ASCD 2015 Conference

Big Ideas Math will be exhibiting at this year’s Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Conference in Houston, TX from March 21st – 23rd. If you are attending, stop by and visit us in booth #927. We’ll have great giveaways as well as information and samples on our NEW Integrated High School Series debuting at NCTM Boston in April.

 We look forward to seeing you at the conference!



Have You Got Your Homework?

Our wonderful consultants make this job amazing. We sat down with Big Ides Learning Consultant, Mary Quadrini to have a go on the topic that every teacher deals with – homework. Mary offered some great advice:

Mention math class and invariably the subject of homework will surface. In no other course in school is homework assigned as regularly as in mathematics. If you Google “Math Homework Help”, you will get more than 27 million hits! Parents, students, and teachers all have strong opinions about it.


Does Homework Help Student Achievement?

Research studies are divided on this matter, but generally, students in grades 6-12 benefit the most from completing homework assignments. A good deal of that achievement is tied to the type of assignment students are given and how they feel about their ability to complete it. For students in grades K-6, student achievement gains are less reliable because it is often difficult to determine who is doing the work. A recent study on math homework in the Journal of Advanced Academics provides some new guidance for math teachers: It’s not the amount of time students spend on homework that is important in raising achievement, but the sense of self-efficacy they develop while carrying out assignments


What Homework Should Teachers Assign?

The most important thing to remember when choosing a homework assignment is to assign what students can do.  Homework is practice of the skills and concepts that students have learned in class, under your instruction.  Your classroom is where the productive struggle with math concepts should be done, not at home, where both parents and students become frustrated.  Keep the assignment short and sweet. Homework should never compensate for a poorly planned lesson (“finish this for homework”).  Sending students home with an assignment they fail to understand only starts the cycle of spending too much precious class time reteaching the concepts students never mastered in the first place.

Most teachers rely on the exercises in their textbook or practice pages for homework.  Some teachers are adamant about not assigning odd-exercises from the text as they usually provide the answers, while others insist that students have access to the answers.  One such teacher is Marlo Warburton, from Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley, CA.  She assigns only a handful of questions, with a mix of skills, conceptual understanding and application and requires her students to check the answers.  Then they must work to justify the answers given in the book, showing the process needed to get to the answer.  She has them self-assess their success on answering the questions, noting whether they got the answer correct before checking the answer, after checking the answer or not at all.  I like this process as it puts the onus of learning, not completing, on to the students.  Students have a period of time during which they may “fix” their homework, once they have understood the process of obtaining the solution.  You may read more about Marlo’s technique for homework in the March 2014 issue of NCTM’s Mathematics Teacher.

Another teacher used the concept of a course syllabus to issue a week’s worth of differentiated homework assignments to students.  Assignments categories were Basic, On Level and Advanced.  She gave students choices and suggested they work with other students on the assignments.  Often, when given a choice, students remarkably aim higher than we would have thought they would, especially when encouraged.

It is important that the homework assigned to students be perceived by students as attainable and relevant to what they are learning.  Incorporating the use of technology can be especially useful.  One Big Ideas Math teacher gave her middle school students an assignment to pick a game from our Game Closet to teach to his/her family and write a paragraph about why they liked the game.  Another teacher asked students to read the next lesson in the textbook online and take advantage of the video tutorials built into the online text.

One of my colleagues always had students write a short paragraph about their homework experience during the week.  She asked them if they were able to catch any mistakes they made.  She asked them to describe what they do when they were stuck on a problem (study buddy, using tutorials, family friends, etc.)  This self-reflection helps students develop good study habits that will support them beyond your class.


What Should Teachers Do With Homework?

Remember, homework is practice on what students have learned in class.  Putting high grading values on homework only asks for trouble (copying, struggling to write anything on the HW paper.)  Students should have their homework ready at the start of class.  I always collected it just to get it off their desks and to help students focus on the lesson’s work.  Homework reflects students’ efforts to learn and to acquire fluency.

