win in my book!
Give it a try!


Link to the previous post, part 1.

TED Talk vs Teaching/Teacher Part 1

I was reading “Talk Like TED” by Carmine Gallo during the summer break. Very interesting book to read and so much great tips for presenting in front of an audience!

First, let us talk about what is a TED talk. I’m assuming that you

have been hiding for a very long time and never heard of TED – Ideas Worth Spreading. So, it is a gathering of great people that share their knowledge of a subject. Or best description is by Oprah Winfrey: “TED is where brilliant people go to hear other brilliant people share their ideas.” There are multiple presenters throughout the day sharing their passions on a stage. The topics vary a lot from researches, discoveries, passion, motivation, … But, all are restraint to 18 minutes! That is the key that got me thinking this summer. 18 minutes. Yeah, 18 minutes to convey their message, their finding, their passion, … Get this, by the time they are done their 18 minutes, everyone in the audience gets it! WOW! Go see for your self, click here. Choose a topic that you like and dedicate 18 minutes of your time. Guarantee you will be blown away. That is assuming you like to learn!

Second, is what is that got to do with “teaching”/”teacher”? You might ask. Well, the burning question that I had a long reading that book was: How? can they stand in front of an audience with different background and deliver such a powerful presentation. That is all done under 18 minutes! The presenter has delivered their message/presentation and everyone understood or got a very clear representation. Amazing and interesting concept. I won’t go in details of the 18 minutes research and data. But, if you read Carmine Gallo book, he does an excellent job about it.

Let us get to the point, shall we? HOW? Well, the TED organization are very good at helping the presenters before they get on stage. So much so, that they can and so is Carmine, able to take a presenter who may have done a keynote of 1 or 2 hours and condense it into the magic 18 minutes. Which made me think of Twitter! They can work with a presenter up to a year before they step on stage. So imagine the iteration that got done in a year! Ok, we get it GT, it is 18 minutes.

What is that got to do with “teaching”? First, let me tell you an experience or more like something we did without realizing it. We, meaning three math teachers at my school. Once upon a time, we had an overcharge curriculum to teach. It was the Math 30 Pure (grade 12 math) at the time. We or more like every math teacher in Alberta complaint about not having enough time to teach all the curriculum outcomes so that students could master them. We decided to sit down and look at the curriculum and condense it as much as we could. We did such a good job at it that we save 12 days at the end of the semester to do a review. Whoopy you might think, and you might say “your point is”? Well, before doing this, we were lucky to get 2 days of review. If you are a math teacher, you are probably thinking that the students probably didn’t do too well. You might be right to think that. But just to make sure we didn’t cut any outcome. We did cover the same curriculum and all the outcomes. We were afraid that the student would struggle and not do so well. But, to our surprise and very happy about it. The students actually did better! Yeah, better than the previous years. In my case, it was 12% higher than normal. WOW! From then on, we decided to keep doing this and my average stayed in that range. Note, we are teaching at the high school level.

Without knowing it at the time and reading the book this summer. We kind of did the TED concept which condenses the material. So, what if we as the teacher tried to condense our presentation in front of the class? What if, we actually limit our teaching to 18 minutes or less? What would happen? Would more student be left out? Would the student understand less? Well, I tried it and use it every day in my classes! Ever heard of another similar concept, 20-80! Have you ever heard of, you learn better by doing than listening! Disclaimer, I’m not better than anybody else. I have learned many years ago and adopted that 20-80 concept. I spend 20% of the time presenting and 80% of the time helping students that are struggling. Which also gives them plenty of time to try the concepts. Some concepts are so easy that 100% of the students get it after presenting for 20% of the class time. That happens more often then I expect. Which brings me to another topic that I will post a few blogs about. HOMEWORK! I will say it now, I don’t believe in homework (I will explain this in a future post, so please bear with me in the meantime!)

At this point, some are probably asking or being skeptical about this process. Or, wondering how in the world can you teach the Quadratic Formula within 20% of a normal class time! Let’s get something straight and honest here. Some concepts may require more than that 20%. True to that! But, what I have learned is that I was assuming knowledge or lack off before even teaching the concept to my student. Huh! Yeah, I bet you that you assume your students will struggle with a concept (and nothing wrong with that by the way because you probably have a lot of teaching experience with that concept) But, hear me out. The day I decided to shorten my examples on the board was the day, I realize that some students don’t need me in front of the class doing 20 different examples on the board. Best part, the students who are struggling, started to ask questions! What? Because they are not afraid to ask a question when the teacher comes by them while circulating around the classroom! Meaning, that they would not dare ask a question in front of the entire class or after 20+ examples. But, they will if you are circulating around the classroom or even you have set up a place in the classroom for “consultation”. Also, since you still have 80% of the class time left! Students have plenty of time to finish the work and go home to do other important things that a family wants to do.

So for me, the 18 minutes of TED really work and so far it works for my students. Try it and see! The worst thing that could happen, is that you will need to teach longer!

In my next Post, I will share how we did it. In the meantime, what do you think about this approach of limiting your presentation?