It’s no secret that there is a great debate about the effectiveness and validity of homework. Some educators and parents believe homework is a necessary part of school while others question its importance. There are myriad studies and articles that support both sides of the argument. And this winter, inspired by our mission statement’s pledge to graduate students who are “confident because they excel in a particular passion,” the teachers in the Lower Division tested out a new approach to homework called SPARK. For one month, instead of math worksheets, mandatory reading minutes and writing assignments, students were asked to use their homework time to explore and study a personal passion.
The idea was for students to become an “expert” on a topic of their choice; how they approached their research and managed their time would be up to them. Teachers were there to provide guidance and help with finding resources, and held weekly check-ins to see how students were progressing, but the work was meant to be independent and student-driven. At the end of the month, each student reported their findings in a maximum six-minute presentation to their class. The presentation format was up to them, and teachers used a rubric to evaluate each student.
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Students chose a wide range of topics for their SPARK projects, from the history of game shows to modern architecture in Dubai. Fifth graders wrote emails to experts, checked out books from the library, intensively searched the Internet, interviewed people in New York City and conducted surveys. Some thrived on the freedom of the project, while others had a hard time finding a passion that they wanted to explore for a month. Some were so engaged in their research they even worked over the weekends; others struggled to manage their time and buckle down to do independent work every school night.
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Student responses to the project were mixed. For example, Lila said, “I like SPARK better than homework because you can manage your time the way you want. It is fun to learn more about a specific topic.” Ezra said SPARK is better than homework because “you can study something you love and it is really interesting and creative.” Other students prefer homework to SPARK because SPARK is more difficult and takes longer to do. According to William, “homework is better because kids don’t need 40 minutes a day to research. Kids should research on their own time outside of homework time.”
Garrick on “Modern Architecture in Dubai”
Just as students in the Upper Division encounter various opportunities to delve into areas of interest through Minimester, Mastery, electives and collaborative projects, SPARK provided 5th grade students with the opportunity to engage in self-discovery and spend dedicated time learning about something of genuine interest to them. Thought the homework debate is sure to continue, hopefully this project SPARKed 5th grade students into exploring individual passions independently. That is what being a lifelong learner is all about!
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