Getting the Most From Homework

September 10, 2013 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

Here is a blog I have cross-posted from my Elements of Game Design in Math Class blog:

I think it’s important to consider why we do homework, and to make sure our students understand that the goal is learning and understanding, not just accumulating points or doing busy work. Let me know what you think – George

Leveling Up, But Not Passing?

Now that the dust has settled from the first exam …

Between my 3 courses I had 63 students level up, and 55 of them (87%) passed the exam. But what about the 8 students who leveled up but did not pass? Obviously I understand that this can happen, but the goal is that if students are doing their homework with the goal of learning and understanding the material they should pass the exams. Of the 8 students, most were in the upper 50′s or 60′s. To me, that is close enough that they may have understood the material and had a bad day. It was their first test with me, and that can be an adjustment period.

In the past I have had a handful students who leveled up (90% or higher on all online homework, 70% or higher on all online quizzes), but score really low on the exam. In fact, the scores are so low that it’s hard to believe that the homework scores are true reflections of what the student knows. One problem is that many students have trained themselves to do the homework to accumulate points rather than knowledge. Using MyMathLab, students can over rely on learning aids such as “Help Me Solve This” or “Show An Example” and be tricked into thinking they are learning when they are not. They can have their resources available while working on their homework or quizzes, and may not realize that they can only solve the problems while using reference materials. Unfortunately these materials and the MyMathLab learning aids are not available during the in class exams.

Another problem could be the overuse/reliance on a personal tutor. I had a student who did the homework with a tutor, and I am fairly confident that the tutor was doing a lion’s share of the work. This will always show up on exam day.

At the beginning of the semester I make a big deal about the purpose of the homework. I use homework to allow my students to practice, to learn, to explore, to understand. Their goal should be to use the homework to gain a thorough understanding of the material, NOT to accumulate points. Since my students can only earn points by passing exams, they (for the most part) gain the correct perspective. I’m afraid that many students in our classes do homework because it’s something they are supposed to do, and have no idea about the goal of the homework.

In the past I have noticed that two things occur on the second exam. First, more people will level up because they understand how important that is. Second, the proportion of leveled up students who pass the exam increases, because they get the message that “understanding the math” is the goal and they make the necessary adjustments. Time will tell …


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