No Math Homework, Just Bringbacks!

Collaborative moment during a student project in my classroom 4 years ago

Collaborative moment during a student project in my classroom 4 years ago

It’s amazing how one moment captured in time can bring back so much. The picture on the left was taken during a “press shot” for my classroom. I had no idea that they were coming but knowing wouldn’t have mattered as I was never good at faking it.

Four years ago, I was a classroom teacher, trying to engage students and get them to see the value of math. It wasn’t easy. I taught kids who could care less whether we found “x” or not. Their concern was bigger. Their lives were bigger than that.

A large majority of my students were on free and reduced lunch. Many of them were working full time jobs to support their entire families. With my hometown being a nice spot for factory jobs, it was normal for students to work into the night…including night shifts…and show up for school the next morning. This was our normal.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was hearing a few of my students talk about their plights to leave school and run home to do chores before nightfall because they did not have working lights. Homework was often done by flashlight, if at all. I found myself questioning if it was worth it to assign homework in this way so I took ten minutes of my 90 minute class to discuss how they learn. Below is a summarization of our conversation as noted in my journals, which I kept daily.

My students told me that when they are wondering what and when they will eat, the last thing that they care about is school work. At the same time, they understood the value of an education and that education was the key to changing their lives. They did not get why they needed to learn math in the standard “solve this” & “solve that” way when that wasn’t real to them. They added that they would be more open to learning if it were something that they could relate to.

We agreed that math needed to be more real. Homework would be guided by their ideas and questions and not about “naked problems”. I would place resources online for them and they would access them when they needed it. Not everyone had internet access but every student had access to the public library, which was a major hangout, oddly enough! Knowing that this setup would NOT be perfect, we also made an agreement that they would come to tutoring for more help if needed and some did.

This is when I stopped assigning homework to my classes. Instead, they left with “bring backs”. Below is a list of possibilities…

  • Bringback Questions – students could write their own questions, illustrate and describe based on the day’s learning
  • Bringback Real Examples – students could find, through research or discovery, how our math fit into their world
  • Bringback Explanations – students could describe how they could explain their learning to a parent, teacher or friend who missed class
  • Bringback “I Still Don’t Get” – students determine what they don’t understand and come back with questions related to that (more personal to their needs…also this became their way of understanding when to come in to tutoring)
  • Bringback a Summary – Students come up with a way to summarize their learning as presented in their choice

Back then, our “bringbacks” were on paper. As technology progressed that changed to paper or edmodo. I created a “bringback” assignment and that is how students turned them in digitally.

I wanted my students to be more reflective of their learning and less dependent on a single right answer or the usual path of copying someone else’s work. When student’s buy in to the idea of learning and it becomes more personal to them, you don’t need 20 problems assigned from the book to get them there.


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