Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rigor? Really?

Sorry to those of you who are my Facebook friends and have already seen this.  I'm still so appalled that I haven't been able to shake it off. 


Nine weeks ago, my son finished 7th grade (with 4th quarter straight "A"s, I proudly add).  Nine weeks ago, my son came home with these summer assignments:


1) Read/log 3 books (title/author).
2) The Wednesday Wars
    a) Background:  Read plot summaries of these Shakespearean plays:
        • The Merchant of Venice
        • The Tempest
        • Macbeth
        • Romeo and Juliet
        • Julius Caesar
        • The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
        • Much Ado About Nothing
    b) Background: Research these background topics:
        • The Vietnam War
        • The Antiwar Movement of the 1960s
        • Mickey Mantle
        • Jesse Owens
        • Bobby Kennedy
    c) Read The Wednesday Wars
    d) Write a double-entry journal
        • Identify 30 quotes (evenly spaced throughout the book)
        • Record quotes
        • Write a response for each
            - 10 personal responses
            - 10 text-to-text responses
            - 5 text-to-visual responses
            - 5 analysis-of-author’s-style responses


1) Fly a kite.  Take a picture.
2) Observe and document 6 examples of geometric symmetry in the world:
    a) 3 Reflectional
    b) 3 Rotational
3) Complete a 4-page activity sheet while learning to use the Geometer Sketchpad software.
4) Complete 5 pages of algebra review problems, showing work.
5) Visit 6 given math websites and play the games/do the activities


1) For each of 16 given topics:
Phyics -- Newtonian, quantum, dimensional theories, practical engineering, energy sources
Chemistry -- medicine, aerospace materials, nanotech, alternative fuels, aerospace design
Astronomy/Cosmology -- origins of the universe, star formation, origins of the solar system, space exploration
Paleontology -- new discoveries, new theories
    a) Find a current news article
    b) Read it
    c) Log the bibliographic reference
    d) Note your responses to it
    e) List any questions you have
2) For each of the above, choose another article or information that springboards from it and do the same
3) Complete Steps 1 - 3 for the upcoming year's Science Fair
    a) Prepare the Science Fair Data Book
    b) Brainstorm ideas
    c) Define the problem

Is it just me, or do you feel that some of the above is normal "read and brush up on your math skills," some of it is busy work, and some of it is that he's to learn new information that they won't have time to teach in 8th grade?

I have spent the past four years focusing on advocating for appropriate rigor in my children's classrooms.  I have not spent the past four years advocating for busy work and learning new information at home.  That's not the purpose of homework.

I don't believe that my son has yet been taught the skills necessary to complete some of the above.  He can find and read plot summaries of Shakespearean plays on the internet, but in order to research such background topics as the Vietnam War, he needs skills to evaluate internet sources for appropriate level and content.  He also needs parameters -- just how much is enough background on these incredibly broad topics?  And oh, how he struggled to find appropriate current news articles on the given science topics.  His greatest difficulty was narrowing the overwhelming "hit" list of every search while determining which ones were current news articles.  That's a skill that needs to be taught.

My son was going to start the Science Fair project over the summer anyway because his top speed is relatively slow and he needs to get a head start whenever possible, but having to start it over the summer indicates that they won't be able to get it done otherwise.  It's my opinion that if the Science Fair event can't be completed within the program's schedule, then the schedule needs to be examined, not the children tasked with starting it over the summer.  (FYI:  Again this year, all parts of the Science Fair project are due Thanksgiving Monday.  For him to spend Thanksgiving with his family, he will have to complete all work, trials, tests, and analysis, the Abstract, the Research Paper, and the display board by the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  If he doesn't, he and his dad will have to stay home., missing family celebrations on both sides along with his dad's birthday.  This is just plain wrong.)

I should make it very clear that I'm not against homework, and I'm not against summer assignments, though I don't particularly like either one of them.  (I did when I was a teacher, but I don't now that I'm a parent of a child with Asperger's.)  I'm against busy work and packing the schedule so full that curriculum can't be completed unless it's done at home.

So it's nine weeks later, and school starts in three days.  My son finished everything and has tidy stacks of papers waiting to be turned in the first day along with his box of tissues and rolls of tape, but I can't say that a good time was had by all.


Lori said...

Seriously....I know I've told you this but I am SO glad I am not in school anymore! I'd be an EPIC fail.

kwesleyweaver said...

What happened to being a kid? Is there anytime for doing that? Sounds like he's in college!

And the whole "school supply" thing is really getting out of hand. I haven't heard so much cursing in the isles at Walmart in a long time! (parents cursing at their supply lists). Pen, paper, notebook...that was good enough for us!