Project-Based Learning and the Research Paper


Students take responsibility for their learning and develop solutions for complex problems when their research paper becomes a PBL unit.

November 27, 2018
A class of students works in groups together in the library

In 11th grade, students in my county are expected to generate a research paper or product. In the past, I stuck to the traditional paper, mostly because doing so was comfortable for me as an English teacher. I can do papers. I can do essays. I can provide feedback and teach revision.

However, last year I took a risk—instead of the traditional paper, I told my students we would be embarking on a project-based learning (PBL) journey. They seemed excited, mostly because they thought they wouldn’t have to write a paper. In the end, they did so much more than that.


I had my students form groups and then gave each group the task of choosing an issue they were interested in. The project would involve coming up with a viable solution. As a class we brainstormed all kinds of big issues, including school shootings, poverty, LGBT rights, bullying, and homelessness, as well as local issues like the need for more options in school lunches, such as vegan and gluten- and diary-free options.

Next they had to brainstorm possible resources and questions they needed to answer. Therein lies the beauty of PBL: Since I couldn’t anticipate their every need, they had to take responsibility for their own learning, and solve problems as they encountered them.


Their first formative assessment developed organically as they realized they would need to email professionals who could answer questions to guide their research. These adults included our school principal and our security team, as well as local government officials. Students reached out to their local delegates and other elected representatives, including the congresswoman for our district.

I gave a mini-lesson on how to write a formal email, and then the students composed their emails. Before they sent the messages, I previewed them, offering feedback and constructive criticism (formative assessment), and students made revisions.

By the next class period, my students had one of two versions of the same problem: Their recipients had responded or they hadn’t, but either way my students didn’t know what to do.

I gave a mini-lesson on how to send a follow-up email when someone doesn’t respond and on how to move forward when they do. They wrote follow-up emails, and again I previewed these. As we awaited responses, several groups asked if they could poll the staff or their peers about school lunch choices, improving school security, and expanding the school parking lot. This exercise could benefit all groups, so we decided to make it the next task.

I showed them how to create an online survey using Office 365. Their surveys had to contain at least two graphics and 10 good questions (open ended, multiple choice, or order of importance).

Meanwhile, students continued getting responses from their email recipients and needed to set up interviews with those people. How to write good interview questions became the next mini-lesson. My students were largely unaware of how to interview someone and didn’t realize that the questions they prepared were critical in gaining the evidence they needed to support their proposals.

For example, a group who wanted to expand the school parking lot went from asking broad questions like, “Do you think we need a larger parking lot?” to very specific ones like, “How many accidents have occurred in the parking lot since the school opened?” Most of the interviews were conducted over the phone, but some were in person—one group, with permission from their parents, interviewed members of a local homeless camp.

Students also had to find at least three solid sources and take notes to be embedded in their final product, with correct citations. They found statistics and data to support their proposals, and made sure to address counterarguments.


I gave my students options for their final products. All of them had to contain their survey results, research, and emails and interviews in one form or another. They came up with ideas like a public service announcement, a formal proposal, a bill, a documentary, a photo essay, or a piece of music or art.

I created rubrics and exemplars so students would know what I was expecting. I didn’t want to be too controlling, but I wanted high-quality products. They shared their final products with a variety of authentic audiences, including their congresswoman, our principal, a county supervisor, and our security team.

I gave each group one summative grade, but in the future I plan to split the grade: 70 percent of each student’s grade will be for their group’s work, and 30 percent will be an individual grade based on my observations, students’ self-reflections, and peer reflections.

As students shared their projects and we reflected on the process together, a few things became clear to me. First, I’ll never teach the research paper any other way because the PBL model we used helped develop real-world problem solvers, thinkers, and doers instead of rule followers. I learned that to encourage students to step out of their comfort zones, I too had to step out of mine, but beautiful, authentic learning happens when we create the right conditions for it.


Middle School Misfortunes Then and Now, One Teacher’s Take

Wait ’til 8th

Middle school 2008 vs 2018.jpg

By: Benjamin Conlon

Let’s imagine a seventh grader. He’s a quiet kid, polite, with a few friends. Just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill twelve-year-old. We’ll call him Brian. Brian’s halfway through seventh grade and for the first time, he’s starting to wonder where he falls in the social hierarchy at school. He’s thinking about his clothes a little bit, his shoes too. He’s conscious of how others perceive him, but he’s not that conscious of it.

