Episode #212: How Much Homework Should I Assign in Math Class?

Dec 19, 2022 | Podcast | 2 comments



In this episode, Jon & Kyle discuss what role (if any) that homework should play in math class across the K-12 grade bands. Stick around as we dig into some common “rules of thumb” such as the “10 minutes of homework per day per grade” rule, what different groups and organizations are suggesting, and of course, what the research tells us. 

As always, we’ll be giving you some of our perspectives based on some of the opinions and research out there as well as dig into some of the strategies we’ve used over the years to help you get a hold of your homework situation.

Grab on to your homework binders and grab a pencil because class is out and it’s time to dig into your homework for the day!

You’ll Learn

  • When you should give homework and when you should hold off from assigning it; 
  • Should we follow the “10 minutes per day per grade rule?
  • What your homework assignment should look like; and, 
  • How to decide if you should assign homework;
Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


Kyle Pearce: In this episode, we discuss what role, if any, that homework should play in a math classroom across the K through 12 grade bands. Stick around as we dig into some common rules of thumb, such as the 10 minutes of homework per day per grade rule, what different groups and organizations are suggesting, and of course, what the research tells us.

Jon Orr: As always, we'll be giving you some of our perspectives based on some of our opinions and research out there as well, as we'll dig into some of the strategies we've used over the years to help you get ahold of your homework situation.
Grab onto your homework binders and grab a pencil because class is out and it's time to dig in your homework for the day.

Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are two math teachers from makingmathmoments.com. And together with you the community of Math Moment Makers Worldwide who want to build and deliver problem-based math lessons that spark curiosity, fuel, sense making.

Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. My friends, we are excited to dig into yet another episode of the Making Mouth Moments That Matter Podcast and tonight we're going to dig into a topic that I think is a little contentious there. Jon, we've had some people asking us over the years inside the academy, we get lots of emails about it.
The idea of homework in K through 12, not just in math class but particularly in our context in the math classroom comes up quite a bit and I feel like people aren't really sure what is the right move.

Jon Orr: Yeah, you're right. We get people who are in our academy or taking our courses or they message us on social media and ask, "Hey, we know that you guys are teaching probably based lessons. You are trying to get kids to be thinkers in your classroom. You get discussions going."
And we've got a lot of that happening in our classrooms and they're saying, "How does homework fit into that plan? How do you guys handle homework?" So we want to address that here. And so we're going to talk about some research, we're going to talk about some kind of rules of thumb. We're going to talk about our experience with homework, what we've done in the past, what we do now.
We want to give you those insights so you can make your own decisions and that probably will be a main message here is how does it fit in for you and your own classroom? And that's a lot of things that when you hear suggestions at the lunchroom table or at a conference or on a podcast like this one, we should always ask ourselves the question, how does that thing fit in with what I'm doing in my classroom?
How does it fit in with my personality? How does that fit in with some of the rules that I have to follow, but also what I'm looking for in my classroom? What do I hold true? What do I hold in value in my classroom with my students? How does that thing fit with that? So you want to ask those questions. So the fact that you are listening to this right now and you've clicked play on this title, you're looking to see what can fit in your classroom as well.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. And Jon, when we think about homework, I feel like humans in general, we've talked about it before, we're always looking for these rules, easy generalizations, things that we can kind of rely on to essentially allow us to tap into that side of the brain, the quick thinking side of the brain so we don't actually have to expend any energy thinking about it.
And this 10 minutes per night per grade rule, I've heard it before, I haven't actually myself thought about it much neither to be honest as a teacher, but I've seen it come up a lot. I hear people reference it and in some scenarios it sort of feels kind of right.

Jon Orr: For example, wait a minute. So 10 minutes per grade level per night. So if I teach fifth grade, my students 50 minutes-

Kyle Pearce: 50 minutes of homework. Now-

Jon Orr: That feels like a lot though. That sounds like a lot. 15-

Kyle Pearce: Well you picked a bad one Jon. Because I said in some scenarios it sounds right when you say first grade, 10 minutes, I'm like, "Yeah, that seems okay." In 10 minutes I'm picturing that might be one problem if a student's just bringing home one context and it has maybe some visuals there. It's not super text heavy. And now I look at the benefit of that, Jon, and I think about it from the parent's perspective.
I'm a parent of a grade one student and my child comes home, has this problem, it gives me kind of like a window into the classroom as to what they're up to. It's like, "Oh, they're fair sharing, they're taking these eight things and they're going to give it to these four people and oh my gosh, they're doing division and they're doing in a really easy sort of manageable way, amazing 10 minutes."
But then when you fast forward to fifth grade, which I feel like these are still young kids.

