Part II: Student Focus Group:
The Student Focus Group started with students hearing background information for my DREAM IT project and purpose of the study. I explained to the students my concern about their lack of access to content outside of school and my desire to find ways to may them want to practice math, especially computation skills outside of school. Knowing that most of the Focus Group participants are preparing for selective enrollment testing, we discussed the selective enrollment process, and talked about the study/learning habits of their competitors. I asked the students to think about the amount of time they spend doing homework in comparison to other students who may leave school and do 2 to 3 hours of homework each day. The students calculated that if a student did 3 hours of homework daily for 100 days of school, that’s 300 hours of homework. Needless to say, a hush fell over the room. For the first time, I could see on my student’s faces the realization that they have some control over their learning and academic development and the reality of academic competition seemed to hit home.
In discussing students’ feelings and opinions about homework, their responses indicated they understand the value of doing work outside of the classroom. Some benefits mentioned by the students include:
- Being better prepared for future academic studies in high school and college
- Increased intelligence
- Ability to compete academically with peers
“ When we’re not doing homework, we’re not helping ourselves cause we’re gonna let all these other kids get into the good high schools and they’ll take all the spots and we’ll just have to settle for the neighborhood high schools”
Clearly, the students realized that additional work outside of the classroom is necessary to be competitive and enhance their learning so the discussion turned to types of homework assignments that would be engaging and compelling to complete.
Suggestions for assignments include:
- Daily logs to track how many hours spent on web based assignments accessed via some technological device
- Assignments with real world connections requiring the charting of data/progress monitoring ing over time such as monitoring calories, weather, gas prices, wages, amount of money parents spend on Christmas, etc.
- Project based assignment requiring designing and constructing a physical end product or artistic/creative task (book, song, play, etc.)
- Creating and conducting surveys to collect and analyze data and make predictions
In their discussion, students cited assignments that they enjoyed in previous years and expressed their willingness to tackle similar assignments, especially if they integrate multiple content areas especially the STEM disciplines.
Another component of work that students stated they find enjoyable is the requirement to report verbally on their work in the form of a presentation to peers or classroom debate where they can form and express their own opinions
Conclusion and Next Steps:
My middle school team reviewed Focus Group results and are planning an integrated project based assignment to be assigned for the winter break. We plan to integrate social justice, science and math (with an emphasis on computational fluency) in the assignment and will include several of the suggestions listed above. Student representatives will be consulted in the design of this assignment and a rubric to use for grading the work. Students will present and explain the assignment and expected outcomes to their peers. We look forward to comparing homework completion data with previous traditional assignments and will post our findings on this site.