He goes home each day and from the hours of 3 p.m. to 7 a.m., he has a break from the social pressures of middle school. Most evenings, he doesn’t have a care in the world. The year is 2008.

Brian has a cell phone, but it’s off most of the time. After all, it doesn’t do much. If friends want to get in touch, they call the house. The only time large groups of seventh graders come together is at school dances. If Brian feels uncomfortable with that, he can skip the dance. He can talk to teachers about day-to-day problems. Teachers have pretty good control over what happens at school.

Now, let’s imagine Brian on a typical weekday. He goes downstairs and has breakfast with his family. His mom is already at work, but his dad and sisters are there. They talk to each other over bowls of cereal. The kids head off to school soon after. Brian has a fine morning in his seventh grade classroom and walks down to the lunchroom at precisely 12 p.m.

There’s a slick of water on the tiled floor near the fountain at the back of the cafeteria. A few eighth graders know about it, and they’re laughing as yet another student slips and tumbles to the ground.

Brian buys a grilled cheese sandwich. It comes with tomato soup that no one ever eats. He polishes off the sandwich and heads to the nearest trashcan to dump the soup. When his sneakers hit the water slick, he slips just like the others. The tomato soup goes up in the air and comes down on his lap.

Nearby, at the table of eighth graders, a boy named Mark laughs. He laughs at Brian the same way the boys around him laugh at Brian. They laugh because they’re older, and they know something the younger kids don’t. They laugh at the slapstick nature of the fall. The spilled tomato soup is a bonus. The fall is a misfortune for Brian. That’s all. It’s not an asset for Mark. A few kids hear the laughter and look over, but Brian gets up quickly and rushes off to the bathroom to change into his gym shorts.

Mark tries to retell the story to a friend later. The friend doesn’t really get it because he wasn’t there. He can’t picture it. In fact, Mark seems a little mean for laughing at all.

After lunch, Brian returns to homeroom in his gym shorts. No one seems to notice the change. He breathes a sigh of relief. The cafeteria fall is behind him. He meets his sisters at the end of the day and they ask why he’s wearing gym shorts. He tells them he spilled some tomato sauce on his pants. They head home and spend the afternoon and evening together, safe and sound, home life completely separate from school life. Brian doesn’t think about the incident again. Only a few people saw it. It’s over.

Now, let’s imagine Brian again. Same kid. Same family. Same school. He’s still in seventh grade, but this time it’s 2018.

When Brian sits down for breakfast, his dad is answering an email at the table. His older sister is texting, and his younger sister is playing a video game. Brian has an iPhone too. He takes it out and opens the Instagram app. The Brian from 2008 was wondering about his position in the social hierarchy. The Brian from 2018 knows. He can see it right there on the screen. He has fewer ‘followers’ than the other kids in his grade. That’s a problem. He wants to ask his father what to do, but there’s that email to be written. Instead, Brian thinks about it all morning at school. While his teacher talks, he slips his phone out and checks to see how many ‘followers’ the other kids in class have. The answer doesn’t help his confidence. At precisely 12 p.m., he heads to the cafeteria. He buys a grilled cheese. It comes with tomato soup that no one ever eats.

At the back of the lunchroom, Mark sits with the other eighth graders. He holds a shiny new iPhone in one hand. Mark has had an iPhone for five years. He’s got all the apps. Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. He’s got lots of followers too. He doesn’t know all of them, but that’s okay.

A few years ago, Mark made his first Instagram post. It was a picture of his remote control car. Mark used to really enjoy remote control cars. Mark checked Instagram an hour after putting up that first picture. A bright red dot showed at the bottom of the page. He clicked it. Someone had ‘liked’ the picture of the car. Mark felt validated. It was good that he posted the picture. A little bit of dopamine was released into Mark’s brain. He checked the picture an hour later. Sure enough, another ‘like’. More dopamine. He felt even better.

For a while, pictures of the remote control car were sufficient. They generated enough ‘likes’ to keep Mark happy. He no longer got much joy from actually driving the remote control car, but he got plenty from seeing those ‘likes’ pile up.

