The Homework I Gave

I assigned homework to four of five classes this week, which is something like a personal record.Relevant reading: Why I Don’t Assign Homework I’d ordinarily count it as a professional low, also, but I don’t hate myself for three reasons:

  1. There wasn’t enough time to practice in class. Though this one cuts both ways. If, for example, our time shortage was on account of my lousy time/class management, this would’ve been a lousy reason to assign outside work.Which is why a lot of teachers assign homework, I suspect.

    It was an abbreviated single-period day, though, 48 minutes in all, which made homework a little more necessary than usual.

  2. We practiced just enough in class. There are upper and lower bounds here. Practice the homework skills too little in class and only the most intuitive students are gonna escape the night. Practice the homework skills too much and what’s the point?

    There’s a narrow, acceptable band here and we struck it every time today, mostly by practicing deep into a concept in class and then retreating to some easier practice for the homework.

  3. Different students, different assignments. This was awesome.

    Until today I was a lousy accountant with awesome books, a meticulous statistician who didn’t use his data for anything.

    We have four concepts on the books right now, two of which have been stealing our lunch money on a daily basis: Midpoint Formula and Quadrilateral ID.

    End of class today, I put up two assignments of equal difficulty, one for Quadrilateral ID, one for Midpoint Formula.

    “Whichever concept you haven’t passed,” I said, “that’s your work tonight. If you’ve passed neither, you choose between the two how you want to spend your time. If you’ve passed both, good work, enjoy your evening.”

    It was a very very very weird thing for them, I think, selecting an assignment for themselves. There were fewer complaints than usual and what complaints there were seemed more rote than usual.

This game I’m running has turned the dry business of assessment into a thing of beauty. I’d love to see it do the same to homework.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I have taken to adding the letters “yc” to some of my assignments. I have a class, and elective, where discussion of problems (problems, not exercises) is crucial. To get a range of experiences into the room, I will assign things like:

    PS6/1 – 7, 2 non-consec, yc

    Which means problem set 6, from problems 1 through 7 choose 2 non-consecutive problems, your choice.

    All you have to hear is one “ooh, that looked hard, what did you do?” to understand how completely into “choice” these kiddies have become.

    Different assignments for different kids and for the benefit of all kids.

  2. I’ve been giving my pre-calc students the option of doing homework or not for the past two years. Since pre-calc at our school has turned into a review of Algebra II, it has helped the kids make it through the material.

    I give an assignment, and tell them that they need to do enough to understand the concept for the test. Most of the time I end with a focus on the word problems, which I feel are the most important part anyway.

  3. Well … intrigued as I am by Bill’s optional homework efforts, my homework was decidedly un-optional. They just had some say in the matter.