Thursday, July 19, 2012
For me, it's "Ugh!" I suspect I'm not alone.
I recall my school days: I was an active (okay, hyperactive) kid forced to sit still from 8:30 to 3...and unable to. If I had gone to school after Ritalin became the kid drug of choice, my teachers would have slammed a Ritalin leash on me faster than I leaped to my feet when she finally said, "Recess!"
Yet among all the calls for education reform, I've yet to hear a call to reinvent homework, that reviled after-school torture: Yet more sitting still?! "Do this worksheet." "Read the chapter and answer the questions at the end." Do problems 1-47, the odds."
Is it any surprise that parents lose hair trying to get kiddie to comply? Is it any surprise that kiddie blows-off homework anyway?
Especially for subjects that many students find difficult, for example math, why not replace problems 1-47 with visual-rich lecturettes by the world's most effective, transformational teachers? I remember not getting Algebra 1. Seymour Schwimmer (That really was his name) would cover the board with formulas and rapid-fire not-explain them with the clarity expected of a math teacher. He usually ended the class period with "Do problems 1-47." I left class sad or scared. I got home, looked at those problems with no more clue on how to do them than when I had left class, usually threw the worksheet back into my (messy) notebook binder, and ran out to play basketball.
Now imagine that instead of that, I turned on my computer or smartphone and watched a YouTube video of The Amazing One: that rare teacher who makes complicated stuff simple, even fun. True, I'd still have to sit still but wouldn't I be more likely to learn from that? To enjoy that? To grow from that? Maybe even to like math, that supposed gateway to all sorts of careers?
I am self-funding a pilot program of that very thing. I call it Dream Homework. At a diverse California public high school, on August 20-25, the first week of actual instruction, the Algebra I teachers will assign half their sections the regular homework while the other sections will instead, watch visual-rich lecturettes covering the same material by Luis Anthony Ast, the math instructor that Pearson Learning, Casio, and Texas Instruments picked to create their video algebra lessons. I'm also hiring WestEd, a top third-party evaluator, to see if the kids in the Dream Homework group do indeed learn more algebra and enjoy it. Stay tuned.