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Girl in Kimono Doing Homework

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Vertical rectangle. Blond girl in kimono standing at a table shelf with a page of arithmetic and two dolls. Her back to observer; peacock on left shoulder.

Zen and the Design of Homework Desks

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Second of a two-part introduction to design. Students use what they've learned about Roman design as they set about designing a "home workspace" for homework. Their clients, it turns out, are themselves, but they also consider modifications they might make if, for instance, they were designing for a student with special needs.

Do Kids Have Too Much Homework?

Smithsonian Magazine

Homework horror stories are as timeworn as school bullies and cafeteria mystery meat. But as high-stakes testing pressures have mounted over the past decade—and global rankings for America’s schools have declined—homework has come under new scrutiny.

Diane Lowrie says she fled an Ocean County, New Jersey, school district three years ago when she realized her first grader’s homework load was nearly crushing him. Reading logs, repetitive math worksheets, and regular social studies reports turned their living room into an anguished battleground. “Tears were shed, every night,” says Lowrie, 47, an environmental educator, who tried to convince school district administrators that the work was not only numbing, but harmful. “Iain started to hate school, to hate learning, and he was only 6 years old,” she told me in a recent interview.

A 2003 Brookings Institution study suggests that Iain’s experience may be typical of a few children in pressure-cooker schools, but it’s not a widespread problem. Still, a 2004 University of Michigan survey of 2,900 six- to seventeen-year-old children found that time spent each week on homework had increased from 2 hours 38 minutes to 3 hours 58 minutes since 1981. And in his 2001 and 2006 reviews of academic studies of homework outcomes, Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, found little correlation between the amount of homework and academic achievement in elementary school (though higher in middle school and high school). Cooper supports the influential ten-minute homework rule, which recommends adding ten daily minutes of homework per grade beginning in first grade, up to a maximum of two hours. Some districts have added no homework on weekends to the formula.

The question of how much homework is enough is widely debated and was a focus of the 2009 documentary Race to Nowhere, a galvanizing cri de coeur about the struggles of kids in high-performing schools. “I can’t remember the last time I had the chance to go in the backyard and just run around,” a teenage girl laments in the film. “I’ve gone through bouts of depression” from too much homework, another confesses. A bewildered-looking third girl says: “I would spend six hours a night on my homework.”

The results of international tests give the homework skeptics ammunition. David Baker and Gerald LeTendre, professors of education at Penn State, found that in countries with the most successful school systems, like Japan, teachers give small amounts homework, while teachers in those with the lowest scores, such as Greece and Iran, give a lot. (Of course the quality of the assignment and the teacher’s use of it also matter.) The United States falls somewhere in the middle—average amounts of homework and average test results. Finnish teachers tend to give minimal amounts of homework throughout all the grades; the New York Times reported Finnish high-school kids averaged only one-half hour a night.

Sara Bennett, a Brooklyn criminal attorney and mother of two, began a second career as an anti-homework activist when her first-grade son brought home homework only a parent could complete. The 2006 book she co-wrote, The Case Against Homework, is credited with propelling a nationwide parent movement calling for time limits on homework.

Last year, the affluent village of Ridgewood, New Jersey, was shaken by two young suicides, causing school officials to look for ways they could ease kids’ anxieties. Anthony Orsini, principal of Ridgewood’s Benjamin Franklin Middle School, eliminated homework for elective courses and set up an online system that lets families know how long many homework assignments should take. “We have a high-powered district,” says Orsini. “The pressures are palpable on these students to succeed. My community is not ready to eliminate homework altogether.”

The trend, instead, is to lessen the quantity while improving the quality of homework by using it to complement classroom work, says Cathy Vatterott, a professor of education at University of Missouri at St. Louis and author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs (2009). Cynthia Schneider, principal of World Journalism Preparatory school in Queens for 570 sixth through twelfth graders, plans to encourage all students to read for pleasure every night, then write a thoughtful response. There are also initiatives to “decriminalize” not finishing homework assignments.

As for Diane Lowrie, who left Ocean County because of too much homework, she says Iain, now 10 and heading for fifth grade in Roosevelt, New Jersey, is less stressed out. He recently spent 40 hours working on a book report and diorama about the Battle of Yorktown. “But,” says his mother, “it was his idea and he enjoyed it.”

N.Y. tenement. Little ones helped in homework.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Homework [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Negative marked: "6758 FRIESEKE / Homework / 1217 Frieseke 6758.

New York Times, January 30, 1927, pg. RP4.

Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Glass, BW.

New York Times, January 30, 1927, pg. RP4.

This New App Wants to Help You With Your Homework

Smithsonian Magazine

Say you’re a sophomore stuck on a question in your trigonometry homework. Do you ask your parents for help? Text your friends? Skip it completely? A new startup hopes you’ll snap a photo of the question with your phone and submit it to its tutoring marketplace instead.

