Here’s another post from MNOHS math teacher Kim Breeden.  Kim also served on our school board for six years, and wears many part-time administrative hats at MNOHS.

I dread the day my son will regularly have homework.  I can handle the current kindergarten expectations of practicing letters and reading together at bedtime.  But I fear the future, based on the homework nightmares shared by family and friends.  For many, homework is a nightly battle.  It often involves tears (sometimes of the child and the parent).  I have heard far too many stories: A child’s dislike of school spills over into the home.  A young boy struggles to complete just one worksheet while his sister breezes through her homework, reaffirming his belief that he is “dumb.”  A teenager tries to balance academics, extracurriculars, friends and a job.  A dad working long hours wants to create happy memories, not school work battles.  This—and likely more—is what I have to look forward to.

During my first decade or so as a teacher, I was a strong proponent of nightly homework.  I believed that it was essential for students to practice their skills each night.  Each class period began by grading homework and ended with an assignment.  Research supported my belief that homework lead to improved academic success

Fast forward a few years.  As often happens, becoming a parent has changed my view.  I’ve become very protective of our family time.  We’re all out of the house by 7:30 each morning.  Many evenings my husband arrives home after 6:00.  We believe in the importance of eating a nutritious dinner together.  Other chores—such as baths or closing up the barns—also cut into our evening time.  Worse yet are the days with swimming lessons or t-ball.  Sadly, even without homework, this often leaves little time for the things we enjoy as a family: games of Uno, bike rides, or jumping on the trampoline.

Traditional schools are based on a seat time model.  This means that credits are based on the number of hours a student spends in class.  Seat time is also the basis for state funding of schools.  If the number of hours a student spends in school is so crucial, why is school spilling over to the home?  The answer may be found by looking at quality of time versus quantity.

Most school days last an average of 7 hours, typically divided into 4 to 7 courses.  Many things quickly cut into the time devoted to learning: passing periods, attendance, assemblies, announcements, early dismissal for sports.  The list is endless.  The quantity of school time devoted to learning may be far less than many believe.

The quality of time spent in schools is based on much more than the quality of your particular school or teachers.  Even in exceptional school districts, many factors can negatively impact the quality of education children receive.  Discipline likely tops this list.  Teachers spend a great deal of time reminding students to be quiet or stay on task.  Just one disruptive student in a class can have a large impact on 30 others.

In addition, in a traditional classroom it is expected that students start and end each class period at the same place academically.  A student who has advanced skills in a topic will likely view a class as a waste of time while a struggling student may be overwhelmed by the pace.

At MNOHS, we expect students to spend 1-1.5 well focused hours per class per day. Well focused is the key.  Students have control over their environment and can create their schedules.  Students are free to spend extra time absorbing a lesson or can quickly complete a task and move on to an honors assignment or a class they find more challenging.

So in an online school, is everything homework or is none of it?  While many MNOHS assignments are done at home (or a library or coffee shop), they are not above and beyond regular classroom time.  Each learning activity is carefully created by the teacher to maximize the quality of instruction and the student’s educational time.  They are done with teacher support—and with luck no tears from students or parents.

And, now class, for tonight’s homework:  Challenge your family to a game of Uno.

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