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Topic: home work

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Subject:   RE: home work
Author: markovchaney
Date: Oct 8 2006
On Oct  8 2006, Mathman wrote:

Very well.  I'll try to
> reepsond to these questions, but again, onyl this once, since I
> still do not wish to disturb the tone of this forum, which I
> presently admire.

1.what is it about how we present math to
> students that makes it so unappealing, for the most part, that they
> > see homework as drudgery and punishment, and celebrate when the
> teacher doesn't assign any?

We don't.  At least I didn't.  What
> is it about hockey practice that only a few will get up at 6 in the
> morning and hammer away at a puck until it's time for school?  It's
> a matter of personal choice, as I tried to indicate, not the
> responsibility of a coach who will point in the right direction
> ..and certainly have some demands upon his charges, and for good
> reason ...similar reasons in fact.

But you've really not addressed my question. You've merely said that you didn't
feel that way as a student (and no surprise: look what you do for a living) and
that after all, folks get up early to go to hockey practice.

But hockey players can choose not to be hockey players. School kids don't have
any choice about whether or not to take mathematics until at least age 16. They
may not have to DO any math, or even listen to math in class, but they have to
put up with crud from teachers and/or parents if they don't.

So I wonder why we don't make math more appealing to the majority of kids? Which
is why I raised these questions in the first place.

2.What makes TEACHERS clearly
> acknowledge
> that homework is in fact drudgery and punishment by
> offering
> "homework passes" as rewards in class?

If they do
> offer such passes it is most likely not for the reason you propose.
> Rewards are just that.  The accomplishment of finished work itself
> is a major reward, and might be enough.  An alternative is to give
> none, and simply let students fail without trying to push them to
> the limits they really possess, rather than the lesser ones they
> impose upon themselves.

My point was and remains, unaddressed: why do they acknowledge that homework is
punishment by letting students out of it? Or by announcing, "Good news: no
homework tonight (or this weekend)"? I'm not claiming you do this. I'm claiming
and know for absolutely sure that it happens all the time in classrooms
throughout the country. Are you denying this and claiming it rarely occurs, if

3. Why can't we give assignments
> that
> students look forward to doing?

I did.

If so, you should share them with us here or on other publicly accessible lists.
But I don't mean that your "eager beavers" feel that way about, but rather that
help convert those indifferent  or even antagonistic towards mathematics
homework to feel eager or at least more willing to complete the work.

4.  Is math a matter of
> "no pain,
> no gain," and, if so, is that a NECESSARY condition of
> learning the
> subject? Of most subjects?

In a word, "Yes".

Well, therein lies a huge chasm that I suspect we can't breach. You're not alone
in your view, of course. I just find it antithetical to mine. Please note that
"painful" is not the opposite of "easiest," or of "effortless." Many math
problems are difficult and challenging and thought-provoking. I find all those
words perfectly fine in thinking about what I want students to face. I find it
most telling that you see the options as "mindless, easy, unchallenging,
pointless" vs. "onerous, painful, etc." There's a vast middle ground. I find the
"no pain, no gain," Marine Corps, fraternity-hazing models objectionable. The
folks who tend to push that view of math are generally the ones for which most
K12 math was a breeze, or relatively so. They probably faced some challenges in
upper-division math major courses (otherwise, for the most part, they'd be
doing something other than teaching 6-12 math), but they haven't really had to
deal themselves with the difficulties most American kids face with just the
regular math curriculum in K-5 and beyond. They have a VERY difficult time
empathizing with how difficult learning elementary math can be for many kids,
especially when taught either incompetently, as is often the case, or with
hostility, intolerance, and inflexibility, as is also far too often the case. I
state that based both on what students have told me for years and what I've
personally observed in my work as a field supervisor in mathematics for the
University of Michigan and as a mathematics coach for Oakland Intermediate
School District. A lot of angry, mean-spirited teachers out there. And a lot
of incompetents. Neither of which makes for good mathematics education.

> any of us did only what was simplest, easiest, no effort, just drift
> along, then we would surely not have gained what we did through our
> own effort.  We should deny that of them?  ...[A rhetorical
> question.]  I don't know about you, for whom everything might have
> been simple, and require only a single glance, but my own effort
> included a lot of very rigorous enquiry, which was impossible to
> accomplish solely in a classroom environment, either in public
> school or university ...especially in university.  The end result
> payed off, leaving exams in half the time needed, and feeling a
> deeper understanding of the underlying principles, but the initial
> effort was certainly strenuous and demanding ...and I thank God and
> my profs for that.  I've also seen the wonderful results of
> students' struggles as they found studies in the following years
> much easier because of their own effort.

This is apples and oranges, on my view. What you experienced as a university
student (and math major, no doubt) has little in common with the experiences of
the vast majority of students in K12 who have no interest in learning math given
how it's generally taught.

Necessary?  Who knows?
> Not if you are a genius, I suppose.  I've had the privilege of
> teaching some of those as well, and they, more than any other, did
> their "regular" required work, and only needed something extra, not
> something missing.  It's a matter of providing initial course
> requirements, and some meeting those more easily than others.

It's interesting that you suggest that math came easy for me or that I or some
hypothetical student is a genius. Quite the contrary. I did fine in math from K
to 8. I began, for various reasons, to lose interest in 9th grade, but still did
fine through the end of 10th. But was less and less engaged by worse and worse
instruction. Got A's in subjects where the teachers were more interesting and

So I didn't take another math-related course voluntarily until I was 28 or so,
when I took a series of stats courses for education majors and then for doctoral
students in psychology when I was at U of Florida. Slowly gained interest on my
own after that in learning calculus, etc. and did so through my 30s. Took the
undergraduate math sequence over a period of about 5 years, part-time, and
then came to Ann Arbor to do graduate work in mathematics education at 42. Very
few courses came easy to me. But to the extent that I was motivated either by
the teacher, the book, or the problems, I was willing to do them. I simply came
to suspect that things could be done better than they generally were being done
in many of the classrooms I was in. Much of the instruction was dry as dust. And
I don't think that's changed much through the last twenty years, at any grade
level. Which, of course, is why I keep raising these issues.

My gripes with your attitude is that you seem very black and white about most
things: either it's all on teachers or it's all on parents and kids. Either you
suffer and grow, or you slack off and fail to thrive. No pain, no gain. And I'm
afraid that isn't going to help us get American kids into the "math club." By
that I don't mean the high school after school group that meets to try
challenging problems and maybe compete in contests. I mean the club of those who
use mathematics and know they can learn it.

I really suggest you look at Kohn's book on the "homework myth." He's not making
up the research he cites as evidence that homework may not be quite so necessary
as we have been led to believe (or just accepted as "common sense" that such is
the case).

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