Having students check each other’s work in class provides an added benefit to students in that they must defend the processes they chose to solve problems.  The more they talk to each other about the mathematics they are doing, the better they will retain it.

Homework is an integral part of learning.  The more confident students are about being able to complete a homework assignment, the more likely they will complete it.  Making assignments accessible, relevant and engaging will help students achieve in mathematics.  The more students do, the less the dog has to eat!


What do you think about Homework and what Mary had to say? Let us know in the comments below.


Returning To School: Tips For a Teacher

It’s that time of the year, students shopping for back to school supplies, and teachers preparing for the new year. Our Math Marketing Specialist and former high school math teacher, Amy Banko, sat down and gave us a list of tips for teachers starting the new school year.

 As you return to school, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Set goals for yourself.
    1. Maybe your goal is to make sure you write down a reflection at the end of every day. What went well? What needs changed? How can you improve your lesson for the next time you teach it?
  2. Know the assessments and standards.
    1. In this data-driven world we live in, it’s important to know what you are supposed to teach, and how students will be assessed. Look over the available sample questions, and plan to use the sample questions or model questions after them so students have the practice they need.
  3. Set the back to school tone and expectations, and establish a routine.
    1. Students need this from the first day. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to get everyone on the same page, but teaching students how to act and when to do certain tasks in your classroom will help later in the year.
  4. Determine if you plan to use categories with weighting in your gradebook.
    1. Setting up your gradebook prior to the first day will help you explain to students how they will be graded in your class. If you can plan ahead, enter assignments into the gradebook the day before or that morning prior to the start of the day. This will cut down on the amount of time you’ll spend entering grades since the assignments are already there.
  5. Print rosters and assign books to students to keep track of them.
    1. If your district ordered new books, take the time to number the entire set consecutively instead of having teachers number their own. The following year, the books may not necessarily be with the same teacher, so initials and numbers are more of a hassle than just consecutive numbers.
  6. Design a seating chart. (Also – see video)
    1. Print blank ones to write down where students sit (or assign seating ahead of time). Having the seating chart available helps you learn student names. If you put it in a sheet protector, you can take attendance and complete your homework check all at the same time using a dry-erase marker. Then you can worry about entering the grades at the end of the day. I found this technique much easier than using a class roster spreadsheet. Those are typically arranged by last name, so I would waste time searching for students’ last names while still trying to learn their first names! Using the seating chart is much easier since you are checking students in that order.

What are some tips you’d like to share with teachers? Let us know in the comments section.

Big Ideas Learning Conference Recap: NCTM 2014

We had a fabulous time exhibiting Big Ideas Math at the NCTM  2014 Annual Meeting in New Orleans last week. We would like to thank all of you that visited our booth, shared your stories and brightened our days with your Big Ideas Math experiences and love for the book and program that we work to provide you with. It was fantastic to hear such enthusiasm surrounding Big Ideas Math from amazing educators and professionals at the conference.

This year we debuted our new High School Series.

 We received an abundance of praise and excitement from current Big Ideas Math users, and excitement from those that were new to the program. A lot of attendees were eager to get copies so that they could start using them in their classroom.

In addition to our new books, we also show cased our Dynamic Technology which features STEM videos found in the High School Series and our Dynamic Assessment and Progress Monitoring Tool.

On Friday, April 11th Dr. Ron Larson had a book signing at National Geographic Learning and Cengage Learning’s booth where he gave away t-shirts, signed books, and posters. In addition to the book signing, Big Ideas authors Dr. Ron Larson and Dr. Laurie Boswell signed books at the Big Ideas Learning booth. Many that came were very appreciative of both authors commitments to education.

 For more pictures from NCTM, click here

We had a fantastic time at NCTM in New Orleans. We look forward to NCTM in Boston in 2015. How was your time at NCTM? Let us know in the comments!