Saturday, November 27, 2010

Parenting is Easy

I...hold on.....sorry, after writing the title I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I remember vividly the day my father told me "being a parent is the hardest thing you'll ever do." He was right. And I really appreciate him waiting until I already had children to enlighten me with that little nugget. It's almost as if he enjoys watching me go through what I put him through. I guess that's fair; I wasn't the best kid. And, coincidentally, I'm not the best parent. What I am is a middle-aged bald man who drives a mini-van and listens predominately to the Beatles, Jack Johnson, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Waylon Jennings. A happening Friday night for me is Walmart and Target in the same night. Maybe a little Barnes and Noble action if I'm lucky. As lame and boring as I am (really lame; really boring), I can contribute in one area of life, as minuet as it may be: I am a parent and an educator, and I have some ideas about how the two entities can form a better relationship.

Parents have some legitimate complaints about schools. Over the next few weeks I'll take a look at these concerns and offer some potential solutions. Today's problem: homework.

Concern: Too much homework/Homework is too hard.

Probably true on both counts. First part first. Simply put, schools need to stop with the busy work. As an educator I can honestly say this: it's gotten ridiculous. It's a waist of time and it has to stop. If an assignment doesn't have genuine meaning, don't give it. Also, too many assignments are not engaging. More on this in a later post (in showbiz, this is known as a teaser. I am not in the entertainment business, but I do watch TV.)

Second part second. Homework is actually not too hard necessarily, it's just parents aren't in the class for the lesson, and can't always answer kids' questions at homework time. Or, on a more horrifying level, parents don't know what the assignments are. This is where schools are really failing; there are a litany of online sources to solve this issue (I don't even want to hear that some homes don't have Internet access. Facebook requires the Internet and everyone on the planet is on Facebook. Everyone.) Schools must stop playing hard ball with parents and make sure parents have some tools as their disposal:

1. Schools have the ability to post activities/assignments online. Why do some schools insist on keeping this a secret? To teach students responsibility? Hey, here's an idea: let's find another way to do that. Let's give parents/students access to the assignments BEFORE they are due. Post them daily, let parents parent their kids.

2. Allow parents to track grades online. This isn't as easy as posting assignments, it probably takes a good student-management system. Let parents be involved in their kids' grades. Number 1 and 2 are essential for a number of reasons, but if nothing else, it allows parents to hold a school discussion at the dinner table that doesn't involve parents asking, "What did you learn at school today?" Because we all know the typical response from kids on this one; "nothing." With #1 and #2 in place, parents can ask specific questions that are not yes/no questions.

3. Use the incredible (I'll say that again; incredible) online sources available to us to help parents and students understand homework. Let's look at math, for it's generally the most difficult for parents. Do the parents in your community know about wolframAlpha? This is a site that allows you to enter an equation and it will give you the answer. It will also show you the proper steps to get to the answer. What an amazing opportunity for parents to not only check homework, but understand it. What about Khan Academy? Do your parents know about this website that offers visual tutorials in math and science? Do your parents know they can go to this website and get a 5-8 minute interactive tutorial on any math concept? Do your parents know their kids can go here for a refresher or for more explanation? If the answer is that your parents don't know, than they need to. And they need to hear from the schools.

For other classes, teachers can utilize tools to help students and parents. Blogging is free and allows teachers to communicate with students, and solicit responses. Twiducate is a twitter website that allows only educators and students to tweet each other. Teachers can send a tweet to their 3rd hour class reminding them of the assignment for that night! It is also free. Teachers can post podcasts and Powerpoints to a webpage, allowing access for students and parents at night. With a little more effort, we can provide parents and students with incredible resources to ensure a more fulfilling learning experience.

Tunes to consider, Head Full of Doubt, by the Avett Brothers. Come on Eileen, by Dexys Midnight Runners. I've Just Seen a Face, by the Beatles.

The Bears are 7-3 and will win the Super Bowl. I just hope they get a challenging game at some point. (I will be shocked if we make the playoffs. My guess is 9-7, with a first round loss. Maybe 10-6, but still a first round loss. Just enough for Lovie to get an extension.) The Bulls look decent, can't wait to see them with Boozer. Fighting Illini basketball looks promising, loving Badger football (on to the Rose Bowl!) and NIU football has had a great year. If the Red Sox can find a way to get Carl Crawford, I will be a happy camper.

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