Jon Orr: Before we go on, I think 50 minutes is for all subjects, not just mathematics.

Kyle Pearce: All subjects. Yes.

Jon Orr: Still 50 minutes is a lot for homework, say for fifth grade is my opinion. This is my opinion. This is no experience teaching fifth grade. Jon talking about here, this is Jon as a parent kind of thinking about that, I'm thinking about 50 minutes, but I definitely would see some work come home with my own kids at that level. And what about you Kyle?

Kyle Pearce: Definitely my son Land is in third grade and Talia is in fifth grade. So the fifth grade really rung true with me because I feel like this school year we've come out of the pandemic, our children are in music and different sports and things. We are a very active family right now and I'm telling you, it is making my head spin and that's without really having homework.
The teachers are, my children have send home these, I'm going to say 10 minute sort of activity or maybe something that's due next week and you can kind of hack away on it and it's like a little tiny story they have to work on something along those lines. But when you went right to that 50 minutes fifth grade, I was like, "Mm-hmm, that doesn't feel right to me."
I mean ultimately we're kind of using our gut and I'm thinking about it just from my own experience that it's, I don't know when we'd have the time most nights in order to do that simply because we're running in the door trying to get dinner going, out the door to hockey to drop off for music for this, that the next thing.
There's a lot happening. And then I guess the next question would be is not only are the kids busy and who's to blame for that? Is it the parents over programming? Is it the kids, is it both? When they do have a moment to just take a breath to get to their safe place, which is home for many students, not all students. I know some students, their situation might be different on the home front, but for most you're hoping that students when they get home that they're feeling like, "Ah, I can breathe and just relax a little bit."
And it's almost like I'm picturing you just got to get right back to it and it's like the next task, keep going, keep going. And then the next thing you know it's brushing teeth and time for bed. So now that's all based on just kind of a personal experience that we're having. Your daughters are a little bit older. What are things looking like in your world? So I've got grade three, grade five. Your grade seven and nine, right?

Jon Orr: Correct.

Kyle Pearce: Twins in seven?

Jon Orr: Yeah, my twins are in seventh grade. And you know what, from their experience mostly prior to this year, my oldest daughter in grade nine when she was in elementary school, there's been no homework, almost none, almost no homework and especially mathematics. Maybe this year we witnessed my seventh graders kind of studying for math tests.
You maybe doing a couple extra things to get ready, but there's definitely no set. Hey, we got to complete this worksheet at home here in my household, I haven't seen that in a long time. Last time I remember seeing regular homework was back when they were in grade one and it was language homework, they had to spell different words.
It wasn't really mathematics homework here. Now the ninth grader does get a significant amount of homework each night, probably at least an hour. So it's kind of fitting that model of the 10 minutes per grade level. So she probably has more than an hour to do in the evenings, most evenings. But like you said, she's got jam packed schedule from skating to swimming to playing basketball, playing volleyball, she's doing high school sports.
So lots going on to manage. And I think this 10 minute rule, Kyle, I don't know if I want to put our stamp on saying that is the rule of thumb you should follow, right?
This whole time limit on a homework kind of thing saying you have to give this much homework. I know that when I read or when our school gives out our daily planner at the beginning of the school year and the front of the planner is the student guide. It's got the dress code and it's got all this other stuff in there about what to expect at school in the day plan.
But there was always this general rule about homework listed. It was like if you're in the ninth grade, you should get this much homework. It was an hour and a half to 90 minutes, right? They're probably following this 10 minute rule. If you were in 11th and 12th grade, you should expect at least two hours of homework every night. Which might be true, but I think it's for us, what we've learned to come to learn is I think it's more about the quality of the homework, the purpose of the homework than the time of the homework.
And I think that you'll find that as a main kind of theme as we discussed some of the options here today in this episode, is that we think about our intentionality of what we want to achieve in our classrooms and what we want to send home with students if we want to send things home with students.
So Kyle, what about some of the other research we've heard here on these rules of thumb, but also maybe the idea that I think we've heard there is no merit to homework at lower grades versus there is some correlation at higher grades.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah.

