What it is: A document we give to students at the beginning of every unit that details the homework assignments and dates for assessments through the end of the unit.
How it came to be: At TMC a few years back I heard about Henri Piccioto’s lagging homework philosophy, and I really wanted to implement it into my classroom. I managed to sort of do it with my co-planner in IB Math SL a few years ago, but I didn’t love my implementation. So when I started teaching Algebra 2 I pushed my co-planners to adopt the system in a smarter way. I don’t remember if it was originally from Kat or Eric, but one of them came up with the idea of collecting all the homework assignments at the beginning of the unit into a grid so we wouldn’t have to be constantly going back and looking for assignments, especially when lagging work.
How it works: For each class, students will have a “New”, “Recent”, and “Lagging” homework assignment. The new content is on what we learned that day, the recent content is from the previous day, and the lagging is from 2+ days earlier. It also lists the lesson the homework came from and the due date.
After Kat and I sit down and map out each unit, we take turns making the grid. First you put in any holidays, tests, and quizzes, and then find homework for each lesson. For example, let’s say we have have a factoring lesson on Monday. For the “new” assignment on Monday we pick problems that are a little easier. No tricks, just sort of basic problems. The “Recent” assignment for Tuesday will be medium problems. Maybe a few tricks, or just numbers that aren’t as comfortable. Then the “Lagging” is where we can put some of the more involved problems.
This is all in addition to a full DeltaMath assignment that is due the night before the summative assessment for each unit.
What’s great about it: By picking all of the homework assignments at the beginning of the unit, we don’t have to worry about picking homework every night. In the past I’ve found that’s one of the things I tend to forget, which results in kids just not having homework. It’s nice to check that off at the beginning and not worry about it. This is especially true with spiraling review, which would probably go by the wayside otherwise.
It’s also helpful for thinking through the whole unit again. We do a lot of thinking obviously when we create our curriculum map, but seeing the problems in the book helps me to get my head around the unit, and forces me to see how the book explains things and where I need to be explicit that we’re diverging from the book.
Some kids also really like having all the assignments, so they can sit down one weekend and just do all the work. It allows them to look at their whole week and say “Ok, I don’t have time on Thursday night, so let me do my work on Wednesday” or something. Granted they need a little bit of practice thinking about that (which we do a terrible job of giving them) but hypothetically it’s there.
And by posting all of the assessments at the beginning, it keeps us honest about the dates. The grid says there’s a quiz on Monday, so there’s a quiz on Monday. It sort of forces us to stay on a schedule. Sort of.
What’s not great about it: The downside to assigning all the problems before the unit starts is that if we don’t get to certain topics, or underestimated the difficulty of a problem, we don’t catch it until kids start asking questions. We always say “This unit we’re going to check each assignment the night before!” but then we never actually do. The nice thing is we use Edmodo, so we can always post “Just kidding, problem 6 is awful, don’t do it”.
The other issue is the book we were using for most of last year wasn’t really aligned to our curriculum, so finding problems was difficult, and the problems we did find were crap. We now have new textbooks that are aligned so hopefully that problem will go away, but it is something to be wary of depending on if you use a textbook.
It also is at least an hour’s worth of work. I don’t think it takes longer overall than finding assignments each day, but doing it all upfront does require a solid chunk of time, which can be a little mind-numbing.
General homework philosophy piece: The goal is for kids to have less than 30 minutes of homework a night. They have a ton of other assignments in other classes, so I don’t want any of my kids working for hours on math. I even tell them at the beginning of the year that if they’re honestly working and focusing on their assignment, and it looks like it’s going to take them significantly more than 30 minutes, that they should stop. And if that happens consistently, they should come talk to me (because either there’s a lot of things they’re struggling with, or we did a terrible job of assigning problems). We want the kids to spend a few minutes every night thinking about and practicing math.
I will admit this is something I struggle with every year. I think the extra practice is important, but then I also think that kids need time to be kids, and three hours of homework on top of a long commute and whatever the hell else they have going on isn’t actually doing any good. I try to compromise by just not making nightly homework worth very much. Overall homework is just 10% of their final grade, and for my class each nightly homework assignment is 2 points. And I don’t check if it’s correct, just if it’s complete. So realistically if they miss an assignment or two, it doesn’t matter. I think DeltaMath is better practice, so I weight those assignments at about 20 points.
Of course the fact that I don’t check for correctness, coupled with the fact that we seldom take time to ever talk about homework problems in class, I think encourages academic dishonesty with some students. And I am very upfront about that at the beginning of the year. I tell them that I know they could copy answers from a friend, or from the back of the book, but at the end of the year cheating to get credit on a 2-point assignment will just hurt them when they have a test that counts as 40% of their grade. All that said, I do think we need to find time to go over homework assignments in class, at least once a week.
I also give kids a “Life Happens” pass, an idea I got from Chris. Once a semester they can hand in their pass and it excuses their homework. Alternatively, they can put it on their desk as an “I don’t want to talk today” note (they still have to do the work, I just won’t call on them). I want to update it a little bit this year to make it easier to use, but here’s a screenshot.