• Value of Homework in this "Connected" World Published 2007-07-12 under

    I love how various apparently unconnected discussions or events can inspire me to explore new ideas or questions. Recently, several events have left me questioning our use, at least our expectations, of homework.

    First, I spoke with a doctor who was lamenting that his son did not get into the independent school in which my wife teaches. After overcoming the fear that he was going to take the rejection out on me during the exam, I began probing as to why he was interested in changing schools. His son, after all, was attending school in a very desirable district. Among his reasons was that his son was not getting enough homework.

    The other day, I was reading an article from a self-proclaimed marketing guru on how we are moving into an age of distraction. In "The Attention Age Doctrine", the author describes how we are assaulted on a daily basis by a flood of distractions that have limited our attention on any one task to minutes (or even seconds). In this age, it is the person who can remain focused and filter the distractions who will stand out.

    Finally, I just completed watching Guy Kawasaki's panel discussion with a group of young adults (15 - 24 year olds) on their use of technology. [view video] This is an entertaining and insightful look into how technology is an integral part of these "kids" lives. A few take-aways include the number of text messages they make each month (for some it was over 4,000), the importance of the web for their entertainment, communication, and homework, and the degree to which each is constantly connected with others.

    All of this can be viewed in the context of the homework we assign and our expectations vs. the reality of the experience our students are having doing this homework. "Read Chapter #3" is a typical homework assignment, but what are our real expectations. Do we just want our students to familiarize themselves with the topics in the chapter so that during class, it won't be the first time they were exposed to the topics? Perhaps we are asking them to read so that they may return to class prepared to contribute to a class discussion. Do we expect them to be thoughtful about what they are reading and reflect on it?

    Regardless of our expectations, we should not be surprised that many of those who actually do the reading are doing it while exposed to numerous distractions. While many argue that our students are accomplished multitaskers, I question the true productivity of all this multitasking. What if you could make a deal with your students that you would cut the amount of homework you assign in half in exchange for them devoting uninterrupted time (free of all distractions) to the assignments? Do you think your students would get a richer learning experience, albeit with less work?

    I don't know the answer, but would love to hear from anyone that has tried this. You could market this as "Half the Homework, Double the Learning" from the "less is more" principle. Let me know how it works.


  • Mind on Math Published 2007-07-06 under ,

    MIND Institute I had the most wonderful opportunity this week to meet Ted Smith, the Chairman and CEO of the MIND Institute, and was fascinated with the work of his organization. They produce games that help students succeed in math.

    I can hear you say it now: "Not another math game!". Hold-on. These games are different. First of all, they grew out of over 30 years of academic research into brain function and learning. Second of all, they have a track record of success with six years of consistent 15-20 percentile point improvements on the California Standards Test (more...).

    But the biggest difference is that these are not your typical drill and practice math games. They are engaging and challenging. I just spent over an hour going through some of the demos with my 10 year old nephew. Most of the time was spent on the "Challenge Puzzles" which are great. Be careful, these are addicting and are not easy (my nephew had to help me on a few).

    For me, the most impressive aspect of the games is that they begin with no words or symbols. They teach a concept without the confusion of mathematical terminology or long explanations. They also focus on problem solving. I love how they challenge students to think and not just recite or memorize. These games are designed to be a part of a traditional math curriculum (not replace it) and I cannot imagine a teacher or principal who would not jump at the opportunity to include them in their school.

    I asked Ted if he referred to the MIND Institute's tools as games or something more appealing to educators like "simulations", "tutorials" or "learning modules". He indicated that he has always insisted that they be called games because they are fun. Just because something is fun does not mean that it is not important or productive.

    For many, games are considered frivolous and not part of a real learning environment. We can all agree that much of our learning as toddlers was through games. We may through a game show like activity in here or there. But for the most part, games are viewed as entertainment and not part of education (as if the two are mutually exclusive). Marc Prensky writes extensively about this topic. Recently, I have been looking to Mark Wagner for insight on the topic of games in education. He is doing a great job summarizing the research and actual implementations of this field.

    If you have not seen the work from The MIND Institute, take a look and good luck on their challenge puzzles. I hope these games will help convince you that there is a role for games in education.