The Silicon Valley-based company, GotIt!, has developed an app of the same name. High school students submit their math and science questions and tutors bid to answer. When a student accepts a bid, which are usually less than a dollar, he or she gets a 10-minute-long tutoring session over text.

GotIt! just finished up a stint in Silicon Valley at the Intel Education Accelerator, where they’ve been working since August to expand beyond high school math and chemistry (the two subjects they started with because they were the most concrete to explain). Peter Relan, the co-founder and chairman, says they want to level the playing field and make sure that any student anywhere can get their complicated questions answered one-on-one.

Relan shares his story with Smithsonian.com.

What is GotIt!? Can you give me your elevator pitch?

It’s an on-demand marketplace that instantly connects you, a smart phone user, to a live, paid expert for a 10-minute chat session about a problem you want to solve or a topic you want to learn about. The goal is to enable people to teach each other about topics in which they are knowledgeable.

The GotIt! app interface. (GotIt! )

What problem are you trying to fix?

We all have dozens of questions every day. There is someone out there who is perfect to address each one, but it’s hard to find that person and connect with him or her instantly. For the experts, it’s easier to offer their time if it’s only 10 minutes. It’s low commitment, and they can do it any time and anywhere.

How does it work, exactly?

There are three key innovations that make GotIt! work. First, the user experience. Just take a photo or type in a topic. Within seconds, you get connected to a trained expert in the field. Second, the marketplace. Because it’s a marketplace in which multiple experts from all over the world compete via bidding, we have created a free market where the price of 10 minutes of expert knowledge is evaluated in real time. We think this is revolutionary. Knowledge has had no global free market economy until now. Lastly, it is a freemium business model. We don’t charge for every chat session, just for one of every few sessions. The paid sessions are priced so they can absorb the cost of the free ones, so everyone can get some free help every now and then.

How are the experts recruited? 

Most experts find us through search or are referred by other experts. 

And how do you vet them?

There's an on-boarding program that tests both customer service skills and, of course, the subject matter. After they pass the tests, there is an audit period in which every session of a newbie expert is checked by a senior, experienced expert and is graded along five dimensions. An expert is banned if there is any personal information exchange. 

How did GotIt! get its start?

Hung Tran, the founder, started the idea of a marketplace for experts while doing his PhD in computer science at the University of Iowa. Then he came to Silicon Valley to join my incubator called YouWeb. He’s a Vietnamese citizen who came to the U.S. to study. We teamed up, then Intel Capital came in to help as well.

As you see it, what impact could GotIt! have on the world of education? 

We want every student in the world to have access to some personalized academic help. Like Khan Academy transformed education by offering free, non-personalized help, we now are cracking free, one-on-one help.

The GotIt! team. (GotIt! )

What do you see as your biggest success so far?

It’s in the top 15 education apps in the app store. More than a million math and science problems have been submitted. Students love it, and thousands of experts all over the world are making some income.

What's the long term plan?

We want to broaden beyond education into other areas and to power all sorts of daily queries we all have. We want to create global employment for people willing to share their knowledge and teach others.

Spending Too Much Time on Homework Linked to Lower Test Scores

Smithsonian Magazine

Polls show that American public high school teachers assign their students an average of 3.5 hours of homework a day. According to a recent study from the University of Oviedo in Spain, that’s far too much.

While doing some homework does indeed lead to higher test performance, the researchers found the benefits to hitting the books peak at about an hour a day. In surveying the homework habits of 7,725 adolescents, this study suggests that for students who average more than 100 minutes a day on homework, test scores start to decline. The relationship between spending time on homework and scoring well on a test is not linear, but curved.

This study builds upon previous research that suggests spending too much time on homework leads to higher stress, health problems and even social alienation. Which, paradoxically, means the most studious of students are in fact engaging in behavior that is counterproductive to doing well in school. 

Because the adolescents surveyed in the new study were only tested once, the researchers point out that their results only indicate the correlation between test scores and homework, not necessarily causation. Co-author Javier Suarez-Alvarez thinks the most important findings have less to do with the amount of homework than with how that homework is done.

From Education Week:

Students who did homework more frequently – i.e., every day – tended to do better on the test than those who did it less frequently, the researchers found. And even more important was how much help students received on their homework – those who did it on their own preformed better than those who had parental involvement. (The study controlled for factors such as gender and socioeconomic status.)

“Once individual effort and autonomous working is considered, the time spent [on homework] becomes irrelevant,” Suarez-Alvarez says. After they get their daily hour of homework in, maybe students should just throw the rest of it to the dog.  

