Why homework?

A posting of an article I wrote for my current school.

“Children are at school for a significant portion of the day – isn’t that enough?” This is a sentiment I’ve heard a ‘few’ times, and to be absolutely honest, I’ve thought it myself. There is some truth to the statement, however, we still set homework and we still expect our students to complete it. Why?

My school, like many others, has a homework policy, and we think it’s important. It’s so important that the policy is the first one after our Child Protection Policy in the Secondary Student Diary! Homework is important for three main reasons: for revision, for preparation and for homework. Before I delve into those three reasons, firstly I need to deal with what homework is not about.

Homework is not about ‘make-work’

No teacher wants to waste time by checking work that is simply designed to fill in time. The idea that homework is simply to keep our students busy should be the furthest thing from our minds. When a teacher sets homework, it is because it’s important that it gets done, not to simply do more.

Homework is not about ‘finishing what we didn’t get done in class’

Sometimes, teachers will set homework for the completion of work that should have been completed in class, however, this is usually because it was important work and the students who received it were not working efficiently in class (ie. there was a bit of mucking around going on). This should never be the reason for a whole class homework task – if it is, the teacher will be reassessing their timing and planning.

So why do we set homework?

Revision

This is the most significant reason for homework. It is important that students go over what they have learned in class that day in order to practice the skills and set the knowledge deep into their minds. In Queensland, Australia, at the end of Year 12 (Unit 4), every Year 12 student will sit an external exam for every subject they study, competing against every other student in that subject in the state. For Science and Maths subjects, this exam will cover the skills and knowledge of both Units 3 and 4 – an entire calendar year of each. There is no way to cram that in right at the end. Essentially, if there is no homework written in their diary, the expectation is that there is revision. This is the basic reason for homework.

Preparation

Sometimes it is useful to have students come to class with a background knowledge of what is going to be covered. For example, if I was about to introduce the topic of ‘improving liveability’ in my 7 Geography class, I may ask students to read a couple of pages in the text that cover the topic and answer 1 or 2 questions to provide a baseline of knowledge. In class, we will then be able to go deeper into the concepts in activities etc, rather than using precious class time simply doing content acquisition from the textbook. This kind of ‘pseudo-flipped’ class can be very powerful and leads to a deep, rather than surface, level of learning.

Assessment

In Secondary, we like assessment to go home. The tasks increase in size and complexity and require work both in class and at home. We also like parents to be aware of what students are learning and to be able to provide some help as well. It is important, though, that parents simply help with, not do, their child’s assignment. It is a bit embarrassing when a parent doesn’t get the ‘A’ they expected.

We like parents to be aware of how assessment is progressing as well. To this end, on my school’s Assessment Hub we have provided assessment calendars for the term, ready to be printed off and stuck on the fridge, on the wall where work is done or where-ever it is most likely to be seen. We have also included our policies, procedures and fact sheets relating to assessment. Assessment is such an important part of education that you will be contacted if a student misses a draft or evidence check date, or if it is not up to a minimum standard by that point.

As you can see, homework is a vital tool in your child’s education toolbox. It will help prepare them for exams, for future learning and ensure that they are developing the skills, abilities and knowledge that will set them up to achieve success on their pathway to a purposeful future.

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What’s your why?

Do you know what your ‘why’ is?

idea bulb paper sketch

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

In 2007, Pastor Mark Hands told me a story about a trip he’d had to Disneyland. On this trip, he had noticed that all the employees were smiling and helpful, and seemed quite purposeful. He eventually asked why this was so. The ride attendant replied with a single statement: “My purpose is to ensure you have the best day of your life.” It turns out that this was Disneyland’s overarching purpose statement. By having a purpose statement, it provided a singular focus off which every decision and action could be hung. If what they were doing wasn’t working towards creating the best day of the visitors’ lives, then it needed to change. Ps Hands’s challenge to me was then to focus on what my purpose was and to develop a purpose statement to match.

In 2014, Simon Sinek presented a TED Talk (http://bit.ly/purposeandwhy) in which he discusses what makes some companies successful, while others struggle or fail. He discovered (and wrote a book about it) a principal he calls The Golden Circle. He suggests that the key differentiator is that the successful companies and individuals have a crystal clear core belief, and this is what they start with – their ‘why’. They then move through the ‘how’ to the ‘what’, but the most important part is their ‘why’.

My ‘why’ crystalised back in 2007 and has guided my all my decisions and actions, through the variety of roles I’ve held over the years. It’s pretty simple: I’m about developing young leaders of character, who will influence their community for God and for good. I hope to be able to explore over the next few articles, how this is guiding what we’re doing at my current school. Who knows, some of it may be applicable to yours as well.

Going further than that though, I believe it’s important that we all – staff, parents and students – spend time considering what drives us, what God’s purpose for us is, and to consider our ‘why’. Understanding that will help each of us stay on track and make choices that bring us closer to what God has in store for us.

So, what’s your why?

Some digital parenting tips

destroy-cell-phonesI don’t often (actually, never) make comments or tips on parenting. As a parent of four, I know that the job is hard, insanely complex – we’re dealing with little humans here – and often unnoticed. Having said that, as someone who works with teenagers in high school I’ve been coming across more and more disengaged and tired students and, increasingly, parents who are asking for help. So, here are some of my non-negotiable parent-tech-tips.

