Monday, September 22, 2014

Homework: Great Idea or a Waste of Time?

photo credit: ** RCB ** via photopincc

At this point in the year, your child's routines both in and out of school, should be starting to fall in place. Granted, there may be some tweaking necessary, many of us are beginning to notice certain patterns. At my house, we've realized that the success of our morning routine is dependent on what happens the previous evening. If the coffee maker is programmed, the snacks and water bottles are lined up on the counter, and the boys' clothes are laid out, my wife and I are less stressed in the morning, as are my boys. Unfortunately, even the best plans can be derailed by unforeseen circumstances, or when everyone is not on top of their game at six in the morning. One thing we've realized, though, is that routines are an important part of functioning efficiently and staying prepared.

Homework is one of those routines of which you and your child are intimately familiar. For a few lucky parents, getting their kids to study has never been an issue. For others, it has been a constant, stressful battle that ends with arguments and tears. My second-grade son started receiving homework last year, and while he doesn't mind parts of it, he absolutely hates others. The frustration that can arise from getting our children to complete their homework thoughtfully, neatly, and on time sometimes begs the question: Is homework beneficial?

On Saturday, I took the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other educators from the region by attending an EdCamp in Palatine, Illinois. The beauty of EdCamp is in that way that it's organized - there is no preset agenda. Instead, it is determined by the attendees, in the moment. At one point in the day, I met with a group of educators who wanted to discuss the validity of homework. Those involved in the conversation were evenly split regarding its necessity. Some believed that it provided additional and necessary practice, while others thought it to be nothing more than busy work. One teacher pointed out that homework teaches valuable life skills, like responsibility and grit. Another claimed that kids already had too much to do after school with things like sports, instrument lessons, and chores filling an evening. In the end, it was difficult to reach an agreement other than to say that homework should be reasonable and meaningful.

By the end of the week, you can expect to see regular homework from me. Typically, it will be reading in order to be prepared for class the next day. Occasionally, it will be work that was not finished in class. Still, I'm curious. What are your thoughts about homework? Feel free to share your comments.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Unknown Spherical Objects

Closely Examining the Unknown Spherical Object
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At first blush, it may not seem that science and language arts have much in common.  How do precise measurements and careful observations connect with elaboration and word choice? Much more closely than you think. Whether a physicist is attempting to reproduce the experiment of another, or a poet is trying to capture the beauty of the summer sunrise, details and language are key to both disciplines. Take a moment to read any of the writings of Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau,
John James Audubon, or Rachel Carson and you will  find yourself immersed in writing that is meticulously poetic.

Mrs. Fultz and I decided to take advantage of the similarities of our disciplines by focusing on the power of the written word to explain and describe. In her agents' Mission Logs and Writer's Notebooks, we realized there was a need for more detailed and elaborated writing. Mrs. Fultz wanted clear and concise log entries, and I wanted writers to create pictures using words.

This fall, in both classes, students made observations of the world around them. Science classes used USM's beautiful campus to record the details of trees, birds, and flowers. Sentences and phrases from the students' Mission Logs were used in language arts as models and as starting points for revising general details into specific ones. In my class, students were asked to look closely at an intimately familiar object - the orange - with one caveat: They had to pretend that this was their first encounter with the 'Unknown Spherical Object', and that this was an agent training module for their science class. They were charged with qualitatively describing their unusual find. For two days, agents explored the USOs using their five senses. They documented the outside and dissected the inside, without ever referring to it as an orange. Finally, students began to compose entries in their Writer's Notebooks that would thoroughly describe their objects. At the same time, in science, the USOs were being described quantitatively. Measurements were made, and numbers were crunched in an effort to scientifically define the sphere.

So far, the students have enjoyed the challenging activity. Not only that, but my classroom has smelled fantastic! Mrs. Fultz and I look forward to working with the agents to revise and add even more specific details to their science and English writing.