Jon Orr: Let's chat about some of that research that's from floating around.

Kyle Pearce: Something and I think not just education but because we're in education we see this a lot. I think it's almost like if you want to find research that supports your argument, you could probably find some out there. You could find an angle. So before we take a deeper dive, we do have a number of different studies and sort of perspectives.
I was just doing some research for this episode and we found backtobasicslearning.com had an article about the 10 minute homework rule and they had sort of come to the same conclusion we did, which was sort of the answer of how much definitely varies, right?
So for younger students trying to give them something at home to maybe get them thinking and reflecting might be helpful. But again, being very cautious on not overwhelming. But one part in this article and we'll put it in the show notes for those who are really interested in looking at it, was just the part of homework that I think a lot of educators know this about homework, but again, I think we still have to be cautious about not setting a time limit or this quantity of homework that we have to give in order to get this benefit.
But they do highlight this idea of homework being a vital tool. They say for enhancing a child's grasp of the coursework, an opportunity to review as we know assimilate, which is just this idea of making more connections. Sometimes the second time around when you see something, it's sort of like that light bulb goes off and to prepare for upcoming material.
But they also talk about the valuable skills, just building initiative and perseverance and developing time and management skills. These are things that humans in general are not great at. Most adults struggle with time management skills, right?

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm.

Kyle Pearce: We all do. You get home and all of a sudden the time gets away from you. Some people in their jobs, it's a requirement in their job that they have to learn how to manage skills and other jobs it's not. It's sort of like you go to work and you're doing something maybe repetitive. If you're working, say in a factory or if you're working for yourself, you might not develop those time management skills.
The one I'm going to debate here a little bit, they see it helps you learn to love learning. And I'm going to say major asterisks there because maybe it could, but I think it could also really make you hate learning too, depending on how we use it as a tool. Am I using homework as a tool or am I using it as almost like a weapon or something that's going to cause students to not enjoy it?
And then finally they talk about planning an organization, which I kind of lump into this time management skills piece. But before we dig into the research, if you think about those skills, I think homework does help you do all of those things if we do it correctly. But here's the key piece is that I think a lot of those really you could give 10 minutes and achieve the benefit there or it could be three hours and you can achieve that benefit for most of those, right?
Because whether it's 10 minutes or an hour, you're going to still have to determine on commit to doing it, make sure that you schedule time out to actually do it, bring your books home there. You get all of that benefit regardless of how much there is.

Jon Orr: Totally.

Kyle Pearce: I think that's something as educators we should think about when you're having this sort of philosophical debate about homework, it's that you can still achieve a lot of the benefit without necessarily doing it too much or going way too hard or way too far on how much we use. What are your thoughts on that there Jon?

Jon Orr: I tend to agree with you and I think one of the big things I think about when I'm thinking about homework is sometimes assigning homework can feel like there's this idea that if I assign homework, some students who are going to do it probably aren't the ones that needed to do it. And there's some students who won't do it, maybe needed to do it, but also that sometimes aligns with generating a larger gap between those who have support at home and those who don't have support at home.
And so even though some students who will do it at home and have support at home, well I don't want to say that we shouldn't give homework to those students just because they have that support, but I often want to think about how can I do what you just said? How can I get the benefit of homework and all of these other benefits of assigning homework without widening that gap as much, right?
I want the benefits of the homework, but I also want to help the students achieve those benefits. And I think that has to go with your time factor in not thinking about time to build those benefits in.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. Yeah, and what you're saying sort of almost reminds me of the Matthew effect that you hear about an outlier where the students who are already sort of thriving, if they are the ones who are choosing to do the homework or maybe they feel more confident and therefore it encourages them to do it and they feel like they can attain that end goal, that rich gets richer sort of perspective or scenario might take over.
So it kind of brings me back to once again kind of thinking about, "Okay, is there a way that I could have homework structured in a way that more students can enter in or more students are willing to engage in that work in that activity?" So some of the things that we might want to think about is, and this was in that article that we just referenced where they were talking about the different skills on backtobasicslearning.com, they mentioned a few things which I think is really key is making sure that the amount of homework... That part again, I think was sort of up for debate because what is the right amount?
We can't say for certain, but I think really being realistic and making sure the difficulty level matches the group of students, meaning what kind of homework is it? Is it to give them just a little bit of reinforcement from today or to consolidate today's learning? Maybe it's something that we are spiraling back to.
So it's something that they know how to do, but you're maybe thinking, "Hey listen, I want it to just come back to the forefront so you don't lose that skill." Henri Picciotto, I believe is how we pronounce his last name. We knew him from the Twitter world and he had lots of great things out. He has an article about lagging homework, which was something that was really intriguing to you and I.
This is years ago, I think it was back in 2015 when you and I came across that and we were like, "Wow, this idea that you could teach concepts today but tonight's homework might be something from a week or a week and a half ago." So you've already had the opportunity to kind of revisit this idea and now we're going to go into this sort of purposeful practice stage on your own because we don't want students feeling abandoned on their own.
Oftentimes, why do kids give up on homework? Well they know that they don't have the support at home, they just learned the concept today. They didn't feel like comfortable with it. The bell went and the homework was assigned and all of a sudden they're in no man's land by themself. So if we were to roll back to last week or a concept from two weeks ago, this idea of lagging, now all of a sudden the students working on something that they've been seeing and they've been building on and now they're given an opportunity to maybe strengthen that skill or just to help them with the retention of that skill.
What are some other things we might think about as we work our way through this homework discussion and dig into some of what this research tells us?

