Math Homework That Counts, Grades 4–6
What constitutes meaningful math homework? These many examples and activities show how homework can reinforce skills, prepare students for future classroom lessons, extend their mathematical knowledge, and inspire creativity.
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Review by Terri Goyins, fourth-grade teacher, Buckalew Elementary School, The Woodlands, Texas. From the February 2001 issue of Intersection. Reprinted with permission from Intersection, © 2001, by ExxonMobil Corporation.
What are your real feelings about homework for students? We all look at homework quite differently. Three groups of people have a big stake in homework—teachers, parents, and students. Unfortunately, they all have different perspectives on the subject.
These viewpoints are discussed in the book titled Math Homework That Counts, Grades 4–6, by Annette Raphel. It is published by Math Solutions Publications (August 2000), a division of Marilyn Burns Education Associates.
The introduction discusses a research-project finding that roughly half the teachers consulted believe the major reason for homework is to reinforce what is being learned in school. The teachers stated the school day wasn’t long enough for practice and that homework developed a sense of responsibility in children.
The parents consulted by the researchers felt homework was to help their children be independent. Parents see learning how to do homework as an important prerequisite for success in later schooling and life. Somehow parents tie homework to successful students.
Students felt homework was to help them better understand what they had learned in class. They felt they would learn more, write better, and do math better through homework.
Since teachers, parents, and students voice different reasons for doing it, it is no wonder that homework is controversial. So how can we, as educators, fulfill all these missions through homework? Then—the other question I always ask myself as a fourth-grade teacher—how can we evaluate the worth and success of homework?
This book is an excellent resource for educators to have available. It discusses research about homework, gives suggestions for teachers to use with parents and offers some excellent ideas for good homework for children.
I live in an area where parents equate a great deal of homework with successful classrooms. I have had to evaluate my own feelings about homework. I have always felt that when children leave school, they should have time to play and enjoy family time. So, my solution has been to only have homework on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I try to involve the family in the homework by collecting data, requesting various family members to share their thinking, or asking them to play a math game together.
I used one of the activities from the book before Christmas. It involved the traditional song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The students needed to figure out the total number of presents needed to be purchased in order to send all the things mentioned in the song. (Remember the gifts are cumulative in the song.) Then the students had to figure out how many of each kind of gift had to be purchased. It was a fascinating problem and the students (with their families) enjoyed the challenge. The students presented their findings to the class and compared their results. As luck would have it, a local radio station gave the same question to their listening audience. The winner received four tickets to attend a concert in Houston. One of my students was the lucky winner. This was a nice connection to the real world with their mathematics learning.
The appendix of the book contains this list:
- What you can do to help your child with math homework this year
- Characteristics of good math homework
- Variables associated with homework
- Questions a teacher might want to ask about homework
- General research findings about homework
- Good resources for math homework ideas
- Good catalogs to have on hand
As you can tell, this book is a must-have resource for educators who struggle with the homework issue. I highly recommend it to all newsletter readers.
Review by Christina Nugent, Fulton School, Dubuque, Iowa. From the November 2001 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics. Reprinted with permission from Teaching Children Mathematics, © 2001 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). All rights reserved.
Homework is the scourge of all students, as well as parents. This easy-to-read resource book gives many meaningful homework activities that make excellent alternatives to the traditional worksheets or book pages. The book is divided into an introduction and four chapters, each dealing with a different purpose for homework.
Chapter 1, for example, called “Math Homework as Practice,” includes activities for practicing such concepts as place value, addition and subtraction, geometry, and fractions. The author also suggests unique methods of using worksheets, such as Dr. Lola May's idea of telling students, “Don't bother doing the whole thing” or “Just do the problems that have even answers.” I tried these ideas with my fifth-grade students, and I have never seen students so excited to do their homework! They really believed that they were “getting away” with something! They did not seem to realize that they had to think about every problem and apply number sense and problem solving to figure out which ones to do. I had similar experiences with the other activities that I tried from the chapters titled “Homework Emphasizing Creativity,” “Homework as Extension,” and “Homework as Preparation.” The book is reasonably priced and has many excellent activities and suggestions for teachers of grades 4–6.