I suppose I could ponder as to why this is and we could all come up with a pretty long list. But I guess the bottom line is that as I look at students today versus 15-20 years ago versus about 25 years ago (when I was in school) is that society and home lives are much different now then when I first started teaching or even when I was a high school student myself. Add to that the fact that my students face a much different home and economic situation than when I was in school (some discussion on that in this post) and my current students' perspective on homework is radically different than mine.
Over the last few days, I have really been pondering about what to do to ensure my students practice the mathematics so they can be successful. I am pretty certain that my best students are doing that with little push from me. They have that motivation to do well and they realize they need to practice it. But what about the lower ability students - the ones who have struggled with math? They don't like math and often times don't want to do it, so if I'm not grading it, they don't have much incentive to do it. I can give exit ticket problems so they do one problem (or two) before they leave class. I can give opener problems for them to do as they come into class, but unless I collect it, they don't seem to put much effort into it. For that matter, even some of my best students don't put much effort into the warm up problems. I suppose I could do My Favorite No with their Warm Up Problems every day which would force them more into doing the problems. If I do that, it's kind of hard to do that with "Mental Mondays" and the multiple choice questions I use on Tuesdays and Thursdays for my Bellringers.
I am getting better at having them do a couple of problems during the lesson. Part of it is that I ended up going back and reteaching factoring using the GCF and in x^2 + bx + c form (see these posts for details) and I did note pages for them with examples for them to work as we went along. As much as I hate putting together note pages for them to work on, I have more of a chance of them actually doing notes if I do this than if I just tell them to take their own notes from my SMART Notebook file as I teach. Given that we are really moving into "new" territory for them, I am really debating if I should just throw in the towel and provide them note pages to write on and hope that they follow through with taking the notes or really continue the push to take their own notes. I am struggling with this because if they ever hope to survive in college, they have to learn to take their own notes. However, I have some students (who probably won't end up going to college) who won't do anything as far as notes go without some sort of push like having the note page provided. There are still students who won't take any notes at all and I am certain I am not going to change their minds no matter what I do. It's those middle to low kids who just might do something if I give them the paper that I'm hoping to get going in the right direction.
Anyway, getting back to the issue I started with... Part of what sparked these ponderings about homework/practice problems is what happened in class Thursday. I had put together this game (see the end of this post) where students had to work out problems and the teams got points and the winning team got blow pops and for 2 of my 3 classes it went really well. The kids mostly did the problems. In my lowest ability class of the 3, I was able to get around and help some students and got them on the right track. The students really liked it (and I think would have done it without the candy incentive) and were engaged with the math. My 2nd class had four students who pretty much ruined it for the whole class. I had divided the room into teams by where they sat and all four students were on the same team. They didn't want to try and would copy the answer from another student when it was their turn. So I added the condition that they had to explain their answer to get the point for their team. These four students' behavior pretty much demoralized their team and made what was fun for other classes not fun at all.
As I look at the students in question, one has really been struggling with math. This student has gone to get help which has helped a little bit, but the reality is that this student probably shouldn't have gotten the grades that were on the report card and maybe even shouldn't have passed Algebra 1. Two of the students have the potential to be decent Algebra 2 students but they choose to not put forth much of an effort. The fourth student also has some issues with understanding the mathematics as well. This student has had extended absences a couple of times due to medical issues and has come in for help a couple of times after those absences, but has not chosen to make much of an effort as of late. When they choose to practice problems, they do much better. Although I will be changing seats next week to help deal with the behavioral issues these four students cause for each other (and subsequently for the class on Thursday), it doesn't change the underlying problem of lack of effort.
How do you get students to make the effort they should? Not every topic in mathematics is compelling to everyone and certainly not every topic in mathematics has "real world" application problems that I can pull out to help make the mathematics compelling (not that I am doing what I should be or could be as far as that goes, but that's another post for another time). If I can't control what they do outside of my classroom, how do I get them to work on the mathematics inside of my classroom? Some would argue I need to "flip" my classroom - have videos for students to watch for the lessons at home and have work time in class for students to work on the problems. I'm not convinced that's the way to go. For one, not all my students have access to the internet outside of school. For some students, their only internet access at home is through dial-up. This is a socio-economic issue here. We also go back to the issue of time and priorities that I mentioned earlier as far as even doing the assignment outside of class. I need to get back to reading Drive and ReWired, both of which I started before Christmas and haven't gotten anywhere since.
I know I certainly don't have the answer. I don't expect that others of you do either. At this point, I am just trying to sort through my many thoughts on the issue. My wonderful math tweep @cheesemonkeysf has said to me before that the answer is there, I just haven't found it yet. Blogging helps me get there - eventually. Meanwhile, feel free to add your thoughts and ramblings to mine in the comments.