Jon Orr: Yeah, so this article also talked about that homework is only beneficial if it doesn't put the students under too much stress or pressure. Assigning a challenge is healthy, but with the stress and the worry and that's what wrecks it for those students. This is going back to you, you mentioning before is that homework could be a love of learning, but if all of a sudden it's nightly and we have an hour and a half and I'm stressed for time and I'm now feeling the crunch and because if I don't submit this homework tomorrow in class, I'm going to all of a sudden be penalized.
That builds students stress and that can be very unhealthy for them in that case and that will just contribute to their hate of mathematics or hate of learning. So the one thing I think about when we are assigning homework is exactly that. It has to do with how much I think, but it also, are they ready for this particular piece of homework today?
I think Kyle, when I first started teaching, I used to get into this habit of, "Okay, here's my lesson plan. My lesson plan is going to follow this very traditional structure. I'm going to goose some examples and I'm going to give the homework out and I'm going to pick questions from the textbook, high school math teacher and I'm going to pick a good chunk of these and I'm going to say go, whatever you don't get done in class is for homework."
And some students may get a good chunk done, some students may not. But I think I didn't pick the questions based off say specific readiness of each student or the class. I taught my lesson without any formative assessment technique in my room, understanding what kids are picking. Are they picking up when I'm putting down? I didn't hear discussions happening in the room, whether they were getting probably it or not.

Kyle Pearce: You didn't tie the bow either.

Jon Orr: Right. You tied the bow at the beginning of those lessons kind of in a sense. Because today I'm going to teach you about this and this is what we're going to learn about. Now, let me show you exactly. But I think what I'm trying to say here is that I assigned homework whether they were ready or not for some of this idea.
So what we do now is when we're teaching our problem-based lessons and what we're seeing in the room and what we're seeing students achieve the learning goal that we're looking for, and when I tie the bow on it at the end of the lesson, so we'll say today we saw this strategy, this strategy, this strategy. Let me highlight this strategy over here, everybody. Now let's go and try that here and here and here.
It's now a purpose of like, "Okay, did we see some strategies around the room and did I get a sense of people understanding that strategy? Are they ready for this homework now to go and try that later?" So this piece about healthy stress is I think you can reduce the stress for students if you're assigning homework when they're ready for it.

Kyle Pearce: Right. So what I'm hearing you say, Jon, is we really have to ask ourselves, "Are they ready for this independent practice?" And I'm envisioning, I'm telling you, I had all of the homework picked out at the beginning of a unit oftentimes for the entire school year. I didn't necessarily show it to the students, but it was like I had all these ones done.
And then think about the element as well. I used to give some time at the end of class for students to work. So they're working through the first ones that I would assign. And then it was like when they had to go off on their own without the support of me and their students, all of the harder problems were what they had to go home and grapple with independently, which is kind of interesting in and of itself.
So again, I'm not suggesting we do the flipped classroom or anything like that where students are doing that sort of work here. It's just thinking about what are they truly ready for? And I'm thinking some of those harder problems you might want to use as tomorrow's problem of the day that you do at the beginning and then maybe you give them an opportunity to try another challenging problem or something just because what ends up happening the next day, students come in, what are the problems that they all struggled with? It's the last handful of problems.
Whether they tried it or not, it's almost like by default the teacher always lets them off the hook because they're the harder problems, right? So kind of picking up on those patterns I think is really important.

