Is Homework Necessary In Elementary School?

Elementary school kids have a full plate these days. Between school and extracurricular activities, the last thing they want to do when they get home is hours of homework. But is homework even necessary at all? Does it help our students improve their academic performance?

If you look back at the history of homework, in the early 1900’s homework was nonexistent. This was because children often helped their families with important chores like tending to farms, animals, etc. Fast forward to the 1950’s when there was pressure for the United States to keep up with Russia in the Space Race and the thought was that students were falling behind the Russian students. Teachers began to assign homework to their students. In the 1980’s there is a feeling that American education is just mediocre and in the 1990’s the majority of educators and the general public are in favor of homework.

A study was done in 2006 by Duke researcher Harris Cooper concluded that homework does have a positive effect on student achievement with a much stronger correlation in for those in middle school rather than elementary school. But, too much homework can be counter-productive for students in all grades. Cooper said the research is consistent with the “10-minute rule” suggesting the optimum amount of homework that teachers ought to assign. The “10-minute rule,” Cooper said, is a commonly accepted practice in which teachers add 10 minutes of homework as students progress one grade. In other words, a fourth-grader would be assigned 40 minutes of homework a night, while a high school senior would be assigned about two hours. For upper high school students, after about two hours’ worth, more homework was not associated with higher achievement. The authors suggest many reasons for why older students benefit from homework than younger students. Elementary teachers may assign homework to establish study skills.
“Kids burn out,” Cooper said. “The bottom line really is all kids should be doing homework, but the amount and type should vary according to their developmental level and home circumstances. Homework for young students should be short, lead to success without much struggle, occasionally involve parents and, when possible, use out-of-school activities that kids enjoy, such as their sports teams or high-interest reading.”

There needs to be conversations in elementary schools about what kind, how much, and the importance of the homework teachers are assigning. Teachers need to collaborate, especially if there is a departmentalized model taking place throughout the grade levels, to ensure too much homework is not given.

Reference
Cooper, H. 2006. Homework Helps Students Succeed in School As Long As It’s Not Too Much. http://today.duke.edu/2006/03/homework.html


Preparing for the Inevitable: 10 things you should always have available for a substitute

I wrote in a previous post (Substitute Survival Guide) about my recent return to the classroom as a substitute teacher and I offered some advice for my colleagues who teach on an ad hoc basis. This post offers the flip side – what you can do as a classroom teacher to make life easy on your sub and your students.

There’s no one who can run your classroom as well as you. From the carefully organized bookshelf to the exact location of your favorite stapler upon your desk, everything has a place and purpose. You have the flow of the day calculated down to the minute, making sure everything is accomplished with enough time to fully explain the homework and wrap up the lesson. Even the climate and ambience of the classroom has been carefully cultivated. Perhaps it’s this personal attachment and investment with our classrooms that makes it so hard for teachers to allow someone to step in and take over – whether it’s for an afternoon dentist appointment or a 6-week parental leave. I hated calling off sick when I was a classroom teacher. Even more than the unplanned absences that come about from illness or emergencies, I would stress over writing down each detail for a upcoming day off for PD or an appointment. Sometimes, it feels like more work to prep for a sub than to just go to work!

Whether you leave your sub a well-detailed novel about what should happen in the course of a day, or you scribble, “Students should continue yesterday’s assignment – they know what to do” on a post-it (I’ve encountered a number of variations of both!), here’s a quick list of 10 things you can prepare ahead of time and have accessible for when a substitute comes to your classroom:

  1. Class rosters: Are all of these students supposed to be here? Who is missing?
  2. Schedule: When does that bell ring? What subject should you be teaching at that time? Most importantly, when is lunch!?!
  3. Homeroom Responsibilities: In addition to taking attendance, do you need to do anything else like collect lunch money or monitor the dress code?
  4. Supervisory Responsibilities: Do you have lunch, recess, hallway, or dismissal duty? If so, what does that entail?
  5. Lesson Plans: What are you supposed to be covering today?
  6. Emergency Procedures: What do you take with you for a fire drill? Where do you go?
  7. Behavioral Procedures: How do you handle misbehavior? Is there a system in place that you should follow?
  8. IEP / Special Education Information: Don’t violate FERPA, but who needs accommodations?
  9. Go-To People: What teacher nearby can help, or who do you approach in the office if you need help? Which students can you trust to give help?
  10. Support Staff: Is there anyone who pushes into the classroom for help? What is their role?

