Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Blog: Transforming Math Homework

About a week or so ago, Rayla Rucker, a fourth grade teacher at Pleasant Hill Elementary, asked me what I thought about some math homework she created for her class. As I opened the Google Doc, my eyes got huge and my heart jumped out of my chest. It was the best homework I have ever seen in math! So, I asked and Rayla agreed that she would share her thoughts on homework as our guest blogger this week! Thank you, Rayla, for inspiring us all as you do what's best for your students.

There isn’t another word in the English language that elicits more dread.  Kids don’t want it, parents either want more or less of it, and teachers (myself at least) don’t have time to grade it…so, usually it is a meaningless endeavor that no one is happy about.  I mean, sure, there will always be student’s that have it in your hand before it’s due, but there will also be kids that never, EVER turn it in no matter how many times you call or email.  

So, how did I get all my kids and a lot of my parents (I can only speak for the ones that have tweeted or emailed about it) excited about math homework???

It all started with a tweet.

If you talk to Mark Koller, my principal, about me,  he’ll probably joke and say...”Be careful, she’ll tweet about you!”  because he knows I have gone a little twitter crazy.  The above tweet was one of my first with a real life problem solving idea.  I thought, how can I make kids and parents see that math isn’t just something you do for 75 minutes a day 5 days a week?

And then this happened,

and I thought, “Well that’s pretty awesome! Maybe I’m on the right track.”

This was just the beginning of a shift in thinking about what math is, or can be, or maybe should be.

I have a student that just can’t stand math.  He rushes through worksheet assignments and turns them in without a second glance with an abysmal degree of success. One day he was done, and I was meeting with a group and I just could not get him to settle.  I was irritated.  So, I called him up, handed him one of those catalogues we all get, full of junk to buy for our  classrooms. I said, “Hey, Johnny (names changed to protect the innocent),  I have $50 to spend on the classroom store.  Can you take this catalogue and see how much we can get?  I want the most and best for the money. Write down the items, how many we’ll receive, and the total spent and give it back to me.”  Well imagine my shock when he spent a couple of days quietly studying,  adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing whole numbers and decimals.  He was doing a whole lot of math without even realizing it.   A reluctant student was all over it, AND the math was correct.  The difference in real life, she’s going to order these things for our classroom, let me help...and ugh, another boring worksheet, was definitely apparent.  

Obviously, that made me realize that maybe, just maybe math worksheets weren’t the way to go.  Honestly, I have never been a fan of worksheets, but in math especially, I saw the benefit of extra practice.  It’s weird because in Language Arts I have always been a stickler about keeping everything authentic, so why the disconnect in math.  Can math be authentic?  What would that look like? That’s when I met Beth Chinderle.  

Beth sat down with my team, answered our questions, and helped me understand what authentic math could look like.  The best part was she gave me permission to cut out the worksheets for homework.  I don’t know why I needed that permission, but I did.  From there, my brain was really on fire with the possibilities.  One night, I was sitting at the computer and it came to me.  I created a choice board revolving around what families and kids actually do in their everyday lives that will allow them to practice the specific skills we are exploring and learning in class.  They can see from these choices that math is a skill, like reading that they will do all of their lives, and can be enjoyable.  

So, I tweeted about it, sent an email about the change, and nervously brought it to my students.  I guess the nervousness came from my excitement, I mean, what if they hated it?  They gave me that familiar, what are you up to now glance and looked it over.  I went through the choices with them and they were totally digging it.  

Now, I have been teaching long enough to know that the initial excitement can dwindle when the task has to actually be accomplished, but to my surprise the next day when I asked how many of them had done their homework, over half raised their hands.  On Friday, homework was due, and every single kiddo was excited to share what they had done.  Many of them had completed 2, 3, or 4 of the tasks.  They were only asked to do one for the week.  Several even asked if they could submit ideas for the next time!  

This change in homework is part of an even bigger, and much scarier transformation of my math class.  Scarier because it’s not what I am used to, but maybe it’s just what I, and more importantly my students need.  So, I am happy, proud of my kiddos, and a little proud of myself, too.  To me, students are like play dough, they roll and bend with the changes easily.  Most teachers, though, are more like that really hard modeling clay.  We can and will change, but it takes a lot more work to get us warmed up enough to shift in a new direction.

Check out the homework here: Rayla's Real Life Math Homework

Thank you again, Rayla, for sharing your journey! :) I've also added this post to the Math Classroom Series as an important element of the math classroom.


  1. This is just what I needed to read about right now since I might be teaching math for the 1st time ever next year-6th grade no less!!


  2. Do you have a homework and you want HELP
    Now get help from expert online tutor
    And get $10 after you sing up
    so don't lose your time and sing up now