1 Migore

Get Off The Xbox Do Your Homework

1 Your kids are not your mates

Something I'm starting to hear with worrying frequency within the primary school setting is "my daughter's my best friend". Often, this rings alarm bells. Your kids aren't your mates. You're their parent, and your responsibility is to provide them with guidance and boundaries, not to drag them into your own disputes. Your nine-year-old doesn't need to know about your bitter feud with his friend's mother, or which dad you've got the  hots for at the school gate. In the years to come he or she may realise that some of  their own problems (social alienation, in its various forms, being a prime example) might have something to do with exposure to that sort of talk at an early age. Continue at your own risk.

2 Data levels aren't everything

Here's one to think about for the start of next term. At the autumn parents' evening my agenda tends to look something like this: "How is <insert name> settling in to her new class? Is she happy?" And so on. All being well, our conversation will move on to your child's preferences about this subject or that activity and the sorts of things we might work on together to ensure a successful academic year. Except you were told your child was a level 3a writer in her school report in summer and you're now demanding to know why she's not a level 4 yet. Naturally, it's a similar story for reading and maths. Before I respond, can I just ask if you settled down and were on an even keel in no time whatsoever after every major event in your life? Give everybody some time to settle in – new children and new teachers can be just as daunting for each other at the start of an academic year. It will take time to establish positive relationships, let alone pinpoint progress levels.

3 Let them go a little bit

It's always tricky to bring up, as it's the child who dictates when this needs to happen. And that could be at any moment, regardless of year group or academic ability. And I empathise, as both a teacher and a parent. Our children are, of course, the most precious things in our lives and we will naturally fight to protect and provide for them. Independence, and the desire for it, however, comes to us all sooner or later and you would do well to recognise the signs. Is your child suddenly starting to produce independent pieces of writing or artwork, and then look to you for acknowledgement/praise? Or maybe following recipe or model-making instructions to a tee? Try setting a few tasks. Left to his own devices, you'd be surprised how well your 10-year-old can remember to pack his homework or get his own breakfast. Even seemingly basic routine chores will help foster his sense of worth and help him cope with life at senior school. In the years to come, he'll probably be more grateful than if you were still spoon-feeding everything to him at this age.

4 Video games carry certificates for a reason

I'm sure that XBox keeps your nine-year-old nice and quiet at home. But his last piece of writing featured SAS operations against Colombian drug cartels and was slightly disturbing. So too was the report from the four six-year-olds who were worried about being the bait in a make-believe drive-by shooting in the playground. I appreciate I can't control what you let your kid see at home, but until they can tell the difference between CGI and reality, would you mind if I just forwarded the complaints from the parents of those six-year-olds on to you?

5 John Terry is no role model

Ticking off a child for low-level disruption occurs at least daily for most teachers; it's part of the job. Irritating as it is, it does actually help to establish or regularly reinforce boundaries and it rarely leads to escalation. That is, until your son goes into what I call "John Terry-mode" following said ticking-off: arguing back, gesticulating, rolling eyes, huffing and puffing, and so on. That's why he ended up getting the "hairdryer" treatment, and losing his lunchtime. The media might hold the likes of Terry up as heroes and let them get away with such histrionics every Saturday afternoon, but it's painful to watch eight-year-olds mimicking that sort of behaviour even in the playground. I'm not going to tolerate it in my classroom. Unfortunately, the odd lost playtime at school isn't going to go far in making this problem go away, so if there's any chance of you handing out a few red cards or match bans at home it'd probably enforce the point a lot more clearly.

6 Boyfriends can wait

"My daughter's really sad these days," isn't an uncommon thing to hear from a parent from time to time. I will then anticipate having to explain that, in my experience, girls' friendship issues do tend to drag on a bit whereas their male counterparts will just have a straightforward shouting match (or worse) and then get on with things. But when said mother then goes on to explain that her eight-year-old daughter's misery is due to the fact that she hasn't got a boyfriend, my klaxon goes off. Kiss-chase is all good fun, but it really is about as serious as playground romances tend to get at this age. Children are under enough pressure at primary school these days as it is, without having to worry about whether they're impressing Johnny SuperDry, or Billy Twelve-Mates. Let your child be a child.

7 Yes, I would like help in the classroom – but not from you

To a primary school teacher, the offer of an extra pair of hands in the classroom is a truly wonderful thing, and 90% of the time any teacher would pull your arm off, so to speak. Helping with art and craft afternoons, listening to readers, making classroom decorations, putting up displays and being a friendly face on school trips are all an essential part of classroom karma, and the children love it.