If you feel overwhelmed with the idea of creating a substitute resource file from scratch, there are a ton of planners, binder templates, and documents that you can download from the Internet to help you plan these items in an organized fashion. Here’s one that I created and offer for free download. Whatever you choose to use, make sure that this information is accessible – it’s really frustrating to wing it through the day, only to find the sub-binder on a shelf in the back of the room or the lesson plans on the floor under the desk where they were knocked off by the janitorial staff!

Once you have all of this work taken care of, don’t forget to take some vitamin C, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly so that you can use less sick days and just let that newly created sub-binder collect some dust!


Substitute Survival Guide

 

While I’ve been active in the education profession as a writer, consultant, and trainer for the past 6 years, I haven’t actually held a classroom teaching position in that time. Recently, I decided to avoid being disconnected from the classroom by taking up a position as a substitute teacher. In the midst of all the chaos – classrooms without plans, students trying to take advantage you, or getting called for a shift 15 minutes before the school day starts – I do really love subbing. I learn more about connecting with students, lesson delivery, and classroom management in a day or two of subbing than hours logged in university education or professional development. For those of you who share in this role as a substitute teacher, whether on-call daily or in a long-term position, here’s my top five tips for surviving subbing.

 

  1. Don’t undervalue your role. I get asked by students, “Why aren’t you a real teacher?” I usually reply with dramatically feigned surprise, “This isn’t real?!?” Subbing is seen as the bottom of the totem pole for education careers. There’s a mindset that if a substitute is below retirement age, then obviously they have this job because they just couldn’t land a full time job. Anyone over retirement age is just filling in for nostalgia’s sake or to cure boredom. Regardless of your reasons for subbing, you have a really important job. You need to provide stability in an unstable situation. Teachers need to be out of the classroom due to illness, professional development, family needs, or even for a vacation (yes, those a real!). You need to hold down the fort. Like a soldier taking over the post, you are responsible for this group of students – even if it’s for just a few hours. You are not “only a sub.” You are the superhero swooping in to hold back the chaos of routine disruption.
  2. Build relationships. Sure, you might just be a day-to-day sub in a different classroom, building, or even district each day of the week, but it’s still critical to connect with people (children and adults) everywhere you go. Every time you walk through the halls of a school, smile and greet people. You’ll find it makes your day generally more enjoyable. If you re in an elementary building, also make an attempt to get to know all of the “specials” teachers because chances are you will see at least one of them each time you work. Build a relationship with the building secretary; this is the person whom you see first and last each day. They wield an awful lot of power and act as the glue pulling everyone else together. Finally, try to get to know the children. Try to learn their names. Let them know you care. Too many children have adults come in and out of their lives and they never feel valued. In a class period, or over the course of a day show them how important they are.
  3. Observe to learn. Look around the classroom and the building. You can learn a lot about the school culture and classroom social environment by taking a few minutes to just look around. Don’t go through cupboards or desks in a snooping, invasive sense – but even a superficial evaluation could be enough. See what teachers are doing that works. Do you like a center strategy, library arrangement, job chart, or seating plan? Jot it down, or take a photo (but do NOT photograph students or their likenesses). Write down materials you like and consider writing a note to the teacher to ask where materials were purchased. If you are familiar with the school and are a frequent visitor, you can even ask to borrow a book or resource. Learn from each room that you are a guest in.
  4. Try it all. Go through your Pinterest board, web bookmarks, favorite blogs, or dog eared book pages and give a try to behavior modifications, bell-ringer activities, popcorn reading strategies, review games, transition ideas, and time fillers. Each day, you get a new set of students to be your guinea pigs for pedagogical experimentation. Keep a log book or chart noting the strategy you tried, the age level of the children, and pros/cons of your facilitation. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you come to learn what works well for you. This trial and error process can be critical research as you reaffirm your personal philosophy of education. You will know what you believe in because you have not only tried it with success, you know that it is better than other strategies that have failed for you.
  5. Keep a bag of tricks. What’s in my bag? Multiples copies of a daily evaluation sheet that I leave for teachers. (I use this Teachers Pay Teachers freebie: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Freebie-While-you-were-outA-Substitute-Feedback-Form-685967) I also keep stickers, a smiley face stamp and scented ink pad, pencils, erasers, and a box of crayons to share with students. The placement company I work for forbids giving food to students (it’s a liability given food sensitives, allergies, and dietary restrictions) but I know many other substitutes who keep crackers, pretzels, or small candies in their bag as well. For my own use, I also have hand sanitizer, tissues, cough drops, a granola bar, and a notebook. I also usually throw in a book to keep me occupied if I have a long lunch or planning period (those are the days to live for!).

 

Hopefully these tips can help my fellow substitutes embrace their role and arrive prepared to create a great day of learning for students!


