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Rebranding Homework

Back to school this week for my high school kid and neither of us is looking forward to the deluge of homework heading his way as the school year begins.  Homework is a drag!  It’s so old-fashioned!  It requires embarrassingly old technology, like pencils and paper!

If homework were a package on a retail shelf, I would recommend the manufacturer take a long, hard look at the brand and give it a facelift.  It’s very unappealing!  Not modern, not fun, too slow, a lousy user interface.

And as a parent, I secretly hate homework too, not for the same reasons my kid hates it, but mostly because it eats up our family time and his outdoor physical fitness time.  I just don’t think 10 pages of handwritten math homework every night actually teaches kids math.  It seems most effective at teaching kids to HATE math.

The book, “The Homework Myth,” addresses the recent push-back against homework better than I can here, but I’ve been thinking about what lies underneath the homework rage many kids (and parents) feel.  I think it’s all about technology.

There is a vast chasm of expertise between the computer-savvy, Net-loving, social media-connected high schoolers and that of their teachers, which makes school very difficult for all of them.  I think teachers are some of the least tech-savvy people in my kid’s world. I’m afraid his generation doesn’t respect people who don’t love new technology or use it passionately.  His dad and I are more tech-savvy than many of his teachers because of our jobs; we have to be knowledgeable or we’d be OUT of a job.

I think these kids see homework as deadly slow and disconnected “busy work” — literally, not connected to the Net and their fast-moving daily reality.  Some nights when I check the stuff over, I have to agree. Is this really the best way for them to learn?  I loved school and actually loved doing my homework, but I think we had a lot less homework.  I’ve always loved to read and write, but that’s only one type of the nine types of intelligence, as Harvard professor Howard Gardner pointed out, but still the main one (called “linguistic intelligence”) that’s measured in schools.

As for rebranding, we need homework that attracts, engages and rewards kids who have all types of intelligence.  The “new homework” should use the most exciting technology available.  I wish homework were OPT IN or OPT OUT — not graded, just an option for those who feel it is helpful.

And back to branding, I have to say, the second part of the word — “work” — has to go.  Time to rebrand homework as HOMEPLAY.  And I wish it were online and fun like a videogame.  Why can’t they integrate schoolwork and homework into a videogame format where your online avatar gets points, a badge or bigger biceps if you can pass a quick quiz or show off your ability to conjugate the verb volare?  My kid would love doing homework like that!  And I’d love to see him loving it.

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