Homework Brainstorm

Currently I don't give any type of homework at all. And I love it. Homework seems like such a hassle for so little benefit. I don't feel like my students have learned any less without homework. But I will say I try to spend the majority of class with them working problems in some format- which is why I don't feel guilty about being homeworkless.

Most popular reasons that students don't do homework:
  • Don't want to take anything home
  • Forget about it
  • Don't know how to do it
  • Have no one at home who can help them
  • No time due to job/sports/family things

I've been brainstorming a way that homework can literally work and avoid these issues. My big brain child is:


What if homework assignments are based solely on vocab? Then they can't use some of those excuses. It is still math related, class related, and requires some outside thinking beyond class time. It's also a way to build academic vocabulary and writing in math. A way to increase responsibility and accountability. And I don't want them to be completely floored by the amount of homework given in college. But they aren't in college yet so I am not going to run my classroom like that.

I just came up with this idea and so this post is mostly to think things through rather than persuade you to agree with me.

I'm thinking that students will have a notebook (separate from my math binder) just for vocab. Then maybe two vocab activities a week and I'll collect notebooks once a week or once every two weeks?

By vocab activities, I'm thinking of things like Venn diagrams, drawing a picture of what the word means, writing analogies, and...okay that's all I've thought of so far.

The more I think about this idea, the more I like it.

It lends itself well to another idea I would like to try. I want to develop essential questions for each unit and then make that an open response or essay question. This is my favorite idea for naturally integrating writing into my classroom. I could have the students help create a rubric as well. Maybe even some self-assessment?

I know that there is never a huge amount of motivation for homework but I think it might hook some of the students who are creative thinkers and enjoy writing. I think it would be less intimidating than sending home a worksheet.  I also think by not collecting it every day that students would have enough time through the week, at some point, to complete it. It would also be an option for students who get done early to work on in class.

My English teacher bestie is on board and agreed to do the exact same thing that I decide to do in her class as well. I think that will go a long way toward increasing vocabulary overall and showing some unity in our school culture. And it will help train them real good. =)

I obviously need to come up with some more activities for said vocab notebook but I think I like where this is going.


Possible Resources:
FUN Ways to Teach Vocabulary
Vocab Dominoes
Math Taboo
Building Academic Vocabulary
Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement


  1. My chemistry class is mostly homewokless, too. I like the vocabulary idea a lot. Just this week, a student said I should give more homework. I was thinking of having students preread the text (which I don't use enough either), but didn't know how to check that. Vocabulary could be the way through. Not understanding the reading wouldn't be an excuse anymore, and the side benefit is that they'll have better vocab. Cool.

    1. Some students like homework to help boot=st their grades. If you're looking for a way to make sure they preread, pick out a few key words and have them write the sentence from the text that contains that word. Then ask them to write what they think that word means in there own words.

      I love that you read this and translated it to another content area. =)

  2. As someone who currently teaches college classes, my students have been "trained" to want homework (and, as I learned early on, to want homework graded). I would love, love, LOVE a homework-free class...but I fear too many of my students who take the class because they have to will slack off and then fail the exams. One could say they are adults and so be it, but that's not my style to set them up for failure. I'll be interested to see how things go with your classes!

    1. What does your in class instruction look like?

      I feel like my students get enough practice time with immediate feedback during class with me. To give them more of the same seems redundant.

      I would like something that makes them think though so I'm hoping that's the direction this brainstorm is headed.

    2. I would describe my class as a hybrid between what your class seems to be based on your blog (vibrant, interactive, etc.) and a stereotypical college lecture. My classes are typically less than 20 students, so I do a lot of walking around during lecture portions with individual help. I also try to mix in a variety of games and activities to avoid the standard lecture when possible.

      That said, I definitely lecture too much (though my students seem more comfortable sitting there taking notes and doing examples than they do when I have them do other activities).

      I also hate to base their grades on nothing but exams (and labs since we have a laboratory component to each of calculus sequence courses). Our college is now jumping on the assessment bandwagon so I can't avoid tests...

    3. My grades are based on nothing but quizzes and exams and I love it. I give no extra credit so a student who wants to improve their grade must reassess on a concept they previously did poorly on. I'm trying to communicate that I want them to learn the material above all, regardless of timing. I like that message.

      And if you students are seeming comfortable being passive, then are they really thinking?

      Maybe it's time to push the envelope and get them doing more in the classroom which may in the long run improve your assessments....

    4. Agreed, though I already have a reputation as pushing the envelope so to speak (most of my peers, both within and outside the department) rely on almost 100% lecture. Some of the classes thus far this semester have involved students playing pong, running laps, answering trivia, playing a modified Pictionary game, etc. I wouldn't say my students are afraid of being active, it's more the fact that many would just as soon be passive.

      As it currently stands, I use homework as a way to provide students additional practice as well as occasionally introduce some new twists on old concepts. Most of my homework assignments are relatively short by design. In the end, the homework is supposed to help their course grade. It does give the students a day-to-day way to improve their grade which many appreciate (especially if they perform below their expectations on an exam).

      I also use homework as a way to help students with their course grades - relying strictly on exams wouldn't be good for those who don't test well.

      I did try weekly quizzes (with all problems from old homework assignments) rather than collecting and grading homework...but that seemed to have less of a benefit for the students as compared to actually collecting and grading each homework assignment. They ended up with less feedback on their own work, plus fewer grades.

    5. Have you considered letting students re-assess on quizzes or tests?

      If you break them down by concept and enter them into the grade book according to concept, then it becomes relatively easy for students to see where they scored low and fix it(sbg if you know what that is).

