October 24, 2006

Megaskills Founder Phones In Homework Article

I'm worried about homework, not about whether there is too much of it or too little, but rather because a lot of it is the wrong kind.
Exactly. This article by MegaSkills Education Center founder, Dorothy Rich, began so promisingly ...
By the wrong kind, I mean the drill sheets that still come home even for kindergartners and first graders. They ask very little of children. You know the kind: fill in the letter, draw lines from number to number, very routine, very rote.
Usually it's a gift when an educator misuses "rote" this early in an article since you can usually cut your losses quick and move on to the next one. By "rote" Ms. Rich means "stuff I don't like." I'd bet little of what she calls rote involves learning devoid of meaning. Certainly filling in the letters and drawing lines from number to number aren't rote if they involve practicing skills the child hasn't mastered yet. And that's what it boils down to, Ms. Rich, doesn't think your child needs to practice to mastery. No doubt the Megaskills Corporation has found the magic road to learning in which children learn by using their imagination and singing catchy jingles to reach the magic land Knowledge. (The Megaskills site looks like a fertile site for educational moonbattery if some intrepid blogger withh more time than me today wants to take up the gauntlet.)

This is the kind of homework we had when we went to school. We may be comfortable with it, and we may think that this is what homework ought to be like, but too much of it is inadequate for what children need today.
Offered without proof, naturally.
Students today need homework that calls for creative responses, for problem solving, for innovative thinking. This is homework that asks children: What do you think and how does that work and why?
These are code words for discovery learning. Give the student partial information and partially taught material and ask her to dream up creative responses at home with her parents at night when they're getting tired and cranky after being in school for seven hours. That and a macaroni art project are what fun family nights are made of.
Teachers would assign more creative homework but many are fearful. What are they afraid of? The tests! Students need to make a good showing on the end-of-year tests. That makes teachers and principals look good, and the public is kept happy.
Did I miss something? Why wouldn't kids who've gotten a rich diet of the kind of creative non-rote homework Ms. Rich is advocating be able to do well on basic tests? Because it's a crock, that's why. Kids who are force fed this kind of contrived discovery homework invariably don't do as well on basic tests as they should. If you've read my previous articles on the brain, you'll know why.
Students doing rote homework are getting practice to do well on basic tests. If you have seen these tests (and every parent really ought to ask to see a sample) you will immediately see the resemblance between drill homework and test sheets.
So students doing "rote" homework do better on simple tests than the kids doing homework calling for creative reponses. Hmmmm, maybe that should tell you something. In fact, kids who've learned basic skills to mastery perform better on tests of higher order cogntive skills as well. See Project Follow Through where the Basic Skills programs beat out the programs that supposedly taught cognitive skills directly, like Ms. Rich is trying to do.

Let's skip some fluff, so we can get to this doozy.
How does homework help with all that? When our kids are spending their time filling in blanks, they are not using their brains to invent, imagine and learn to address problems.
Ms. Rich, try to fill in the black to this homework problem:
The positions of a particle and a thin (treat it as being as thin as a line) rocket of length 0.280 m are specified by means of Cartesian coordinates. At time 0 the particle is at the origin and is moving on a horizontal surface at 23.0 m/s at 51.0°. It has a constant acceleration of 2.43 m/s2 in the +y direction. At time 0 the rocket is at rest and it extends from (−.280 m, 50.0 m) to (0, 50.0 m), but, it has a constant acceleration in the +x direction. What must the acceleration of the rocket be in order for the particle to hit the rocket? ____________
It is a false dilemma to state that all fill in the blank problem problems are mindless.
A few examples can help make the point about better homework. In the younger grades, instead of kids filling in puzzles designed by long ago teachers, let's ask them to make up their own word and number puzzles.

This lets children demonstrate that they know how to manipulate words and numbers; it stretches their brains.As students grow older let them write stories with and about their families. Let them design a new form of car, and come up with solutions to problems that they and their schools are facing. In the higher grades, let's sit down with children and figure out budgets, maybe even review the insurance policy and the mortgage.
Why not just ask them to solve real math problems and read books and answer comprehension questions?
The big goal is to apply and extend what children learn in school. Of course, some rote learning is needed in basic reading and math, historical dates, scientific formulas. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. Yet, what is basic today is bigger and broader that ever before.

Nothing is really simple anymore. There is more choice. Everything comes at us, all at once, really fast. Our kids will have to be smarter in many ways, beyond academics. They need the ability to move forward while living with ambiguity and even danger. Better homework is a modest start.
Most of the basic skills needed for academic success are the same skills that were needed 100 years ago. Trade in the slide rule and the log tables for a computer/calculator and you've got most of them covered. They still have to be taught and mastered.


Anonymous said...

We learned how to use slide rules in high school. Now, they're not only obsolete; most people have no idea what they are.

Instructivist said...

"What must the acceleration of the rocket be in order for the particle to hit the rocket? ____________"

Yeah, let's see Ms. Rich do "rote"!

These educationists make me sick.

Anonymous said...

And the kids getting the non-rote "creative" homework often can't do it by themselves. This is the type of homework that creates endless frustrations in the home.

The "rote" worksheets (homework practicing what they have already been taught to do and already understand) are easier to complete and actually serve a purpose helping them to become fluent.


Anonymous said...

"The MegaSkills Program infuses academics throughout the academic subject curriculum. Here are three examples illustrating how Motivation, Effort and Responsibility are taught through MegaSkills activities. A complete list of academics taught through MegaSkills is available."

"Caring, Common Sense, Confidence,
Effort, Focus, Initiative, Motivation, Perseverence, Problem Solving, Responsibility"

They are selling a product to schools. That product is training. This training consists of telling them how to incorporate the above values into their curriculum. I don't think the product would sell very well if they stuck with common sense, hard work, old fashioned ideas of learning, and common courtesy.

All school budgets have money for training. You just thought it would be spent well. As I have come to find out, K-8 education is all about assumptions and opinions - their assumptions and opinions. The problem is not that there is this training. The problem is that schools buy this training.