I'm a teacher (college).
The problem isn't homework. The problem is just grades.
Specifically, the problem is that we have to give them.
The related problem is that you might want them for some reason.
I don't want to give out grades. I just want to teach the material, and see how I can get people to learn it. Right now I'm teaching an essay writing class. The most interesting part is trying to coax better writing out of students. The most boring part is trying to attach numerical values to their learning.
The easiest way for me to manage this disconnect is to make my grading system as transparent and obvious as I possibly can. That often turns in to a “do the work, follow the steps,” mentality because it's easier for me to check off. Yes, some of the grade is based on quality but a LOT of it is based on effort which is easier to quantify and be out in the open about. Ultimately I want to just teach writing, and see a real difference in skill between the start and end of the semester. But I am stuck having to give grades as well.
On the other hand, I'm also taking an art class right now of a different sort. Two weeks in and so far it's a great experience. Everyone just shows their work off. The work is critiqued. No one is given a grade so far. You can tell based on the feedback you get if a) you're improving your personal best and b) you have a long way to go compared to other students.
I want an amazing piece of work from the class. I do not care if a score is assigned to it, but I want it to be the best I can personally do. However, when I was younger, I was programmed and conditioned to want As. Then given the exact means by which to get there, or not. This isn't a good way to teach children. It will take a hell of a thing to fix it though.
The damn thing is that a lot of people are trying to “gamify” education in the wrong direction, by adding even more metrics and +1s and Gold Stars and pointless rewards, rather than trying to make the learning itself more fun.
This is very interesting, and I think explains a lot of the educational dysfunction that we see in my story and in the stories shared by other readers.
People talk about reform, textbooks, unions, low pay, and curriculum, and certainly these things can all produce dysfunction. But I suggest that these things we’re talking about are an emergent result of having large groups of same-age students stuck into a room with a stranger, who is then given the task of producing education that can be measured on a scorecard.
Anyway, let’s continue with my junior year of high school…
Halfway through the school year, Mr. B leaves Vo-Tech and is replaced with Mr. C, who looks exactly like the dad from the comic strip Family Circus. He’s even more of a computer scientist than Mr. B was, and less of a teacher. Some of the kids really hate him. They see him as obtuse and unfair.
“What do we need to know for the test?” demands one girl in exasperation.
This is what school is to her. You memorize some crap for a test. You don’t need to be able to understand it, relate it, or apply it, only recite it. Mr. C is a bit socially awkward, and he acts more like a boss than a teacher. He gives us instruction, but they’re sort of brute-force info dumps. I don’t know how well I’d absorb this material if I didn’t already know it and didn’t have a passion for it. In any case, the tests involve skill and problem-solving, not repetition. You can’t do them unless you can actually program.
|The tables have turned, and now I am obliged to look up to my little brother. His height came very, very suddenly.|
I thrive. For the first time in my life, school seems to have shape and meaning. An assignment is a goal: Go and make a program that can accomplish X. They aren’t particularly challenging (for me) but they require creativity, which is what makes them fun. They tickle the left hemisphere of my brain, which hasn’t happened in school since that one freak math assignment in sixth grade. At no time am I ever asked to copy things, or memorize things, or fill in worksheets. Everything I do has purpose.
A lot of the kids that were succeeding under Mr. B are now failing, and the distinction between Students and Programmers becomes dramatic. On one hand, I can empathize with these kids who suddenly find themselves failing a course, and I can see why they would want to blame the teacher. After all, they are good students and successful in other subjects, and they didn’t have any problems in this class until we changed teachers. On the other hand, they were never going to be programmers. The idea that they were “passing” a programming course with no working understanding of programming was ridiculous.
Mr. C and I discuss programming. Not assignments or homework. Just… programming. He introduces me to concepts that would be far beyond the curriculum here. He points out the problems with the Pac-Man clone that I’m making, that if it were run on a faster computer, the game itself would run faster. It’s a shame that Mr. C didn’t have a job wiriting games. The early 1990’s are going to be littered with videogames written by people who don’t understand this. A lot of those early games will break or malfunction as computers become exponentially faster.
I quietly observe the problems he’s having. He seems to be involved in a number of conflicts with students, and possibly enraged parents. He seems stressed and unhappy. He seems to be up against people who insist that schooling involves learning indisputable facts from books, doing, homework and taking tests. Now the class is more about learning a skill. It’s like a woodworking class that has the audacity to grade you on your ability to envision and construct sturdy and useful furniture. You either get it or you don’t. A lot of these students aren’t even worried about their lack of skill, they’re more concerned that they will have a bad grade on their record. This is the only class I’ve ever taken where the grade was tied to the student’s understanding of the material, and where failure to understand would result in a failing grade. We’re a long, long way from the, “Do all the work and you’ll pass” mentality that pervades the rest of the school system.
Mr. C explains to me that he won’t be around next year. I don’t know if the school is getting rid of him or if he’s leaving of his own volition, but I’m very sad to see him go. As the year winds down, he does me a favor. Somehow, he convinces the school to let me take home one of the classroom IBM machines for the summer. Up until now I’ve been using an ages-old Tandy that saved data using a tape recorder. I have fully explored the boundaries of this machine and have learned everything I can from it. Now I’m going to have a proper, modern machine. It will have a massive 640k of memory, which is forty times as much as I’m used to. The machine has two floppy disk drives for storage, and uses a proper computer monitor instead of a television. This is a massive leap forward for me.
Also, this new machine can run much better games.
I’ll never see Mr. C again, but I hope he finds someplace that appreciates him.
Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year
Everyone hates Black Friday sales. Even retailers! So why does it exist?
Pixel City Dev Blog
An attempt to make a good looking cityscape with nothing but simple tricks and a few rectangles of light.
Skylines of the Future
Cities: Skylines is bound to have a sequel sooner or later. Where can this series go next, and what changes would I like to see?
The Best of 2019
I called 2019 "The Year of corporate Dystopia". Here is a list of the games I thought were interesting or worth talking about that year.
Quakecon 2012 Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.