    6. I don't, or at least not like that. I do allow the final exam to replace their lowest exam score - so in a way they get to...just not until the end of the semester (and only once). While I'm not against the concept of allowing students multiple attempts, my class is Calculus 1 and I know how the Calculus II and III courses are ran (I don't teach those, or at least I haven't thus far). I try to balance between my views and the views of my department in an effort to keep some sort of harmony between the classes in the Calculus sequence.

  3. Several years ago I found a site called Coolmath.com. The teacher that created the site has developed something called Survivor Math that is based on the Survivor TV series. Students are required to read the day's lesson the night before and attempt 5-10 problems on their own. Then during the class the attempted problems are only graded for completion before the "lecture" portion, which is really just a discussion of the reading and a clarification of the previous night's reading.

    OK, that was my explanation of it, but here is a link to the website: http://www.coolmath4teachers.com/continuing-teacher-education/cooperative-learning-article.html

    I've often thought about implementing this into a classroom and perhaps I will when I get a classroom of my own.

    1. That's so crazy that you mentioned that. We are thinking of making all math classes from middle school on into a survivor like year long competition.

      I've used coolmath.com a lot for tutoring but never read that part. That's a really valuable link for me. Thanks for sharing!

    2. Can you write a post about your school's plans for this survivor-like competition??

    3. We literally just started talking about it a week ago so we have nothing solid put together but I recommend reading the link above and getting the resource located here: http://simplifyingradicals2.blogspot.com/2012/11/survival-of-fittest.html

      That was the original place I thought about the idea and once I got her resource, I found it was a fabulous starting place and it really gave me a ton of ideas. I will blog about it at some point but not sure when.

      Thanks for asking :)

  4. As a math teacher I know how cumbersome homework assignments can be. I do believe that homework can provide an opportunity to reinforce and provide an opportunity for a student to practice/master newly learned concepts. I too have had to deal with the "I didn't know how to do it" excuse. This is why I never penalized a student that couldn't complete the assignment by the next class. You can read more about how I dealt with routine assignments on my blog:


    I like the idea of vocabulary related assignments. I think it is always good to encourage more writing in math classes. I gave far smaller assignments than most math teachers, but I required students to usually take a problem and write out in complete sentences an explanation as to why and how they worked out the problem.

    1. I feel like my students have a great opportunity for practice and reinforcement in the classroom with me. I would like my homework to accomplish something else.

      Schoolwide we feel that students have a low vocabulary which may be related to low retention. Literacy is also something we are trying to push across all content areas. I'd like to see homework take on a new role and combine these two ideas for the best of both worlds.

      Did you find that not penalizing students for incomplete assignments increases or decreased the number of students who did the homework?

    2. It didn't change the number that completed it on time. There was always a few that didn't have it. I did find that the students that hadn't completed the assignment on time were more willing to complete the assignment (on their own) with the extra cushion day built in, so they could still get the full credit. Normally these students would have just said forget about it, which I don't want them to because I do try to make my assignments meaningful and not just busy work.

  5. I really do like that book Building Academic Vocabulary for concept maps and ideas; my school provided this book for me. This idea makes me feel better about how I changed my homework into being something I was less dependent on. I give 5-10 problems I create a night and/or have been doing one multiple step problem and a journal entree (writing in math terms). Do you find problems with parents though who are looking for their child to have more homework? I was getting some slack from parents who said I wasn't tough enough! Crazy thoughts...

    1. I've borrowed the book but I haven't actually opened it yet.

      How do you grade your homework? Do you give it every night? I feel like that's a lot of extra work for you. Have you noticed any direct benefits that make it worth it for you?

      I don't think of any of my students' parents have noticed that I don't give homework...or anything about my classes at all.

    2. My parents are very involved. We do homework mon, wed, friday and it is due then on the next day. We check it quickly in class after our "do now". Usually students check and or solve problems in class, if I have seen that they are all correct for the most part we quickly go over it and move on. Your stuff is AMAZING how do your parents not recognize? ...I've used so many of your ideas and they all work so well! Thank you for everything you do.

    3. Thank you so much! I am SO glad you have found some useful stuff here.

      Parents just aren't even involved much here. We just had parent teacher conferences and I talked to 7 parents with about 80 students. So...yeah.

    4. Ouch...7 parents really? I'm forced to have a meeting with every parent in my homeroom. This could be considered good or bad? I'll have to send you some photographs of the projects my students did with your ideas. I was just recognized for the castle project (calculating volume and surface area) because it was a CC project, hands on, etc. I kept trying to get people to realize you and so many others exist. It's enlightening to do something and not have to always re-create an idea.

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  7. I love the no homework idea and I would love to be able to do the same in my classroom, yet I struggle so much with not having enough TIME!! How do you cover your curriculum and still allow enough time for students to practice skills independently??!

    1. I'm not even going to pretend that I cover everything I need to. I just try to lecture as little as possible and build practice into every part of my lesson.

  8. I also love the no homework idea! My school has a "no written homework for the average student" policy, and so I basically give the students a homework assignment that they need to work in class. How long are your class periods? On average, how long would you say that you lecture? How long is devoted to practice time?

    1. My class periods are 47 minutes long.

      I would say I never lecture longer than 15 minutes. I try to chunk it where I will lecture for 5 minutes and give them 10 minutes of practice.

      Or I might lecture for 5-10 minutes and then give them 20 minutes practice with answers on the board for immediate feedback.

      Or maybe 5 minutes lecture, 10 minutes individual practice and 10 minutes having students explain and check answers.

      Chunking is my mantra!

  9. I have my students write fun stories using their math vocab words of the chapter. They can use the words out of context (change exponent to exponentially), then at the bottom they define the word with the math definition. I've also had them write the definition and then find a picture online to represent it. I do both of these in Google Docs so the kids really enjoy it.


    1. Yeah I'm trying to come up with some good ideas that would be interesting to high school students.