Then something started to happen. The ‘likes’ stopped coming in. People didn’t seem interested in the pictures of the car anymore. This made Mark unhappy. He missed the ‘likes’ and the dopamine that came with them. He needed them back. He needed more exciting pictures, because exciting pictures would bring more views and more ‘likes’. So, he decided to drive his car right out into the middle of the road. He had his little brother film the whole thing. He filmed the remote control car as it got flattened by a passing truck. Mark didn’t bother to collect it. He just grabbed his phone and posted the video. It was only a few minutes before the ‘likes’ started coming in. He felt better.

Now it’s eighth grade and Mark has become addicted to social media.  Sure, he needs a lot more ‘likes’ to get the same feeling, but that’s okay. That just means he needs more content. Good content. Content no one else has. That’s the kind that gets a lot of ‘likes’, really, really fast. Mark has learned the best content comes from filming and posting the embarrassing experiences of classmates.

When he notices that water slick at the back of the cafeteria, he’s ready.  Each time someone walks by and falls, their misfortune becomes an asset for Mark. A part of Mark wants them to fall. He hopes they fall.

Brian walks across the cafeteria with his soup, minding his own business. Suddenly, his feet slide out from under him. The tomato soup goes up in the air and comes down on his lap. He’s so embarrassed, that when he stands up and rushes off to the bathroom, he doesn’t notice Mark filming.

Mark’s fingers race over his iPhone screen before Brian is out of sight. That was a great video he just took, and he wants to get it online. Fast. He knows he’s not supposed to have his cell phone out in school, but the teachers really only enforce that rule during class. They all use Twitter and Instagram too. They understand.

Mark doesn’t know who he just filmed, and he doesn’t care. It’s not his fault the kid fell on the floor. He’s just the messenger. The video is a kind of public service announcement. He’s just warning everyone else about the water spot in the cafeteria. That’s what Mark tells himself.

He gets the video uploaded to Snapchat first. No time for a caption. It speaks for itself. He has it up on Instagram seconds later. By then, the ‘likes’ are already coming in. Dopamine floods into Mark’s brain. There’s a comment on Instagram already! “What a loser!” it says. Mark gives the comment a ‘like’. Best to keep the audience happy.

This has been a rewarding lunch. The bell’s going to ring in a few minutes. Mark sits back and refreshes his screen again and again and again until it does.

Meanwhile, Brian heads back from the bathroom, having changed into his gym shorts. He’s still embarrassed about the fall. It happened near the back of the cafeteria, though. He doesn’t think many people saw. He hopes they didn’t. But when he walks into the classroom, a lot of people look at him. One girl holds her phone up at an odd angle. Is she…taking a picture? The phone comes down quickly and she starts typing, so he can’t be sure.

Class begins. Brian is confused because people keep slipping their phones out and glancing back at him. He asks to go to the bathroom. Inside a stall, he opens Instagram. There he is on the screen, covered in tomato sauce. How could this be? Who filmed this? Below the video, a new picture has just appeared. It’s him in his gym shorts. The caption reads, “Outfit change!”

Brian scrolls frantically through the feed trying to find the source of the video. He can’t. It’s been shared and reshared too many times. He notices his follower count has dropped. He doesn’t want to go to class. He just wants it to stop.

He meets his sisters outside at the end of the day. Several students snap pictures as he walks by. Neither sister says a word. Brian knows why.

Home was a safe place for Brian in 2008. Whatever happened in school, stayed in school. Not now. Brian arrives at his house, heart thundering, and heads straight to his bedroom. He’s supposed to be doing homework, but he can’t concentrate. Alone in the dark, he refreshes his iPhone again and again and again and again.

Brian’s family is having his favorite dish for dinner, but he doesn’t care. He wants it to be over so he can get back to his phone. Twice, he goes to the bathroom to check Instagram. His parents don’t mind, they’re checking their own phones.

Brian discovers that two new versions of the video have been released. One is set to music and the other has a nasty narration. Both have lots of comments. He doesn’t know how to fight back, so he just watches as the view counts rise higher and higher. His own follower count, his friend count, keeps going in the opposite direction. Brian doesn’t want to be part of this. He doesn’t like this kind of thing. He can’t skip it though. It’s not like the dance. And he can’t tell a teacher. This isn’t happening at school.

He stays up all night refreshing the feed, hoping the rising view count will start to slow. Mark is doing the same thing at the other side of town. He has lots of new followers. This is his best video ever.