Copy photo of Minnie Brown, Melba Pattillo, and Thelma Mothershed doing homework

National Museum of African American History and Culture
A copy of a photo of Minnie Brown, Melba Pattillo, and Thelma Mothershed doing homework after a day of school at Little Rock Central High School with caption at top. A newspaper clipping of the photo and accompanying caption is glued to the back.

The caption reads, "CGX-160-Little Rock, Ark- INP Soundphoto-9/25/57- After a busy day at integrate dLittle Rock Central High School, three of the nine Negro students who were escorted to classes by Federal troops are shown doing their homework after returning home today. Let to right- Minnie Brown Melba Pattillo, and Thelma Mothershed. INP Staff photo by Maurice Johnson."

Kids Who’ve Had a Concussion Shouldn’t Do Their Homework, It Makes Recovery Take Longer

Smithsonian Magazine

Most of us try to avoid getting smacked in the head, but for athletes concussions are a fairly common injury.  The damage from a concussion—a mild brain injury that causes dizziness and pain—is usually temporary, says the Mayo Clinic, but can cause problems with “concentration, memory, judgment, balance and coordination.” And, though concussions seem mild, repeated concussions are an incredibly serious health risk.

Recovering from a concussion can take months. But a team of researchers have found a way to cut that time in half. Writing in the journal Pediatrics, the scientists describe how people who took it easy in the wake of their concussion—abstaining from any taxing mental activity—recovered much more quickly. Based on their research, the scientists advise that people who've suffered a concussion should take a little mental breather. The CBC:

For the first three to five days after a concussion, Meehan said doctors recommend patients stay away from activities that involve memory or concentration. After that, students should resume some cognitive activity and start with taking fewer courses and delaying high-stake tests that account for a large part of their grade.

“What we usually tell them is do as much school work as you can without making your symptoms worse and without your grades dropping,” he said.

“It’s a hard balance to strike, both for the students as well as the school.”

Getting out of that big test because you took a hard hit in your hockey game maybe isn't the worst thing in the world. But the scientists' ban on cognitive activity doesn't just include things like homework—video games, reading, and text messaging are out, too.

This recommendation makes some instinctual sense: if you injure your arm, you should go easy on it for awhile; why shouldn't the same logic apply to your brain? More from Smithsonian.com:

Four Months After a Concussion, Your Brain Still Looks Different Than Before
Five Kid Concussions in One Game Have Parents Questioning Pop Warner Football
Hockey Players Sue League For Failing to Address Head Injuries
New Study: NFL Players May Be More Likely to Die of Degenerative Brain Diseases

Getting to Know Your Client I

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
First of a two-part teacher-created design lesson. Students examine Roman designs--functional and aesthetic--as a prelude to their own design project.

The Life Album Project: Who I Am Through Music and Visual Art

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson in which students examine CDs to see how words, images, and sound fit together in a marketing piece.

Music, Poetry and History: The National Anthem

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Classroom activity asking students to memorize, paraphrase, and practice singing 'The Star Spangled Banner.' Part of the online exhibit The Star Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem. Targets grades 3-5.

Another Side of Paradise

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson in which students use the design process to create a sequel to the novel "This Side of Paradise" by Stephen Layne.

What's in a Name? Designing Personal Identity

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson in which teens research the etymologies of their names and then make those names "look more like them" by designing personal logos.

Learning About Museums

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson about museums uses discussion questions and activities in which students relate stories from prior museum visits or share ideas for a museum that they would like to create. Part of the online exhibit The Star Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem. Targets grades k-2.

Rocket Science

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson in which young students learn of Newton's laws of motion by designing and launching an air-pressure rocket. The rocket is a plastic bottle.

A New Society Project

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson meant to accompany a study of the "Progressive Era" in America history. Students design their own 'progressive society.' The lesson can be adapted to the study of any period.

Archaeological Study

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson that uses the design process to introduce the difference between archaeology and anthropology.

Measuring the Flag

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson applying historical information to math problems (understanding the size of the Star Spangled Banner). Part of the online exhibit, The Star Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem, Targets grades 3-5.

Going on a Treasure Hunt

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson that introduces maps to kindergarteners. The children learn about symbols and compass directions as they create a map to help another group find a treasure hidden in the classroom.

Jazz It Up!

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson that seeks to instill an appreciation of jazz and its history and to inspire students to pass along that appreciation to others. The emphasis is on the work of Louis Armstrong.

Uniform Design

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson that introduces the cultural aspects of clothing design with a question: Why did the British Redcoats wear red coats?

Design Your Perfect Career

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson in which students choose possible careers by using the design process.

Personal Ads�_�and Not for Dating (Look Great for a College)

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher-created lesson in which college-bound eleventh-graders research schools and "market" themselves online as prospective students.
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