Every time I see something on Facebook about how lazy students are these days, I feel like my own students have been insulted and judged. Most high school students don’t have to be nagged to brush their teeth, so why we we having to push so hard to get them to do their homework: relevance. They see the point of brushing their teeth, but they don’t fully buy into the importance of their homework…and they might be right about both. Dave Burgess recently released his video claiming that homework should work the same way as the Gift Shop at a theme park: whet the kids appetites for the product and they will buy. Immediately there were protests from those who thought he was against homework. There has been a lot of research about homework recently. As a body, it seems to define much of it as worthless or worse, but that is because of the kind of homework being assigned. As with so many things, we teachers need to have a meeting of the minds.
Our students need to be able to compete in a global economy. We can’t compare ourselves with ourselves and say our kids need more play time. Those cries of entitlement make my heart sink knowing where that attitude will take us. But that is not what Dave is saying. He is saying we need to put more effort in making homework relevant, and I agree.
Whetting students’ appetites is going to look different by age and interests. Making that happen with high school math students is a work of art. One thing that does not work is telling students how it will affect them later. One of my students pointed out, “In elementary school, they warned us we needed to shape up for middle school. In middle school, they told us we need to shape up for high school. We didn’t, and nothing bad has happened. Why should we listen to teachers now?”
Motivating students to invest serious thought and effort in homework takes time and creativity or tons of time hunting for ideas from others. But if students don’t find homework compelling, whose fault is that? Older students need to have a picture of what it looks like to have to feed themselves. They need to see 21st Century jobs (primarily STEM) and think beyond traditional careers, many of which are vanishing.
Parents can help by:
- Taking their children to work or finding others who can.
- Visiting a few college campuses to see older students do.
- Serving disadvantaged and homeless people for a comparison.
Teachers can help by:
- Insisting on curriculum that is relevant
- Integrating interesting and engaging tasks
- Injecting infectious enthusiasm
The bottom line is it is all about motivating. Sure, there is plenty of blame to go around, but knowing the difference a strong math background will make in the life of a 21st Century graduate, I’m going to give it my all.