Saturday, February 22, 2014

The CORE isn't the root of the homework problem

My wife is an amazing photographer. She just is. When she started her business, MachC Photography, 7 years ago, she spent a lot of her time researching and building a PLN (Professional Learning Network) to help inspire her to have the business she has today. And through all of the networking she created a community of people that are more than a network, they are almost a family. A family of people that share amazing images of their own lives with each other. Great images that she often shares with me.

A couple days ago, my wife called me over to check out an image in her feed. It was an image taken by one of her photographer family that was tough to see. In it was a little girl, kindergarten aged, standing in her pajamas behind a kitchen table. She was crying, sobbing really, holding a pencil over a piece of paper. The tag under the image read, "I hate Common Core." The comments underneath mostly talked about the amount of homework early elementary students were getting with the blame falling directly on the new Common Core learning standards that many of the states are adopting.

As a dad, I completely connected to the image, because it related to the experience my wife and I had when our oldest went to kindergarten at a district school. A 5 year old shouldn't be sobbing over homework. A 5 year old should be building an enjoyment of learning. A 5 year old should be given the freedom to explore and learn in a stress-free way.

Now, the problem here is not the Common Core. Not at all. Nothing written in those standards requires teachers to hand out homework starting at age 5. Yes, these standards are rigorous. Yes, these standards are intended to create a population of 18 year olds that are college ready at the level college professors would prefer to see. Yes, these standards are inquiry based which will require many teachers to change current teaching strategies. But no where do these standards force the delivery of content through mass amounts of homework.

The timing of these standards couldn't be worse for many districts that are now implementing teacher evaluations that are partly based on student test scores. This fact has brought stress on teachers and administrators, and in turn has created a panic that established this sense that students NEED to be doing more work at home. So, the truth is that kindergarten homework has more to do with teachers and administrators not having the confidence in themselves to create a learning environment that meets the rigor of these standards and their related state tests head on in the classroom.

What I appreciate most about common core, and have in turn already embraced in my classroom, is the inquiry based structure of learning. Basically, students are to be working to solve real-world based problems to establish a solution that they then can explain or communicate back in the form of a presentation or written response. They are doing math in a real world way. Not a worksheet way, but a way that allows them to create a path of their own with guidance from me, the teacher.

I have been explaining to the parents of the kids in my classroom, that I'm having to re-teach the kids how to learn. I'm taking away the 30 to 40 minute lecture/lesson with 10 to 15 question homework assignment, and replacing it with group work on a single dynamic real-world problem that is the lesson, and the assignment all wrapped into one. The result of this change is that my students are working at a higher level than any 7th grade year I've taught. They are applying an understanding of math concepts that is sticking better than before, and it's amazing to watch. And on top of it, I'm owning the responsibility of my students' learning, and I'm not placing it on the parents to help with homework every night.

The advice that I have for you, the parent, in this homework nightmare situation is to take control. If your elementary school student is spending hours doing homework every night, talk to the teacher and to the principal. Demand an explanation beyond, "to prepare your kid for middle school." See how homework factors into the classroom grade. For my oldest, it wasn't even entered in, it was simply busy work! Ultimately, as the parent you are the boss of your child's education. The school, the teachers, and the administrators work for you and your kid. If the homework is damaging the family life you want to have, then it's time to change. I give you permission to speak up! So, now you have to.
Good Luck!

And please leave a comment about your homework nightmare, or how the teacher or admin you spoke to handled your request. Thanks!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Tribute

My oldest turned 8 yesterday. It just so happened that The Lego Movie also opened yesterday, and since he is a Lego fanatic, it was a no brainer that we would do his party at the theater. The Regal Cinema in town did an excellent job, and we would highly recommend it for any of you with kids. Money was well spent! 

But, that's not the focus of this post. This post is about someone else that shares this day with my son. And while for my son it is a day we celebrate his birth, for this other special person it is a day we celebrate the life she had lived. On my son's first birthday, my Auntie Geri passed away. It has been an extremely hard truth that each year my wife and I stress about as his birthday approaches. While we live so far away from my Chicago area family, social media brings us all together in a way never before realized. Understandably, his birthday has become a day of memory for my Aunt by her children, as well as my cousins. So much so, that my wife and I have avoided things like Facebook on our son's birthday to focus on his special day. We post pictures the day before, and then stick to our own personal pages and groups, avoiding the main timeline. Just to stay positive, no disrespect to those in our family still remembering and honoring in their own respectful ways. 

I can't say that I was super close with my Auntie Geri. I CAN say that she loved me. She loved all of us. Everything about her glowed with happiness when she was around her children, her nieces, and nephews. I will never forget her smile as she would talk with us kids. She had a softness about her that made you feel comfortable and safe. So, when I think about the "why." The "why did she have to pass away on my son's 1st birthday?" I don't get angry, cause the "why" is so clear to me. My Aunt passed away on the first birthday of her first great-nephew. He was the first child born to any of us cousins, so in my mind she passed on a day she knew would be a celebration for a child. A child that while she only met a few times, I know she loved with all of her heart. The way she loved us all. 

So, while it is hard, I use my son's birthday to remember to celebrate him the way that I know she would want me to. They way that she celebrated all of us. Because, in my mind and heart, that is the reason she left us that day. She gave us a reason to celebrate the way she wanted us to. She also has given us a day to reflect on our own parenting to make sure we are loving our kids in a way she would be proud. 

Love you Auntie Geri.