Jon Orr: Now I'm going to jump in here Kyle because what I do now with this readiness factor and what I've come to enjoy and in my students I think have come to appreciate and now again I teach high school. If I taught say grade seven and eight, I think I would do a similar approach here. But what I do now is give out kind of a choice in a homework thinking about this staggered homework in a sense.
I used to call them certain sections and I think textbooks do this. Textbooks would say part A, part B, part C, right? They have these sections of questions that get harder over time. But I would pick out questions that I thought were from those certain sections of the textbook or questions that were like what we did in class that day, strategy that I wanted to highlight and call those the core subject or core questions.
These are the questions that I think everybody needs to make sure they can do. This is the baseline of where we need to be. This is like, hey, if you can do these questions, you're pretty much approaching the expectation or you've met the expectation. But then I would have a section which was a little bit more challenging questions.
One of those they're just a little bit more spicy problems. There's a little spicier and we call them the build questions. And then I had a couple questions that were push questions. These are push your thinking so that students could try those. And what this did was like you didn't have to do the push questions you were supposed to make sure that you should do the core questions so that you felt like you were meeting the expectations, the learning goal for that particular day or what strategy or model we were trying to highlight. And then you could venture forward.
So this gave kids the freedom to go, "Look, I only have to do these seven or these five or whatever the core happened to be." Sometimes the core was three questions, but it also gave the students who were looking for a little bit more challenge the ability to have that challenge. And so it took the pressure off. What I used to do is assign all of them and then say, "Everyone has to do all of them."
And then the kids would feel like failures when they only did the core anyway. But the core is really what we're after. And then we can assign some push, some build to go forward to give those kids kind of what they're looking for. They're like, "Hey, this was easy. I'm not even going to do the core."
Because that's what I'd have students do. They would skip the core questions because they're like, "We did those in class already when we were at the boards and so let me just go straight to the push or the build questions."

Kyle Pearce: I love it, I love it. So basically I'm hearing this idea of choice, this idea of really almost self or independent differentiation where students have this opportunity to think of who they are and reflect on where they are in their own learning journey and work from there. And I'm sure there's times Jon where you have that handful of students where you're like, I feel like you could put more in it. And you have that discussion with that soon you try to encourage them.
But ultimately at the end of the day, if they are doing what is going to help them achieve that standard, then that is up to them. But we are there as that coach, as that mentor to kind of push them and try to get them to push for as far as they can go. Just like any coach in any sport or any learning situation. So I love that.
So Jon, let's dig into some of this research here. Let's chat here before we start wrapping things up because I think we've shared some ideas at least for you to be thinking on. Okay? I'm going to just kind of ruin things a little bit here and say the research is not definitive out there.
There's arguments that push either way. One here, this is from Harris Cooper in a 2006 meta-analysis. We pulled this from a time.com article, we'll put this in the show notes as well. Harris Cooper's from Duke University and went into this and actually found that there was a positive correlation between homework and student achievement.
Now let's remember though positive-

Jon Orr: Correlation.

