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How McGillis is Reimagining Its Middle School Math Program and Building Perseverance Of Learning Through Homework

by Paul Chung, Jocelyn Gukeisen, and Peng Yang

 

“Students have access to all the answers to homework problems?”

“The emphasis of math homework is more on student reflection than correct answers?”

“Homework is only worth 20% of the overall grade?”

“This is not how math was taught when I was in middle school.” (...thank goodness for that!)

 

These are some of the questions and comments we hear from parents when discussing our philosophy of the math program, and more specifically homework, at McGillis

 

When students have access to answers, math is no longer about only getting the right answers, but about focusing student attention on the process of learning math. This process includes the skills of showing work, organization, communication, and attention to detail — these are the hallmarks of a mathematician. Homework is practice and perseverance — practice not until you get it right, but practice until you can’t get it wrong.

Perseverance is not reserved for only a few. It’s an attribute important for all students to develop, practice, and improve. As teachers, it’s our role to help our students understand that when they persevere, they grow. And when they struggle, they are learning and becoming more resourceful problem solvers. They are becoming mathematicians!

 

Through the homework process, we also teach students how to reflect and what to reflect on. At McGillis, the Middle School math homework process is for students to complete their work independently, to check their answers, and to write a detailed reflection of their learning. Some students prefer to check their work as they go from one problem to the next (and work backward from the solution, if needed). Others complete all the problems and check answers at the end. There are many, many routes to the solution. Having the answers while practicing math is not cheating, but providing tools for students to own the process of their learning. Communicating thinking is the priority and completing the practice is more for them, as students, and less for us, as teachers. We prefer math practice that is consistent and frequent — not a miserable slog of homework on the weekends.

 

When writing their reflections, students consider the following elements:

  • What did I learn? What process worked well?
  • What was challenging? How did I get past it?
  • Have I shared enough detail and evidence of my mathematical thinking?
  • Am I communicating clearly?

 

Don’t take our word for it. Being the math geeks that we are, of course, we asked all the Middle School math students to complete a survey that we then analyzed and reflected upon. Here’s what our students shared with us:

  • 90% see the value of having the answers
  • 72% shared homework takes up to 20-minutes per assignment each evening
  • 64% responded positively that math homework is useful in learning math

 

Of course, it’s not a surprise that students don’t always love homework. Regardless of feelings, our experience is that consistent practice always contributes to greater learning. This is also why homework is 20% of the overall grade; practice should be done more for the intrinsic value of learning rather than completed solely to quiet external pressure. 

 

Anyone with a smartphone can pull up the answers to any math question from fractions to calculus — answers aren’t the answer when learning is the goal.

 

Are you interested in learning more about the Middle School Program at McGillis? Visit McGillis.