At 3 a.m., they both turn off their lights and stare up at their respective ceilings. Mark smiles. He hopes tomorrow something even more embarrassing happens to a different kid. Then he can film that and get even more ‘likes’. Across town, Brian isn’t smiling, but sadly, he’s hoping for exactly the same thing.

From the Author

I started teaching in 2009. At that time, public school was very much the way I remembered it. That’s not the case anymore. Smartphones and social media have transformed students into creatures craving one thing: content. It’s a sad state of affairs.

But there’s hope.

Over the last few years, my students have become increasingly interested in stories from the days before smartphones and social media. In the same way many adults look back fondly on simpler times, kids look back to second and third grade, when no one had a phone. I think a lot of them already miss those days.

Smartphones and social media aren’t going anywhere. Both are powerful tools, with many benefits. But they have fundamentally altered how children interact with the world and not in a good way. We can change that. In addition to the “Wait Until 8th” pledge, consider taking the following steps to help your children reclaim childhood.

  1. Propose that administrators and teachers stop using social media for school related purposes. In many districts teachers are encouraged to employ Twitter and Instagram for classroom updates. This is a bad thing. It normalizes the process of posting content without consent and teaches children that everything exciting is best viewed through a recording iPhone. It also reinforces the notion that ‘likes’ determine value. Rather than reading tweets from your child’s teacher, talk to your children each day. Ask what’s going on in school. They’ll appreciate it.
  2. Insist that technology education include a unit on phone etiquette, the dark sides of social media and the long-term ramifications of posting online. Make sure students hear from individuals who have unwittingly and unwillingly been turned into viral videos.
  3. Tell your children stories from your own childhood. Point out how few of them could have happened if smartphones had been around. Remind your children that they will some day grow up and want stories of their own. An afternoon spent online doesn’t make for very good one.
  4. Teach your children that boredom is important. They should be bored. Leonardo Da Vinci was bored. So was Einstein. Boredom breeds creativity and new ideas and experiences. Cherish boredom.
  5. Remind them that, as the saying goes, adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins. They have to be found. Tell them to go outside and explore the real world. Childhood is fleeting. It shouldn’t be spent staring at a screen.


Benjamin Conlon is a public school teacher and author of The Slingshot’s Secreta middle school mystery for anyone trying to find old-fashioned adventure in the digital age. Benjamin grew up in New England and spent much of his childhood exploring the woods surrounding his hometown. After college, he began teaching elementary school. He wrote The Slingshot’s Secret as a reminder that even in a world filled with technology, adventure abounds.

Link between social media and depression stronger in teen girls than boys, study says


New Year, New Goals for Yourself and Your School


Vol. 18 No. 4

PSN eletter vol18 no4 newyear

As 2018 comes to a close, now is the perfect time to set goals for 2019. Goal setting is immensely important for overall success—both personally and professionally. After all, if you’re not setting goals, how will you know what to reach for?

We’ve all heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals—the concept that goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. But there’s a bit more to consider when setting goals to ensure that you stay motivated to achieve them long after their creation. contributor Jeffrey Hayzlett published an article on The 5 Golden Rules of Goal-Setting, and provided some great insight on achieving objectives. We want to share three of his rules and some ways that they can help you lead your school to support your school’s mission in 2019 and beyond.

  1. Your goal must motivate you. Many of us set goals in the beginning of the year that we know are good for us—I’ll read more self-help books, I’ll get to the gym more often. But if you feel dread every time you open the door to the gym or you just can’t work up the enthusiasm to crack open that Daniel Pink book, those goals aren’t going to last very long. Instead, pick goals that you’re inspired to achieve—and that are compatible with your everyday life. Maybe you’re more apt to listen to podcasts on your way to work or taking a walk after a long day is more your speed. Professionally, it might not make sense to resolve to implement new leadership processes that don’t jibe with your personal style. Any goals must align with your internal motivation to be successful.
  2. Write your goals down every week. There is power in writing down what you plan to achieve. But don’t write your goals down once and forget about them—write your goals down each week. By keeping your goals in the forefront of your mind, you’re more likely to continue working to achieve them.
  3. Put a plan into action. It’s not enough to set out to achieve big goals. You need a plan with smaller, milestone goals along the way. Breaking down each goal into smaller, actionable steps makes your larger goal easier to accomplish. If your professional goal is to redo your school’s strategic plan, that’s a big initiative! Smaller goals could be to read research on strategic planning, attend a workshop to learn more about what constitutes a solid strategic plan, and talk to peers at other schools who have successfully created and implemented their own initiative.