Kyle Pearce: ... correlation, it doesn't necessarily, it's not causation. They're not saying there's a necessary cause, but they did notice that when homework was happening there was a positive correlation, but the nuance is that the correlation was stronger for older students in seventh through 12th grade.
So this is where a lot of this research kind of comes out that in the elementary grades homework is no good. However, his research went on to say that there still was a weak correlation between homework and performance in K through six. For those who are maybe not teaching stats or maybe they're not teaching at that level where they're not sure how that works, basically what means it's under a 0.33 or under a 33% positive correlation.
So if you look at this graph, it's trending up to the left... Oh sorry, up to the right, I'm going up to the left for those watching right here. You're seeing this trend, but it's like probably the dots are much more scattered. So it's not a nice straight line, a strong or a perfect correlation would be, but it's still suggesting that there could be some benefit there.
And now here's the other part that we don't necessarily have all the details on is, how much was given. Was it the one problem we were talking about for the grade one students? So the family is now welcomed into what's happening in the classroom. Think of again the benefit of that where you go, "Oh, now that I know what math topic you're talking about, maybe I can ask you when we're in the grocery store another problem, that concept."
So maybe there's amazing benefits of doing exactly that, but we just don't know all of the conditions on what this homework really looks like. How's it being delivered? Is the students sitting there and just doing a worksheet by themself? Are their parents sitting there and supporting them? We don't know any of those details. And I have to argue that it's probably inconsistent because of that.
However, when we swing to that grade seven to 12 scenario, we do see that the correlation is stronger. So what that tells me is that, you know what, we definitely want to consider, what role does homework play? But something like you said, I think we have to be cautious of is remember that we don't want to stress out our students either. If I'm the grade seven teacher and I teach all subjects, really easy for me to go, "Listen, I'm going to give my grade seven some math tonight, but I'm not going to give them anything else. Or I'm going to give them social science tonight, but I'm not going to give them anything else."
When you get into grade nine or any grade where there's more of a rotation of different teachers, this gets ugly very quickly. And I'm sure your daughter, Jon is going to start seeing this when she's in grade nine. Now those teachers start assigning 30, 45 minutes each, thinking, "Well that's not that much for my class."
And then she has these three other classes. You could quickly see how that might actually spin her into more of the negative side of school and may feel more negatively towards school, but then also may get some negative effects of feeling stressed, maybe feeling like a failure, whatever those things may be. So just using caution with how we give this homework and why we're giving the homework I think is a really, really key piece here.

Jon Orr: And I think going back to your correlation idea, correlation doesn't mean causation in a sense that there could be a third factor that makes both go up at the same time. So you had talked earlier in the episode about some of the benefits of homework, which is taking initiative, developing time management skills, but those things are also things that could cause that correlation to go up together.
So those things might be the things that they benefit from, but also if I already have those things, then that's going to cause this correlation to increase together between homework and say test scores or the ability to learn this thing. It's because these other things are also at play. So it's hard like you said, to kind of figure that part.
But the other side of this is also that having too much homework leads to that say negative effect, that hate of learning or you could add to that stress, that physical health of problems, maybe a lack of balance or even alienation from society, from students having too much.
I know that my daughter, when she has a lot, I don't see her, she's up in her room, she's doing homework, she's trenching away at things. And I think about our students, especially as they get older, Kyle, they're involved in more things. I know that my daughter is involved in so many things at school already, just being in the ninth grade. Also outside of school with her extracurricular activities on sports, they're thinking about, "If I'm getting assigned 90 minutes in grade nine or an hour or almost two hours in grade nine sometimes, what does that look like for their time schedule?"
Think about their daily schedule, think about their clock from start. Wake up time to bedtime, they're going to sleep eight hours maybe. Hopefully we got some eight hours.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. That's what you're hoping. Yeah.

Jon Orr: Yeah. And hopefully we get up early enough to start our day well and get our breakfast. Let's hope that's a couple hours. I know that my daughter is not taking a couple hours to do that, but that morning time, getting ready, time, getting to school time, there's probably only 14 hours of day left after that.
And then your six hours at school and then there's getting home time after that and then some decompress time or maybe spend some time with the family. Now we're talking what, six hours left in total. She's got to go to swimming on twice a week. She's got to do skating twice a week, which we know have various benefits and we don't want to give those up.
We're talking four hours. You know that she's going to want to watch some TV or socialize on social media with her friends. It doesn't leave a lot of time, right?

Kyle Pearce: No.

Jon Orr: So it doesn't leave a lot of time when we start to rack up those things. As they get older, not even to mention a job, right? Kyle, if they have a job after school, as they get into more senior level high school, how much time they have for homework itself. So I think what we want to really say here is we all have to make this decision and there are benefits to homework, there are downsides of homework.
But I think thinking about the intentionality, right, Kyle of the homework is the key idea here.

Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. When I kind of reflect on this discussion, and as I mentioned, I'll put in the show notes a bunch of the articles that we were referencing and some of the research that we were sharing. When you look at it's like so many things in life. There's so many ways you can do good with a tool, but there's also a lot of ways that you can do bad with it as well.
So really thinking it through like, "Why am I doing what I'm doing and being cautious about that." I think my big takeaway here, if I could only remember one thing from this episode, I'm sort of picturing this idea that maybe time and homework shouldn't be the goal. Maybe it should be that intentionality. What is the intent of why I'm giving this homework and how much time does the student need in order to meet that intentionality?
Maybe tonight it's 20 minutes, maybe tomorrow it's 35 minutes. If it gets too high, then maybe my intentionality is a little too ambitious, right? If that number gets too high, I can't help but mention that. You had mentioned the research about the pitfalls of homework and stress and physical health problems and lack of balance and even depression.
We'll put the link in the show notes, but they had mentioned that students in the school, in those schools that experience this stress, all of these negative effects, these side effects were being given about three and one 10th hours of homework on average each night. So that means half of the group is less than that, but the other half is above that.
And when you think about that, that breaks that 10 minute rule, even if you were trying to follow it. But my guess is that it's probably a bunch of different teachers assigning different amounts of homework and not realizing how much pressure you're putting on students. So make intentionality of why you're doing that, the goal and use time as your governor. So it's like if I break through that ceiling where you go, "Oh shoot, maybe I got a little too excited and now I got to roll back a little bit."
So focus on what you want for students and then use that as your compass and use time as a limiter so that you don't overwhelm students or get a negative result. How about you, Jon? What's your big takeaway here?

Jon Orr: Good tips there. My big takeaway when I think about signing homework to my students is just thinking about the benefits specifically and how can I achieve the most benefits for the most amount of students without trying to widen the gap between students who have that support at home, who don't have that support at home. So knowing your students in class I think is extremely important.
And what the makeup is, what that support at home is, and how can I assign a piece of homework or how can I assign extra practice? Or maybe it's an activity or maybe it's like you said, kind of a reflective prompt so that it doesn't widen the gap as much, but strengthens what we talked about that day or what we're going to look at the next day.
I think that's what I like to think about and I think that's what we should ask ourselves. "How can I assign or how can I give out this homework if I need to give out this homework to benefits the most students for the most good?"

Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. Well, Math Moment Makers, you heard it from us. Those are our reflections on today's episode. So how about you? Can you spend a little bit of time here reflecting on what you've heard here, what resonated with you? Is there something that you're going to take and try to implement into your routine or into your homework practice? Is homework something that maybe you're going to consider now in a younger grade, like we described in that grade one scenario where you just send one simple problem home as a means to communicate with parents and let them have a glimpse into your math classroom?
Or maybe you've thought something else, you're a grade 12 teacher and you realize maybe you're laying it on a little too hard. Whatever resonated with you, we'd love to hear about it, whether it be on social media or maybe it's as a review on your podcast app. Take a moment, pause and hit that rating and review section of your app and let us know. We'd love to hear what you learned in this episode.

Jon Orr: In order to ensure you don't miss out on the new episodes as we put them out on Monday mornings. Be sure to subscribe. Hit the subscribe button right now and you'll be notified when we put that episode out on Monday and you won't miss it, and you'll catch the next one automatically in your player.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. District friends, we have a few, only a couple spots in the near future for some district friends who are looking to make a real, real district transformation in their math programming. Reach out to our district improvement program team over @makemathmoments.com/district where you can find out more information about how we can help you wave that magic wand, that wishlist wand in your district and start working towards having a super effective, engaging, and transformational math program in your district.

Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources and complete transcripts for this episode can be found over @makemathsmoments.com/episode212. Again, that's makemathsmoments.com/episode212.

Kyle Pearce: Well, my math moment maker friends, until next time. I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us. And...

Jon Orr: A high five for you.

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To help out the show:


  1. Patricia Creek

    Dear Kyle and Jon,

    Thank you for taking the time to discuss the homework debate. I teach 3rd grade and I emphasize reading as their homework. I ask my students to read at least 15 minutes a night, but 20 minutes is optimal. My co-teacher and I have this saying, in K-2 you learn to read and starting in 3rd grade we are reading to learn.

    Math also starts becoming more reading (story/word problems) over just computation in the common topic tests and quarterly district assessments, so feeling confident in reading helps in math. 3rd grade math learning multiplication (0-10) is HUGE. I try to make my homework to learn different ways, besides fact practices. That is playing games with parents/older siblings like Multiplication War with playing cards, and giving certain game boards with dice or spinners.

    I really like the choice with Core Questions, Build Questions, and Push Questions! I am going to try that when we come back in January. Especially when I still have students struggling with addition & subtraction. I am working with them on multiplication facts of 0, 1, 2 (doubles), 5, and 10.

    Thank you and Happy New Year!

  2. Jon & Kyle

    Thanks Patricia for this comment and your ideas!

    Please let us know how your experiment goes with your choice questions.


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