Sunday, September 19, 2010

Homework for Thinkers

A few weeks ago, while I was in the South Natomas library waiting to check out a few books, I spotted this book, Homework for Thinkers on display, and started flipping through it.

I was impressed by the number of authentic homework assignments presented, covering curriculum areas such as reading, writing, math and science.

I'd been looking for something just like it to use this year.

Being that last year was my first year teaching fourth grade, I played it safe and only assigned reading, spelling, and math for homework.

Over the summer, though, I began to think about what changes and improvements I wanted to make this year. One of my biggest goals was to incorporate more meaningful homework assignments, activities involving writing, social studies and science.

Not that I'm trying to overload my students with tons of homework. I know most kids don't like homework (although I was one of those weird kids who actually liked it), so I try to adhere to the one hour of homework standard established by the California Department of Education.

While homework is important--it allows kids to practice the skills they are learning in school--kids also need to have fun, whether that's riding their bike outside, drawing or painting or spending quality time with their families.

Anyway, as you can tell by the plethora of green sticky tabs, I really like the activities in this book.

In fact, I liked the book so much that I ordered it from Amazon for $1.85 + $3.99 shipping.

Last week, I assigned the first homework assignment from Homework for Thinkers. The assignment, Ask the Teacher, asked students to write five questions that they would like to ask their teacher.

The students submitted their questions on Friday and I read them over yesterday. I got such a kick out of reading their questions. Here are my 25 favorite questions:

1) Were you smart when you were in 4th grade?

2) What college did you go to?

3) Do you like being a teacher?

4) Do you have a pet?

5) Do you have any sisters or brothers?

6) What is your favorite sport?

7) How old are you?

8) For "hollow wing" (Halloween), what are you going to be?

9) How tall are you?

10) How much do you weigh?

11) What was the name of the elementary school you went to?

12) Do I "leasin" (listen) in class?

13) What is your favorite song?

14) Do you like reading stories?

15) What inspired you to teach fourth grade?

16) How old were you when you worked at Round Table?

17) What places have you traveled to?

18) Have you ever been to Africa?

19) What is your favorite book ever?

20) Why do people call you "strikd?" (strict)

21) "Colghd" (Could) we have recess all day?

22) What do you do when you are at home alone?

23) Do you read Goose Bumps books?

24) What is your favorite movie?

25) Where were you born?

I'm looking forward to answering their questions in class and on our class website, although I think I might skip #10! (BTW, if you want to check out our class website, the username is mrsharless and the password is fourthgrade.)

This coming week, my students will be completing another assignment from Homework for Thinkers. Because we're currently studying electricity in science, the students will be listing five machines in their home that run on electricity and five tools that do NOT run on electricity.

Their lists probably won't be as entertaining as the Ask the Teacher questions, but I'm hopeful that this assignment will get them thinking about what items in their homes use electricity and which tools do not require electricity.

Plus, they might not have a clue, which means they'd have to ask mom, dad, grandma or grandpa for some help.

I always jump at the chance to promote educational discussion in the home. Call me a dork, but it makes my heart happy when students tell me that they talked about static electricity or Benjamin Franklin or regions of California with their families at home.

Ultimately, the more critical thinking we can get our students to do at school and at home, the more successful they will be in school and in life.


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