Okay, so maybe this is an obvious one, but it needs to be said. Before you assign mathematics tasks or problems to your students, you need to do them yourself. Again, before you assign them, not after.
Confession:I didn’t often do this as a classroom teacher. I would assign some problems for homework after quickly glancing at them and then the students would bring up issues that I hadn’t anticipated. This is not a great practice. We need to know what we are assigning to students and why we are assigning it.
As you complete the problems, here are some questions you should consider:
- How long did it take you to do the problems? Keep in mind your students will need double or triple the time to complete them.
- What are all the different ways students might solve the problems? You can use this to help highlight student approaches and connect those approaches to one another.
- How does one problem compare/contrast to the others? You need to consider these connections and help bring them out when you discuss the homework.
- What bigger ideas do the problems connect to? The more we can weave ideas together the better. Think through prerequisite and future knowledge and how they relate to these tasks. Share these ideas with students so they can make webs of understanding.
- Why am I assigning these problems? Make sure that you keep your learning goals clear and that your tasks align with those goals.
I am sure there are other questions that you might consider, but I think this is a good list to start with. I also think that if you are not going to discuss the problems in class, you might reconsider whether the homework is a worthwhile endeavor. For example, students might incorrectly approach the problems and reinforce incorrect procedures. If you don’t discuss their approaches, you may not discover this. If you have other questions to ponder or ideas for homework problems feel free to share them in the comments below.