With the holidays upon us…

First, let me extend greetings and warm wishes for you and your family during both this holiday season and for the year.

Second, let me ask you to consider the message you send through the holiday season in your classroom, your office or your building.

You have constraints, certainly, imposed by your governing body (district, building admin, etc.), but within the constraints of your seasonal celebrations, what messages are you conveying to students? To parents? To the community at large? While you are thinking about that, let me run down another trail for a moment.

My family celebrates Christmas. The operational possession there is “my family”. It is not my Christmas. I didn’t make it. I don’t own it. The traditions I had with my parents are certainly a part of my celebration today, but there are definitely differences.

No one owns the holidays. There’s a lot of hostility that exists because people have stopped wishing each other an exclusive holiday, and have gone for the more global “Happy Holidays”. Personally, I want to be inclusive. I’m not looking to rob anyone of their celebration of Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanzaa or the Prophet’s Birthday or Cyber Monday or Wright Brothers Day. I hope you, and everyone else, to has a great and relaxing holiday, and I’m not interested in wishing you the incorrect holiday for what you choose to celebrate. And if you decide to wish me a happy holiday, feel free to wish me good tidings for the holiday you celebrate, because if you wish me a Happy Chanukah, I know you are sending kind regards.

So as you get ready to celebrate, and even as you begin to remove some decorations late next week, think about how wide you are casting your net to spread tidings of comfort and joy. Hopefully, all of your students feel their celebrations are worthy of sharing with others, particularly if they include peace on earth and good will to all.

Using Rubrics as a Grading Tool

Recently I have had an interaction with an individual employed in higher education who indicated that as long as a rubric is filled out no reasoning is necessary to define why sections of a rubric were selected. Most of us in academia would agree that, that is wrong, as it leaves ambiguity for our students. It leads me to this post where I intend to offer some key characteristics to using a rubric properly.

Create Your Own Rubric:
There are resources abound that will offer sample resources on nearly every assignment you may give. Most will actually offer sample rubrics for particular assignments. So why do I think it is a good idea to create your own? Creating your own rubric allows you to tightly wind what you are looking for in an assignment. Some assignments might only need to be defined as Average, Good or Very Good, while other assignments may need multiple designations as to what each section defines. For example, if you ask for 5 resources on a research paper and a student doesn’t meet this expectation you will need to define all possibilities from 0 resources to 5 resources to properly assess this criterion. You can use examples to gather ideas, but creating your own allows you to grade in a more efficient fashion, since you’ve defined everything in accordance to the way you grade.

Follow Your Rubric:
I have experienced situations where the same rubric was used on multiple assignments. On one assignment I would receive one grade and on another assignment I would receive a different grade even though the rubric was followed in both cases. Once you’ve defined your rubric structure you must follow it. If you use the rubric for multiple assignments you must be consistent. Failing to be consistent can impact student morale and cause fatigue.

Be Prepared to Explain Your Rubric:
Some of us think in different ways. To avoid any issues it is best to explain your rubric to your course for the best execution of your plan. Failing to explain your rubric can lead to ambiguity or even a complete lack of understanding that leads to no one following it.

Be Prepared to Execute Your Rubric:
If you’ve detailed 5 resources are necessary for an assignment and only 3 are provided be certain to select the section that notes 3 resources were provided. This helps define to a student where they missed points.

Be Prepared to Offer Commentary:
Simply receiving a rubric with sections checked off is unlikely to help any student understand their grade. You should provide your reasoning for selecting the rubric sections. This provides students with the opportunity to not only see where they need improvement, but use this information for the next assignment.

Be Prepared to Discuss:
Students may not necessarily agree with every point we take off for, so it is important to allow for dialogue. Be ready to confirm your commentary by using examples. Then offer ideas for improvement, such as proofreading, peer review, etc.

Modify Accordingly:
Nothing is ever perfect. Be willing to modify your rubric according to how it is working. You might find a rubric that fits one class nicely might not fit another class. You might find that a rubric might be too harsh or too vague once you have all grades computed. Fine tuning your rubric allows for greater opportunities that it can be used over and over in the future. Be sure to modify the rubric any time you modify the assignment as well.

Rubric Tools:
Rubistar
Annenberg Learner
Teachnology Rubric Maker
iRubric
Essay Tagger

Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Rubrics

You can also use Google and Google Docs to find more tools and samples to use.


School culture

I am a novice Assistant Principal. I have arrived in a school with a dynamic principal who is dedicated to making our school an exciting and energizing place to me. I work with the curriculum and instruction aspect of the school and have attempted to implement some new programs this year.