A new year is a fresh start for setting personal and professional goals. Consider these tips as you create yours, and make 2019 your most successful year yet!

Inquiry-Based Tasks in Social Studies


Assignments that are bigger than a lesson and smaller than a unit are a good way to experiment with inquiry-based learning.


January 2, 2019
High school students engage in civic debate
© Barry Sloan


Many schools, both nationally and internationally, are adopting the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards. Some states, districts, and schools adopt the full framework and standards, and others adopt the general framework, but modify or create their own grade-level standards. An important element of the framework either way is something called the Inquiry Arc.

The Inquiry Arc comprises four dimensions: “one focused on questioning and inquiry; another on disciplinary knowledge and concepts relating to civics, economics, geography, and history; another on evaluating and using evidence; and a final one on communicating and taking action.” The basic idea is that students ask or are given compelling questions and then investigate those questions, evaluate and find evidence to answer them, and communicate their answers.

For example, middle school students might be given the question “Can disease change the world?” in order to spark their exploration of the Black Death. Starting with questions such as “What was the Black Death?” and “How did the Black Death affect people in the 14th century?,” they explore geography and history by examining maps and other sources.

They then write an argumentative essay to answer the original question, using the sources they examined as evidence. As an extension, they might create a public service announcement on how to assess how effective their school or community is in preventing and controlling the spread of disease.

By default, inquiry is hardwired into the C3 framework and standards: In order to effectively implement the C3, you must engage students in inquiry practices.


The Black Death exercise is an example of an inquiry-based task that uses the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) developed by some of the key authors of the C3. They describe these tasks as “bigger than a lesson, smaller than a unit”—just right for teachers who want to implement inquiry-based learning but may not feel comfortable devoting a unit to it. IDM tasks include the following:

  • A compelling question that is of interest to students and addresses issues found in one or more of the academic disciplines in social studies. It should provoke student thinking and align to curricular outcomes.
  • Specific standards from the C3 framework.
  • An activity to stage the question to elicit student inquiry.
  • Supporting questions aligned to the compelling question. They are specific and content-based, and guide the students to be able to answer the compelling question.
  • Formative assessments to check student knowledge of the content under the supporting questions. These can be short paragraphs, graphic organizers, or other traditional ways to assess student learning.
  • Sources—usually primary sources—aligned to the supporting questions.
  • A summative performance task that is argumentative in nature. Students must answer the compelling question using evidence to support their thinking.
  • An option for students to take informed action in the world around them.

In an elementary example, students learn economics standards by investigating the compelling question “What choices do we make with our money?” They examine short readings and images, and write a short argument using these sources. They discuss the pros and cons of saving and spending, and have a chance to take informed action such as creating a poster listing ways families can save money.

There is also a version of IDM called a focused inquiry. A high school examplehas the compelling question “Did the attack on Pearl Harbor unify America?” Students answer a single supporting question and complete one performance task and then write short claim and counterclaim arguments. They then propose a revision to their textbook based on the sources explored in an extension assignment. This takes one or two class periods, versus five or six for the elementary school economics example.


Project-based learning (PBL) is also a great way to implement the C3 framework. PBL employs inquiry and includes elements that increase engagement, such as authenticity, high-quality public products, and voice and choice.

But there may be challenges to implementing the C3 framework through PBL. Teachers may not want to transform a full unit into PBL, or the unit may not be a great fit for PBL. In any case, an inquiry-based task like IDM has many of the essential elements of PBL: It assesses key knowledge and skills, has a challenging question, and requires inquiry. It also may allow students to do more public work if they take informed action through the extension assignment. It’s also possible to have an inquiry-based task within a PBL unit, as another way to assess student learning: If students are collaborating on the final PBL product, an inquiry-based task is an effective way for teachers to assess individual students’ understanding of the content and skills in the project.

Teachers need to use their professional judgment about what makes sense for student learning as they consider PBL and smaller inquiry-based tasks. Both can increase student engagement and be used to assess deeper learning.

