I have mixed feelings about homework in primary school. As a teacher, setting, collecting, chasing up, marking and returning homework took up a lot of valuable time, and I wasn’t always sure it was entirely worth the time expended. However, most schools have a homework policy that stipulates setting at least one maths homework a week, so over the years I developed some ideas to make it as painless and productive as possible for me and the children.
Using online games
I’m always very keen for children to learn their number bonds and tables. The underlying conceptual understanding of these is vital, but at some stage sustained practice is needed. There are lots of online games that can help children to do this, not to mention apps that can be downloaded onto tablets and smart phones. Some schools buy into subscription sites like mathletics, but there are some very good free alternatives too like tutpup and sumdog. It’s possible to set up accounts on these sites as a teacher and track children’s progress so that if you set a homework of spending time on one of the sites, you can check it’s been done, or it may be sufficient to ask parents to sign a homework diary to confirm their child has done this. Of course, there will still be some children who don’t have ready access to the internet or access to tablets, but these days that’s often very few and it may be possible to accommodate these with a weekly homework club where they can use school devices, or give them an alternative homework.
Adopt a Shape
This was an idea I used when we were just about to embark on looking at 2D and 3D shapes. I gave each child a shape to ‘adopt’ – this gave me a chance to differentiate fairly easily by giving more familiar shapes to some of my less able children and challenging my higher ability children with less familiar shapes like icosahedrons. They were given the task of finding out as much as they could about the shape and presenting the information in any way they chose. I gave some suggested starting points, like finding the number of sides and corners etc. or finding the number of diagonals. The children really engaged with this idea and came up with some fantastic presentations, including 3D models in some cases. It made a fantastic starting point to our unit of work (not to mention filling up the working wall nicely!)
Write a worksheet
This was a task I used quite often when we’d spent some time looking at particular calculation methods. I would ask each child to write a worksheet for another child in their group. They had to include at least one worked example with an explanation of the ‘steps to success’. They also had to include some word problems and if possible give the worksheet a theme, possibly linked to our current class topic. Again, this was something the children usually responded well to. I would often give small prizes or stickers for the best ones and display these on the working wall and this appealed to the competitive streak in many children. Some would hand in beautifully illustrated sheets. Writing word problems to go with particular calculations really tests children’s understanding of that operation. A variation on this theme at the end of less calculation based units was to ask the children to make a poster to display their learning and be a learning resource for others. Again, this often produced some beautifully presented responses.
When beginning a unit of work on handling data, I would often start by recapping all the different ways the children already knew of presenting data. Depending on the age of the children, this might include tally charts, pictograms, bar charts, bar line graphs, line graphs, venn diagrams, carroll diagrams or pie charts. I might then ask them to collect as many examples as they could from newspapers, magazines or the internet and make a poster which they would annotate with explanations of what type of representation it was. For older children, I might also ask them to comment on whether that was a good representation and why that particular representation of the data had been used. This encouraged the children to notice how often data was presented in different ways in real life and start engaging with this.
Another data handling homework I would sometimes set in Years 5 or 6 was to give the children an opportunity to investigate something themselves. They were given a free choice of what to investigate and how they would collect the information. We spent some time discussing possibilities in class beforehand. They then had to collect the data and decide which was the best way of presenting the information. They also had to draw some conclusion from their data and lastly to reflect on their project and decide whether it was a true picture or whether their were factors which might have affected their results. This was a homework I set over 2 or 3 weeks, often over a half term holiday to give them time to plan and carry out their projects. I gave some helpful hints and prompt questions at the outset. This led to some really good work and some good discussion afterwards when the children shared their projects. One particularly memorable one was the boy who patiently recorded each visit to the toilet by each member of his family over a few days. Some definite trends emerged and the conclusions he drew were very entertaining!
Particularly when using measures, it can be good to set a homework which gets children using their newly learned skills in a practical context. So, for instance, homework could be to follow a recipe using metric units and record the result in some way (ideally be bringing in a sample of any particularly delicious results for the teacher to critique!) Or it might be to measure up a bedroom and plan an ideal lay out using furniture of given dimensions.
I hope this has given some new ideas to try. The beauty of many of these ideas is that they often take very little marking or can be used to stimulate discussion or as a learning resource in future lessons. They also tend to engage children much more than a traditional worksheet, and often get parents involved as well. Some can take a little planning to set – a bit more than photocopying a worksheet maybe, but I always make a point of keeping the prompt sheets etc and they can often be quickly adapted for a different age group or mathematical area.