I am trying to figure out a way to help my staff get on board with what we are attempting to do, all the while trying to understand that everyone is not going to like it, some people may actively discourage and undermine our efforts, and some people may stand in the shadows and wait for things to unfold.

I am currently engaged in research school culture and how to continue the push forward in our building. I am excited about what we are doing, I just am trying to figure out how to make it last.

For anyone with suggestions on helping me through this new adventure please feel free to contact me via email at zmwm3@goldmail.etsu.edu and please put “Novice Assistant Principal” in the subject line. Any ideas provided should be professional in nature. If the advice is multifaceted please provide the steps involved in the process.

Thanks for helping me out.


The Technology Conversation

There will be no “last word” on how technology affects our society, and as a result our kids, education system, etc. Every new app, new device, new way to create a prosthesis or synthesize a formula has potential impact on the world, so as long as we make new things, there will be no finality to the conversation.

I would love to say I am a casual observer of the effect, but I am clearly not. I am a parent of technology-users, I am a product (in terms of learning), a consumer – my life is directly affected by the ability to use technology. Many things would be much more inconvenient for me, whether writing this article or conducting my banking without going to the bank.

Before I go any further, I am going to cite three folks who are absolute GOLD when it comes to this conversation. Consider following them on Twitter, because while their viewpoints are not all the same, they are resonant, credible and poignant.

Jordan Shapiro’s (@jordosh) column today makes me think about the technology conversation. It can be found here. In short, Shapiro expresses concern about Sherry Turkle’s (@STurkle) position on modern technology, which is that modern technology is not a surrogate for true conversation and connection.

What strikes a chord for me is that Turkle said the same thing Shapiro is saying about technology when she was a young advocate for the adoption of technology. Is it really just a conversation that moves from, “Hey, the kids are alright” to “Hey, the kids are not alright?” over the course of 30 years? Danah Boyd (@zephoria), the author of “It’s Complicated” may also promote the tenet that digital connection is the connection in this day and age, and in many ways reinforces stronger bonds for young people. Danah also reports the experiences of young people who have experienced the extremely damaging power of those connections when peers turn on you.

(And Danah, if you do read this, I love your Twitter banner right now! For everyone else: It’s all R2, R4 and R5 astromech droids with an R7 tucked in the bottom right hand corner. What’s an astromech? R2-D2 from Star Wars is an astromech. But I digress…)

That probably depends on who you speak with. Now in my mid-40s, I have observed first-hand the problems students incur when using technology unfettered and undirected. I have also observed the ease with which people can complete the process-oriented pieces of life that previously consumed the life of a high school student and parent. So, more than trying to take an adversarial position in any direction, what I need to tell educators working with any student is this: Every position in this conversation is important. Sherry Turkle has experienced and grown with changes in our culture and society. Danah Boyd has lived experience and has researched first-person how technology is affecting the culture of young people (who by the way, will generally become older people). Jordan Shapiro is enmeshed in how tech, simulation and gaming are changing the dynamics of interaction.

All three of these folks have a unique perspective and focus in the tech realm, and all three (as well as many others) have important things to share. Continuing to have thoughtful and meaningful discussion about how tech is affecting our society, our young people and in turn our ability to educate those young people academically and socially is probably the most important part. So please, read away.

I also like to share articles through LinkedIn and Twitter on current technology events that are shaping our world. Feel free to join the conversation at:

LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/ericjchancy

Twitter – @ericjchancy

The Inequity of Global Comparison

For years, we have heard about how the U.S. education does not keep up with our global competitors. I would like to make a few analogies to the comparisons to help illustrate the deficiency in such a comparison.

Two different people have two separate gardens. In both gardens, they plant 100 tulip bulbs. In the first garden, you wait two weeks and eliminate 25% of the tulips who are not thriving. In three more weeks, you eliminate another 25% of the original planting, leaving only half still in the garden. In another few weeks, you eliminate another 25-35% of the original crop, leaving only 15-25% of the original crop to benefit from the garden’s (hopefully) nutrient-rich environment. You have a stellar crop of 10%.

In your second garden, you allow all 100 tulips to grow unfettered for the duration of the cycle. You have some stellar tulips, some pretty tulips, some fair tulips, some rather unsightly flowers and some that just did not grow the way they should have.

How should the choice being made by the gardeners on how to allow their gardens to come to fruition be judged? Is the first a better gardener for whittling his yield to 10%, but the best 10%? Is the second a better gardener for attempting to allow his entire yield to grow?

