August 28, 2006

Around the News 'Nets

I don't have much time today, but there are a bunch of news stories going by that I wanted to at least mention. This would be a "You and James Read the News" post, except for the fact that I'm only skimming the news. If you want headline news, go to CNN. This is Dr. Momentum headline news.

Is The Importance of Homework Overrated?

According to a 2004 national survey of 2,900 American children conducted by the University of Michigan, the amount of time spent on homework is up 51% since 1981. [...]

The onslaught comes despite the fact that an exhaustive review by the nation's top homework scholar, Duke University's Harris Cooper, concluded that homework does not measurably improve academic achievement for kids in grade school. That's right: all the sweat and tears do not make Johnny a better reader or mathematician.

My daughter gets lots of homework, so much that little time is left for anything else during the school year. Maybe it's necessary, but I wonder.

Tough Love Leads To Son's Death

Ashley's family say his parents wanted to teach him a lesson about the consequences of breaking the law. He had taken his mother's car without permission so they had him charged him with theft. [...]

But on the trip to Auckland Central Remand prison, he was believed to have been strangled and assaulted by two others in the van.

Waterboard Congress

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has during his tenure approved the use of a dozen extreme interrogation methods above and beyond those previously permitted by the Pentagon, including, but not limited to, hooding, disrobing, placing detainees in stress positions and exploiting their "fear of dogs." When the resulting Abu Ghraib photos leaked out in 2004, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) declared that he was more "outraged by the outrage" than by the actual evidence of detainee abuse.

So: Inhofe should be blindfolded, put in a straitjacket and left in a room full of crazed chihuahuas until he explains why he believes that the U.S. military should not be constrained to follow the laws of the land, such as the Anti-Torture Act.
OK - that one's not a news story, it's an editorial. But any story with Sen. Inhofe and a bunch of crazed chihuahuas is going to get my attention.

Unknown creature was found by soldiers

I think this creature is a fake, but I dig cryptozoology. And the debunking of cryptozoology.

Posted by James at August 28, 2006 2:47 PM
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Gotta say it seems like kids get crazy amounts of homework to do these days. I don't remember spending much time on homework in grammar/middle/high school. Reading for English class and studying for tests but very little else. I'd do the occasional math problems but I generally "got' it in class the 1st time so I mostly didn't do that homework. Homework to help figure stuff out is one thing, homework for the sake of homework is just silly. It kills me to see kids hauling entire libraries back and forth to school every day. My "book bag" in middle school was an old pillowcase (don't ask).

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at August 28, 2006 2:58 PM

LOL. It's a dead muppet or the remains of Gypsy from MST3K.

Re: homework, I think this is an issue of quality, not quantity. I have read that stretching doesn't help prevent injuries, but I think the truth is that stretching *as people normally stretch* doesn't help prevent injuries, because most people stretch wrong. I think most teachers don't give the right homework and most students don't approach homework with the right attitude (possibly because they're mentally exhausted by the time they get to it).

In an ideal world, I do believe that homework is a good thing. It allows the student to fully explore a concept and its variations, and it gives the teacher insight into the understanding of a particular student, as well as helping to gauge the comprehension of the class as a whole. Ideally a student shouldn't have a lot of homework, s/he should have exactly the homework she needs. However, no teacher has the time to come up with tailored homework assignments for every student. Maybe there's a way that students could do that for themselves, or at least choose from a set of problems, e.g. in mathematics, two super-challenging problems requiring a deep understanding of the subject plus insight, five drilling problems which explore the concept, or ten very basic problems which allow the student to practice following the algorithm for solving the problem.

I was reflecting today that when I read over the textbook before I teach, I constantly ask myself the questions I think students might ask. I have to either figure out the answers or research them. But when I was a student, I didn't read that way. It's a better way to read if you want to learn, but how many students do that? How many have the resources to answer the question (e.g. knowledgeable parents, ability to research) at hand? And how many are too exhausted from their busy soccer/dance/hockey schedules to put the effort into homework?

I don't know if this needs to be done at home, but I think children need time to work on problems on their own and reflect on the subject matter. Maybe that could happen at school, giving them time at home to be with their families and/or do things that are more rewarding for them. Especially as funding limitations require schools to cut athletic and after-school enrichment programs. Nobody should sit at a desk all day and then have to do the same all afternoon and/or evening.

Posted by: Maggie at August 28, 2006 3:38 PM

Snif. MST3K. So sad.

It does sort of look like a muppet. Specifically, a Skeksis, I think (from The Dark Crystal).

In grade school, some of my "homework" was worthwhile, but quite a bit of it was mindless busywork. I remember several teachers who would have us write our vocabulary words 20 times each, or something like that. I don't deny that this can be a good way for some people to learn how to spell a word, but for those of use who already knew how to spell the words, it was writing 400 words each week for no good reason. (I think it was also intended to improve our penmanship. Har!)

What was most annoying about the spelling homework was that the teacher didn't look at it. You'd get a 0 if you didn't do it, and if an error caught her eye you'd catch hell for it. But we did contractions one week, and since she didn't check my homework, she didn't tell me (and I had no idea) that I wasn't supposed to connect my letters where the apostrophe goes. I found out when she gave me an F on that quiz.

