Posted in Math Inquiry

Controversies on Math Homework

In continuing on my last blog entry regarding math homework, I thought I was going to sit down and write my two cents about it and call it a day on blogging. Well, I was wrong. I just spent the last several hours browsing through the internet about math inquiry (focusing on math games, math digital applications, and math homework). Wow, what I found online about math homework were some great perspectives and issues. The following are some to read/browse through: “Do Students Really Need Practice Homework,” “Study says more math homework doesn’t increase student achievement,” and “Homework: A Math Dilemma and What To Do About It.”

I didn’t realize it, but I have found that this is quite a controversial topic. Deciding whether homework should be mandatory or optional and whether homework should be graded were the top two reoccurring issues. Growing up (including college years), doing math homework or any assigned homework was a common educational practice. So, I find it fascinating to learn about these current homework dilemmas.

My personal take on homework in college are: it should be strongly recommended and graded to count no more than 5% of total grade. Out of context, that probably didn’t make any sense. How could I put a grade on something not required. Well, this is how I would do it. I would suggest at most 10-20 math problems to do as homework, but I would only grade between 3-5 problems out of the total suggested. I will even tell the students which 3-5 would be graded. So, if they chose to do just those few problems for HW grade, then that is fine by me.

I want to be clear that I will not grade the 3-5 problems based on accuracy, but rather that students show their work. First, I believe that not grading for “correctness” removes the idea that one has to “copy” another to earn their undeserved HW grade. Second, I find that most students want to learn and put in the practice; so, I rather one tries and goes through the motion, even if it’s the wrong approach or attempt. Thus, just like an athlete who practices a drill or skill set, a student (most likely) isn’t going to intentionally do the work/ “practice” inaccurately.

For a daily math class in a college quarter system, I would provide the 10-20 suggested HW problems on every new topic section (this is often daily). However, I will not necessarily assign the 3-5 graded problems for each of those 10-20 suggested problems. The deadline for students to turn them in would be one day before the test on that section (this is approximately 2 weeks). The ideal is for students to turn them in the next day or two after assigned. However, I chose the day before test day because I recognize that students have other classes to balance into their schedule. Over the span of 2 weeks time also allows one to get help from classmates, teachers, and tutors from the Math Lab. More importantly, I want to provide feedback on the graded assignment; even with a day turnaround time, students can study/cram (not recommended) for next day’s test.

Overall, I believe that required, graded math homework provides structure to one’s learning. Just as it builds frustration as one doesn’t understand, it also builds confidence as one recognizes their learning. For those feeling frustrated, it should be a key indicator for them to seek help immediately. Students needs to recognize that they are not alone and that teachers want them to succeed in their math class!

Nevertheless, there is a lot to consider. I believe that “strongly suggesting” homework problems allows a college student to take responsibility for their own learning. Also, grading on it should’t be punitive to their overall grades. Homework needs to be purposeful to student’s learning, and immediate deadlines for homework submission may not be the most beneficial. Students math learning often progress at different pace, and allowing time to receive help and utilize free campus resources (including one-on-one tutoring) should be encouraged.

What are your take on this issue, math homework? Should it be mandatory? Should it be graded? Are my suggestions flawed (remember, I am NOT a teacher)? How can my take on homework be improved?


2 thoughts on “Controversies on Math Homework

  1. I really enjoyed your post. Being in 3 different math classes (3 different teachers and 3 different levels) I see so much of this dilemma unfold.I really liked your description of how to structure and go about grading. The school I am now is debating whether or not they are going to switch to a “no homework” policy for the school, because so many students grades are being affected by it (homework only accounts for 15% or less of course grades). I struggle with that transition because I feel like some amount of homework is not just good for concept learning but for teaching students to have ownership over their learning and responsibility. Because of this I think what you proposed is a great middle ground!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your reply on this topic. I think it’s such an important one for teachers to consider when they do assign them. When I read that your school counts HW grades for 15% of students overall grades, I gasped “that is A LOT!” Personally, I think the concept of HW is meaningful; however, it needs to be done right! It needs to be structured (not busy work), purposeful in practicing concepts (math problems, writing skills), individualized to some degree, doesn’t hurt overall grade (if graded), and a balanced amount of it. Different subject-discipline instructors needs to collaborate among each other, so that a healthy (and not overwhelming) amount can be given throughout the school week; also, so they can coordinate if they know another teacher is giving an exam in another class.

      As students, I know that these types of considerations are critical to us. I don’t want to be writing a 10 page paper for history class, review for my weekly math quiz (just learned new concepts this week), and having to study for my 3rd anatomy and physiology exam for class all within the same week.


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