However, teachers do talk to each other, and if you've got a track record of snooping through children's writing folders, checking maths corrections or questioning styles of delivery to senior management behind closed doors, I'll be keeping you very much at arm's length. Could your motive be to do some undercover snooping? You're not welcome.

8 Sorry – your kid's just lazy

When it comes to progress, every teacher wants the best for every child in their class – and not just for the sake of their own performance review meeting. It is actually why most of us do what we do. But there sometimes comes a point where we start to think we are pushing an immovable object.

If your 10-year-old isn't making the progress that he could be, and it's not because he's tired – it might be because he's, well, lazy. It's not just the flopped-across-the-table body language that tells me this. Compared to others of a similarly high ability, he's moving backwards – making frequent, basic errors.

It's difficult to teach someone who doesn't want to learn, but it's near impossible to teach someone who thinks they know it all already. Conversations about effort and attitude aside, it would be worth reminding them that they'll soon have senior school expectations to cope with. If any of this sounds familiar, could you maybe think about what you might do to help deal with it?

9 Fine. Don't do the homework

Homework is – and always will be – a tug-of-war between parents and teachers in primary school. A lot of parents complain when there's too much of it. Or when there's not enough of it. Or when it's too easy. Or hard. You complain when parents are expected to help with it and you complain when it's designed to be completed independently and your child struggles with this. You complain when your kid has "mislaid" it and it hasn't miraculously reappeared in her book-bag, the night before it is due. I will be sure to forward all these complaints to the school governing body, which wrote the homework policy in the first place. In the meantime, I'll just get on with all of the piles of marking.

10 PE is a compulsory subject

There has been a big rise in children saying they can't do PE, or bringing a note from home, and some excuses are dubious to say the least (for example, an ankle problem that seems to go on for months, or a cold that only afflicts the child on one particular day of the week). Just like maths and literacy, PE (swimming included) is part of the national curriculum and I'm afraid your child doesn't have a choice about whether he or she takes part in it or not. Regularly "forgotten" kits aren't a problem. Once we give up sending "forgotten kit" letters home each week we can always dip into the lost property bin, where there are countless substitute items ready and waiting for a good airing. Please don't forget: PE is good for them, after all, and doing it is in their best interests. As is homework, and most of the above. Thank you for reading and see you in school.

A little confession from me. I was homeschooled (that's not the confession part), and in 8th grade my algebra textbook had the answers to half the problems in the back. And when I was stumped, I would cheat.

Sorry, mom!

Of course, cheating at math is a terrible way to learn, because the whole point isn't to know the answer to 2x + 2 = 7x - 5, it's to understand the methodology that can solve any like problem.

But what if you could cheat at your homework and learn? That seems to be the premise behind app called Socratic. Or at least that's my takeaway. The app lets you take a picture of a problem (you can also type it in, but that's a little laborious), and it'll not only give you an answer, but the steps necessary to to arrive at that answer — and even detailed explanations of the steps and concepts if you need them.

The app is actually designed to answer any kind of school question — science, history, etc. — but the math thing is the slickest part. For other kinds of questions, Socratic kind of does a bit of Googling, and in my experience can typically find similar word problems on the wide internet, or from its own database of answers. On about half the middle school science problems I tried, the app was able to identify the topic at question and show me additional resources about the concepts involved, but for others it was no more powerful than a simple web search.

But for algebra this thing is sick. I pointed it at 2x + 2 = 7x - 5, which I wrote down at random, and it gave me a 10 step process that results in x = 7/5. It has trouble with word problems, but if you can write down a word problem in math notation it shouldn't be an issue. I also tried it on a weird fraction from an AP algebra exam, which it kind of failed at, but then I swiped over and it was showing me this graph, which included the correct answer:

I love this app, not just because it would've helped 8th grade Paul out of a jam, but because it's such a computery use of computers. You use the tiny computer in your pocket to be basically smarter than you already are. It's technology that augments a human brain, not just a distraction.

The creator of Socratic just open sourced its step-by-step solver, called mathsteps. There are a lot of computer-based algebra solvers out there, but for Socratic they had to do some extra engineering to get at the steps a human would need to solve the same problem.

Also, I'd be remiss not to mention Photomath, which has been doing this since 2014, and actually has step-by-step explanations in the recently released Photomath+ paid version (there's a free trial). I like the Socratic interface and explanations a bit better, but I'm glad to see this is a vibrant market.

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