Making Homework Work for My Students

Homework seems to be a perpetually debated topic in education circles. I’ve written about homework before, (and that post contains links at the end to some great reads on the subject), and this is really the “Where are they now” post a couple of years later. After thinking through how homework can work better for students and teachers, I got the chance to implement a new policy alongside a course I started last year, AP Physics C. I’ll now be expanding it to another course for next year, a college-at-my-school course similar to AP Physics 1.

So here’s the gist; @LCCTA tweeted last year about an interesting homework policy and I modified it for my purposes. I wrote this description that I passed around twitter for feedback, then I implemented it during the 16-17 school year. In summary, the policy goes something like this;

  • student does something to try to improve learning of physics outside of class (and there’s some choice built into those somethings)
  • student documents that something
  • student submits documentation and gives themselves a homework score

My primary reason for this policy is to extend an emphasis on learning (rather than answers) from my classroom to homework, and I think that was moderately successful.

Students responded well to the policy, based on the end of year survey;

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 7.08.36 PMScreen Shot 2017-08-09 at 7.08.49 PM

The comments indicated the students appreciated the flexibility and choice.

All that said, there were a couple of things I’d like to improve on. First, allowing students to submit a variety of media as evidence, including videos showing the work they had done, proved too cumbersome for me. A student flipping through pages in their notebook is difficult for me to actually look at, as it turns out (who’d of thought?). The new policy will ask them all to simply submit a Google Doc template including pictures of their work (all our students have Macbooks so this is not really an equity issue for our school).

Then there were a few students who just watched videos; I’ve made it more clear in version 2.0 that problem solving must be at least part of each check.

I’ve added a table for students to actually keep track of when they work and what they do; valuable information for all of us. Along with this I added a requirement to space out the work they do; cramming for 5 hours the night it’s do is anti-the point.

Finally, I’ve made a reflection portion that’s more specific, asking students what helped them, what they still have to work on, and what questions they have.

I’ve shared a draft of the Google doc template here, which includes all of the above changes alongside some things that have stayed the same from version 1.0.

I’m still conflicted to some extent about grading. I’m fairly certain at my school there will be too many students who prioritize other graded homework over studying physics if it’s not worth a grade at all, so last year I compromised by making homework a small, 10%, category. I’m certainly open to ideas on this.

I feel like I’m getting closer to the policy I’d like to have, but would love your feedback; please comment here or chat me up on twitter (@rutherfordcasey).



7 responses to “Making Homework Work for My Students

  1. Quick question about implementation—do you have students keep one Google doc with all their evidence, or a new Google doc for each week of work that they do? And I assume they submit on canvas, correct?

    • Hmmmm….the plan was a new doc every week, but now that you mention it, keeping a running record on one doc might be nice; I’ll have to chew on that a bit. Yes, they submit on Canvas.

  2. I’m still trying to tease this out myself. I would like for the students to have 1 portfolio document that contains evidence of all of their practice for the entire year. But I would also like them to submit something each week—a log of their work for each week, the “pages” of their practice for that week and a grade similar to what you do. But I can’t seem to think of how to do this. Can canvas handle this? Could it be a 2 question quiz—give yourself a grade and upload a link to your Google doc (bookmarked at this week’s practice log)?

    • If they did the Gdoc in blog format, with the most recent at the top, then it would be easy enough to have them submit with a comment every week, but then still have the previous record below the current one. You could do a quiz in Canvas, but I would probably just have them give the grade as a comment on the assignment.

  3. Pingback: What my students think of my class – Useful Experiences

  4. Pingback: Introducing Physics Coach—an app for tracking physics “workouts” | Quantum Progress

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