This year, I will teach two sections of AP Statistics, as I have since 1997. I feel confident in providing good activities for kids, setting appropriate standards for the students I teach, modeling the kind of writing/ reading/ thinking from my students, and closely monitoring their work and providing good feedback. I always know that more can be done on all of these fronts, but feedback from students suggest that things are “working.”
In the feedback I received from students in AP Statistics last year, one of the least helpful tools for helping them learn were the daily homework assignments. I thoughtfully picked good problems, and didn’t overwhelm them with too many. Assignments were, for sure, time appropriate. But I want Daily Homework to be a better tool for their learning.
What I don’t want to do right now:
- Lament the effort level of students, and say, “none of them see the value homework.” If that is true, then it’s my job to select better tasks, or make the connection more clear for them.
- Blame myself for “not being tougher about homework.” I don’t think that’s the issue.
- More precisely identify the role of daily homework as a tool to help seniors achieve my goals for them in AP Stats. In particular, what’s the evidence that doing these problems helps them be more successful on the things I want them to do at the end of the course?
- Find better ways to bring that connection to the surface for my students. Show (don’t tell) them how it’s important.
- I notice that in AP Stats, there are fewer “typical problems,” and more problems that require unpacking of concepts in new, different contexts. In other courses like precalculus and algebra, most students more easily see the “problem types” that are likely to emerge on assessments. in AP Stats, the reinforcements of concepts tends to look more different from problem to problem.
- In AP Stats, students struggle more to communicate their understanding clearly – especially when using verbal arguments. They “get it” in their head, but falter in communicating their understanding with correct precise language. What makes these problems “hard” is in providing clearly communicated evidence.
- I think seniors (by this time) tend do the business of school very well. They work for what pays off. If they don’t get “paid” for it, they are less likely to do it. “Payoff,” however, isn’t just about grades: it’s also about getting clear feedback about whether they meet expectations.
Other things I noticed about how we deal with homework:
- I and the students tended to not discuss these questions in class in a meaningful way. We devoted more time to “higher stakes” tasks. We both are complicit in treating homework as “practice you should do at home.” But then what’s its value? I think that nearly all work requires good feedback. It’s hard for kids to do this alone.
- I relied on students consulting solutions manuals as a tool for self-assessment and checking their own understanding. If you teach seniors, you know the mantra: “You’re all mature enough now to know use homework as a learning tool. Here are the tools. Now be mature folks and do it!” This might work for some students, but I get it when they don’t buy into this approach.
- Some students who completed the daily assignments did one of two things: they tended to do the assignment “halfway,” or practically transcribed their solutions from the student solutions provided in the back as a means of “getting the points for homework.” Later assessments reveals that they did not understand what they wrote.
- Many of my best learners in AP Stats would do what I hoped for: they used the problems as a gauge to assess their understanding by doing them, checking their work, and then raising / asking questions about their work and the online solutions. But these conversations tended to happen in office visits with me, and involved students who tended to take longer getting the important ideas.
- My senior students in AP (nearly all seniors) tended to “rally” for things that were graded, and not spend as much time on things that didn’t result in a grade book grade. Indeed, daily homework was worth, at the very most, only 5% or 10% of their grade. Because many of them were very quick studies (and truly could get the important stuff without more time /effort on problems), this approach worked for them on more high-stakes assessments. But I think some opportunities are being missed by not making all students “check in” on their understanding more frequently.