I know that it sounds like something fundamental. Every day the teacher assigns math homework, and the next day the students and teacher go over it together. It just makes sense. For years it has been a staple part of the lesson experience in my classroom.

In recent years, I have not participated in that ritual of going over homework as much as I have in the past. I do, though, spend some time at the beginning of class giving each student individual feedback while they work on a warm-up. One particular day, many of the students made a similar mistake on the homework that was assigned. I decided that this was the perfect day to bring back that old ritual. I asked them all, “Do you want me to go over the homework?” They all responded in unison, “NO-O-O!” I obliged and instead simply introduced the high-level math task for the day.

They tackled the task individually with some private think time. They worked with their small groups comparing solutions and justifying their thinking. All of a sudden, I started hearing little comments: “That’s what I did wrong on my homework.” “I can fix my mistake now.” “That makes so much more sense.” Our whole-group discussion was filled with a-ha moments as well as students cleared up misconceptions through reasoning, questioning, and analyzing.

As I reflected on the day, I realized that “going over homework” meant that I would stand in front of the class. I would explain how to do the problem. I would talk about all of their mistakes. I would do the thinking and reasoning all while they listened attentively.

My students have decided that this is not the kind of class they want. They want to be engaged in the learning, and to them that means tackling tough math tasks even when they had some misconceptions on homework. Engagement means trying even when the pieces don’t quite seem to fit yet. Engagement means discovering their own mistakes and taking ownership of their own learning. Engagement is talking to their peers about math and doing the hard work of struggling through learning even when it seems difficult.

When I think about Rose Park, engagement happens all over the building. Students are engaged in science lab experiments. They are developing a hypothesis, conducting the experiment, and reporting their findings. Students are engaged in literacy. They are reading novels and informational texts. They are analyzing characters and delving deep into new information. Students are engaged in history. They are playing games and experiencing stories about history that truly hook them on the subject.

So, I have decided that I am not going over homework as a whole class anymore! I want my students to experience the engagement that they crave at every moment during the class period!


Rose Park Math and Science Magnet, part of Metro Nashville Schools, was a finalist for the 2013 SCORE Prize for middle schools. Watch more of Rose Park’s story in this video and read more about the school’s accomplishments.