Many counties competing with the United States run the first garden. They only allow a certain percentage of children to move up in each level of schooling. Essentially, if the U.S. ran it’s “garden” the same way, we would remove a large chunk of students with each rise in school level. From the elementary level, we would push a large number of students to training only for work-focused activities. From the middle school to high school level, we would again remove a large chunk, pushing them toward work, vocational school or government (military or civil servant-oriented service). The last remaining 10% of students would compete doggedly for seats at the college / university level. In essence, the system decides for you what your options are based on your demonstrated academic level (and sometimes your connections).

Compare that with a system that lets you decide how when and where your options are. Maybe you don’t put the work in while in high school, but you decide at 30 to get yourself together and make it happen. You can’t do that in the first garden.

The way that we are evaluating our effectiveness in preparing our adult workforce IS NOT congruent with the systems in which our young people are being educated. In those competing countries, 10% of the population is effectively being compared with the progress of 90% of the students in the US.

It comes down to what freedoms you are willing to give up. Are you willing to run the risk that your child will be refused entry to a traditional high school because we want better performance statistics, or does your child deserve each and every opportunity to succeed, even if it means there is potential for failure? I have my own bent, but I went back to school at 35 to get my doctorate. No one, not even our global competitors who would never have let me in can take that away from me.


Reaching 1 Million Kids with Augmented Reality ….

Reaching 1 Million Kids with Augmented Reality ….

Scan this image with the Blippar App

Augmented reality is a very powerful learning tool that transform the classroom like nothing else.  You can bring the world even the universe to your classroom.  My goal is to help teachers harness the power of augmented reality and help them use this powerful tool in their classroom.  I would love to reach at least 1 million kids.

All you have to do is try at least one Augmented Tool with your students and let me know how many students tried the tool.  There are several Augmented Tools you can try.  I have a Symbaloo Board full of tools you can choose from.  It is best to login to your Symbaloo and add this board to your list to view all of the tools.

After you have tried an Augmented tool please fill out this form.  This will help me keep track of how many kids we are reaching with augmented content. You can fill out the form for each time you try an Augmented tool with your students.  If you are using social media you can also share your experience with the Augmented tool by using the hashtag #AR4Kids.

I am working on creating lessons that are enriched with Augmented content.  Keep your eye in our AR Lesson section in the Augmented Reality for Education Google+ Group.  The next lesson I will be posting will be a unit over the book Charlotte’s Web along with a few Augmented STEM lessons.

AugThat is wanting to help reach 1 Million kids through Augmented Reality and will give teachers a sample of Augmented content to help with this cause.  To receive your augmented content please contact lisa@augthat.com and let her know you are helping us reach 1 Million kids please use the code #AR4Kids. She will set you up with an account and the give you access to their augmented triggers.

Blippar also has a Augmented building platform that is easy to use.  You will need to contact Stephen at Blippar and he will set you up with a free account so you can start creating your own AR content.  If you can drag, drop, copy & paste you can create simple Augmented content too.  You can also reach out to me and I would love to help you create AR projects.

Some of My Favorite AR Tools:

Together Let’s Reach 1 Million Kids with Augmented Reality!

Education around the world

Education is a very personal issue. The recipients could experience the repercussions of a solid or a poor education for the duration of their lives. Those who are professional educators experience it in a way that is often different from business professionals, because they carry the experiences and successes and defeats of the children they serve with them as they move forward in their careers. One educator I worked with from 1999-2002 recently told me that she still wonders if we did the right thing for a student in a particularly difficult situation. These are the trials and tribulations of the professional educator: Your decisions in the moment could have impact over the long haul.

The personal nature of it makes education an easy target to create an audience. It is an easy news item, and a simple way to roil people into thinking their community is in dire jeopardy because we are “not keeping up with our global competitors.” This is a false statement on its face, but it is fairly simple to use some juggling of numbers to make the statement appear to be true. (I intend to address this in upcoming articles.)

So, more than anything today, here and now, if you are an educator, a parent with a child who benefits from education, a teacher who hears all the rhetoric and wonders where the support is, a community member who wants great education for children but hears all the blather, an administrator who knows we have a great thing going here but becomes so disheartened hearing the media talking points, take heart. Our children are learning more than they ever have before. There is more content packed into the K-8 curriculum in most instances than there was at some high schools 50 years ago. There are more 8th graders taking Algebra 1 or higher than at any other time in the nation’s history. There are more and more early college programs available in school districts each year, affording students the opportunity to advance their learning AND earn college credit, often for free!

If you teach, if you work in a school, if you care about and participate in your child’s education, you are making a difference and an opportunity. There will be students and families who do not take advantage of the opportunity made available. There are only so many tweaks and changes you can make to that. Keep teaching, keep learning, and keep making us all better with your time, your energy and your knowledge.