Vengeance was mine. I now write "cant" and "dont" without breaks and then stick the apostrophes in between the letters. And she's dead now. (Probably. She was pretty old.) Ha!!

Posted by: Julie at August 28, 2006 5:03 PM

Nobody should sit at a desk all day and then have to do the same all afternoon and/or evening.

Welcome to my life.

Posted by: DG at August 28, 2006 9:13 PM

Re homework: I agree. Homework seems pointless in some scenarios. Especially the repetitive stuff. But I think the meaning of homework these days is a part of discipline. Without homework, what would the majority of students be doing in place of it? Though, most do not do homework, it at least instills fear into them (some of them). After spending some time watching some classes... I think the homework should be used as a very medeival weapon - for slicing or striking students who are disruptive and problematic.

Re creature thing: Whatever it is/was... I want one.

Posted by: Derek at August 28, 2006 9:17 PM

Clarification on homework students: It's given to the whole class, but it should be given to the jerkasses as a punishment. Though, that would raise discrimination flags I suppose. Example: If a pair of students are "petting heavily" in a classroom, let's just say mathematics, then they should get extra homework as a form of punishment (deterent from engaging in lewd behavior). Example 2: student A just told teacher B to "go fuck themselves" just because teacher B is teaching. That deserves homework (used as a weapon).

That makes sense now.

Posted by: Derek at August 28, 2006 9:22 PM

Derek, these sound like actual scenarios I've heard of, but I'm not saying where I heard them. Not in public, anyhow.

Posted by: James at August 28, 2006 9:39 PM

If that's happening in public school, those students should be suspended.

Posted by: Maggie at August 28, 2006 10:35 PM

They might be real scenarios;
They might be happening in public schools;
They might not be getting suspended;
There might only be little to no disciplinary action;

I suppose IF those scenarios might be true, then it's a damn shame.

Posted by: Derek at August 29, 2006 6:40 AM

Derek, that *is* shameful. Unless the teacher in question derives great satisfaction from other aspects of that challenge, perhaps she should look into a different age group or a different school district.

Posted by: Maggie at August 29, 2006 12:02 PM

I think things are basically tough all over for teachers. And especially new teachers.

That's my understanding.

And I will venture a guess and say that there are actually worse classrooms.

Posted by: James at August 29, 2006 12:28 PM

I remember having homework, and I distinctly recall not carrying all my books home every night.

Let's see: Algebra homework tonight, so I need that book, but no Western Civ., so I won't need that..."

I studied a lot, but did a lot of it in study halls. In middle school, I knew algebra was going to kill me in H.S., and I was right. I stayed for extra help a lot, sometimes until after the late bus, so my teacher would give me a lift home.

Anyhow, I wonder if this whole MCAS boondoggle has increased the amount of crap kids have to haul home every night.

I would like to say that I had many fine teachers whom I recall with great fondness. I wish there were some kind of teacher reunion I could attend so I could thank them for all they did.

That having been said, I wouldn't dream of teaching. Crappy pay, disrespect, and now teaching to a test rather than teaching ideas. No thanks!

Posted by: Patti M. at August 29, 2006 1:00 PM

Patti, it's not as bad as you think. The MCAS gets a bad rap because of how it's being used, or how it's been suggested that it be used, but the original purpose of the test was to align all district curricula in MA. Therefore if a child transferred from one district to another, s/he would be exactly where she should be in terms of curriculum, and not learning something she learned the year before, or vastly behind.

I don't see anything wrong with the curriculum being organized that way. And a good teacher can do great things with any curriculum, and a lousy teacher can do lousy things with any curriculum -- that hasn't changed.

Ideally, there should be a better student/teacher ratio, and more opportunities for enrichment. But I'm really impressed with what I've seen my daughters' teachers doing.

Posted by: Maggie at August 29, 2006 1:42 PM

Asshole spammers.

I remember planning my study period activities based on which books were the heaviest, or how many books I could eliminate, to take home the fewest books possible. There were a few semesters when I didn't have any study periods (I gave them up to be a library aide because I needed "activities" for my college applications).

At one point my only study period was first thing in the morning. I didn't like to use that to do homework because I wasn't always sure how long it would take me to finish.

That was all in high school, though. Before that, there were no study periods, and they wouldn't let us take our books outside for recess. I tried to do some of my homework on the bus, when possible.

I've heard of a "late bus" before but we didn't have those in Taunton. Either you left on the one bus for your route, or you had to have someone pick you up.

Posted by: Julie at August 29, 2006 1:53 PM

At the middle school here in town, there is last-period study. However, if you're in chorus, band, or orchestra, each takes one day's study period. Your language class takes one day's study period, and if you get any services, such as OT or speech, that takes one day's study period.

I understand there are more study periods in seventh and eighth grade than sixth; I'm not sure why.

They have after-school clubs, like science, technology, drama, and also a homework club, where students can start doing their homework in school, with guidance, and receive help organizing their assignments and figuring out what to bring home.

School has come a long way toward being more humane to the students since we were kids. The private school I went to was great, but once I got to high school (parochial), it was like a prison.

Posted by: Maggie at August 29, 2006 2:45 PM

I had so many study periods one year in HS, I took extra gym for fun.

Posted by: Patti M. at August 29, 2006 2:52 PM

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