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Hi there! It’s been a while…

old-planeEarlier this year, at around EduTech time (so late May, early June), I came back to this place to find an article that I’d written a while back. It’s not unusual for me to visit this blog – it’s my thought space, my place of reflection and promotion of ideas, and I’d visited multiple times already in the year. What was unusual this time was that EduTech had been on my thoughts for a while (as I wasn’t going to be going this year) and my most recent post was about EduTech, posted while at EduTech. It dawned on me that I hadn’t been a very loving father to my blog – I’d been ignoring it, and you – the people who read it.

Now, I have all sorts of reasons for not having updated or posted on my blog for over a year, and in fact, I even started a post that day (which then faded into the haze of my busyness). Some of these are fairly straight forward and probably happen to everyone:

  • My role at work changed
  • I got very busy in my role
  • I moved to a new job, over 1700 km away from the last one
  • It is a very busy job
  • I got distracted

[TL;DR: There’s no excuse, really for not having the reflective time. All educators, or those involved in the education system, require self-reflection as part of our professional practice. I should have made time. I didn’t. I’m sorry]

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EduTech 2015: Panel. Some great questions and statements.

DiscussionThis post is really just a jotting down from the panel. I’ve missed stuff, reworded some and added my own spin to a lot. Imagine dot points – it’ll make it hurt less. Take it as you will. I’ll be fixing it up some time in the future. Maybe.

PD in the morning. Great idea. Always exhausted by the end of the day. My takeaway… are we starting at 4 in the morning?

Yammer for public conversations about what’s going on in your classroom. If you want to really go public, how about blogging, twitter, youtube? I think they’re all great ideas with some great (and scary) implications for our learning, as well as our kids learning.

Use online modules ifor stuff that doesn’t

Stop spending so much time quantifying everything – it takes way too much time and effort. Focus on what you need to do well and do that. Stuff the quantification.

Have a purpose (the why?) and keep bringing it back to that. The purpose of hte whyu is to centre that.

I want to visit Ormiston College. Tamara Sullivan, Dean of E-Learning,

Getting going effectively

1. There’s something that everyone wants to try, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.

2. those who don’t want to do aren’t allowed to stop those of use who do want to do it from doing it.

Kids voice being heard in decision making

MOOC: New school creation (had students on the panels)

MOOC: How to teach us (by students) – already joined

What would you encourage people to not do:

“I come from a family of shepherds, I lead from behind”. Try to lead from behind. Don’t just walk into a staffroom and say “This is what we’re doing… suck it up!”

EduTech 2015: Super Awesome Sylvia – Maker

Super Awesome Sylvia

Super Awesome Sylvia’s page is *definitely* worth visiting.

Internet sensation Super Awesome Sylvia made an appearance on the main stage! She brought one of her bots with her (a watercolour bot which paints water colour paintings from a scanned image) to show what a young person can do with very little parent/teacher input.

Use of maker ideas (doesn’t have to be electronics) develops a love of learning… for the sake of learning.

Ideas for getting started:

1. Take baby steps – you don’t need to create a fully working robot on your first go. How about something that flashes an LED bulb?

2. Cheap is good. Don’t worry about expensive products. Use off-brand – most of the time it works just as well.

3. Failure happens. You will make mistakes – you will learn from them.

4. Be the student – get along side your kids

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff – just get out there and make something.

Go visit her site and get some making happening.

http://sylviashow.com/

EduTech 2015: Learning Analytics for the Whole School

Learning AnalyticsBreakout session: TrackOne Studio presented this session. They’re an analytics platform which I’d seen used by another teacher previously. I love the idea of analytics because we have so much data on our students but often don’t have an effective way, or even the time, to actually make sense of the data and then use it to really differentiate on an individual learner’s needs.

Some questions which need answering:

1. Who will access the data and for what purpose?

  • School leaders
  • Teachers – access to your classes data e.g. NAPLAN. Access to this data can help you really target your teaching on an individual basis focusing on strengths and weaknesses.
  • Students – Kids seeing where they are at is incredibly powerful, but needs to be handled carefully.
  • Parents –

2. What data is available and where is it stored?

  • Schools tend to have one main data store (School Management System) – academics, behaviour etc. But where else is it kept? Your LMS (e.g. Moodle), spreadsheets?
  • Exams? ICAS, NAPLAN, surveys, in-class tests?
  • where is it?
  • what is it?
  • who currently uses it?
  • who would benefit from using it?

3. What are the requirements of a Learning Analytics solution?

  • Integration with your existing systems. If you have to put your data in more than once – you’re going to lose your staff.
  • Cater for the needs of all members of the school community – Principal, Teachers, Parents, Students.
  • Flexible without being complex. It should be fairly intuitive. It should be able to give the information that’s needed when it’s needed.
  • Target the appropriate data to the appropriate people. Should be delivering the data that a person needs, and only the data that that person needs.
  • Able to be extended and refined

4. How can we visualise the data so it is easy to understand?

  • Tabular, comparison charts (internal v. external, internal v internal etc)
  • Using the data, you can quickly identify the outliers and act upon it. So someone who does well academically, but under-performs in NAPLAN may need more test preparation, someone who is achieving okay academically but really excels in NAPLAN may not be working to their potential in class.

TrackOne has a heap of ways of quickly grabbing the data you want and presenting it in a variety of ways so that we, as educators, parents, or even the students, can see where someone is at, and what areas need more focus, and which bits are going really well.

TrackOne Studio: http://www.trackonestudio.com/

Analytics… grab that data and make it work for you.