Down With Homework, Say U.S. School Districts

The Wall Street Journal

More districts ban or stop grading it amid complaints of overload, but some parents and teachers aren’t on board

Kauffman Leadership Academy in Cleburne, Texas, holds classes until 5 p.m. to fit in needed lessons to prevent sending work home.
Kauffman Leadership Academy in Cleburne, Texas, holds classes until 5 p.m. to fit in needed lessons to prevent sending work home. PHOTO: TAWNELL D. HOBBS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

School districts across the country are banning homework, forbidding it on certain days or just not grading it, in response to parents who complain of overload and some experts who say too much can be detrimental.

A new policy in Ridgefield Public Schools in Ridgefield, Conn., places nightly time limits on homework for most students. It is banned on weekends, school vacations and some other days off for elementary and middle-school students, and isn’t calculated into their overall grades.

Lafayette Parish School System in Louisiana told teachers not to grade homework for grades 2-12 starting this school year. Students in grades K-1 already didn’t receive grades.

The goal of the changes is to give students more time to read, sleep and spend time with family, especially at the elementary level, school administrators say. “Student wellness is becoming a much larger issue,” said Mark Toback, superintendent of Wayne Township Public Schools in Wayne, N.J., which had its first homework-free weekend in October with two more scheduled.

The average number of hours high-school students spent per week on homework increased from 6.8 in 2007 to 7.5 in 2016, the latest year available from the U.S. Department of Education. The average hours for students in K-8 stayed flat at 4.7 during those years.

Homework changes have been met with concern by some teachers, who say it takes away a tool to reinforce the day’s lesson, and parents who feel left out of the academic process.

Kevin Fulton withdrew his daughter from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston after she spent her fifth-grade year at Yeager Elementary without homework because the school stopped giving it. She now attends a private school.

“In my house, we’re very hands-on and homework is a way to determine if our child is falling behind,” he said. “I just think it takes parents out of the equation.”

The Cypress-Fairbanks district said Yeager and other schools with no-homework rules can still assign personalized homework to struggling students.

Kauffman Leadership Academy, a public charter school in Cleburne, Texas, with grades 5-12, holds classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to fit in needed lessons to prevent sending work home. The school opened in 2016 with the intent of having no homework after hearing from parents of prospective students.

“We just heard a lot of parents complaining about how much the homework was eating into their family life,” Superintendent Theresa Kauffman said.

“It’s amazing to be able to go home after a long day at school and not have anything to do, just be able to relax,” Kauffman student Karissa Olsen, 14 years old, said during a snack break that the school gives due to the long day.

Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University who has studied homework for over 25 years, found that homework has little impact on elementary students. Junior-high students showed higher achievement when doing homework up to 60 to 90 minutes a night and high-school students up to two hours. There were no additional positive effects after those time frames.

Dr. Cooper said those who go over appropriate limits could become frustrated and lose interest in the subject area. It also could crowd out other activities, such as athletics, music and volunteer work, he said.

The superintendent of Marion County Public Schools, a 43,000-student district in central Florida, told teachers to stop assigning “meaningless homework” for elementary students and instead substitute at least 20 minutes a night of reading, said spokesman Kevin Christian. More students are reading as a result, he said.

Jonathan Cole, a high-school teacher in Lafayette Parish, said some teachers in the district are unhappy with the homework-grading ban. A good number of students skip homework because it isn’t going to be graded, he said.

“We’re seeing some drops in some scores related to math, and that’s a skill that does benefit from some practice,” said Mr. Cole, who is also president of a local educator association.

Even so, parent Laurie Lightfoot supports the new policy. “These kids have so much homework at younger and younger ages. And heaven forbid if they have after-school activities or want to spend time with family,” she said. Her 13-year-old daughter Madison said the change “does relieve a little stress.” Some students who aren’t turning in homework are being urged to do so by teachers, she said.

Kathy Aloisio, Lafayette’s director of elementary schools, said grades should reflect a student’s mastery of a subject, not homework, which some students can get help with at home. “Are we grading what the parents did, or are we grading what the child did?” she said.

Norfolk Public Schools in Nebraska dropped homework for elementary school children last year.

“It was pretty common that elementary students would take home 30 math problems every night, and might have additional homework after that,” said Superintendent Jami Jo Thompson. “It was a lot of stress on the child and the family.”

Dr. Thompson said students who are struggling are getting the help they need in school instead of sending the work home with them to parents, who have been supportive of the homework change.

Now, parents with children at the schools in northeastern Nebraska, which go up to fourth grade, are asked to read with their children and practice math skills.