Homework and Potty Math

I was talking another parent the other day and she mentioned that her first grader gets homework every night. I was a little jealous because, believe it or not, I have fond memories of homework in elementary school. My older daughter’s school believes in kids working hard during the school day and then having fun and decompressing afterward, and they rarely assign homework.

To fill in the (potential) gaps in her education, we’ve started doing potty math in the evening. It’s amazing how much fun both girls have solving problems like these:

  • If three kids each go to the bathroom and make two poops, how poops are there all together?

  • If four kids go to the bathroom, and each uses three squares of toilet paper, how many squares do they use?

  • There are 5 stalls in the bathroom. Ten girls have to pee. Each takes two minutes. If as many as possible pee at the same time, how long does it take until they’re done?

  • Bob needs to collect a quart of pee to give to the doctor. A quart is 4 cups and he can produce 2 cups a day. How many days until he has a quart?

I actually think the main benefit of homework is practice bearing down and doing something even though its uncomfortable. We’re not getting that benefit through potty math, but every morning getting ready for school is an exercise in getting the girls to do something they don’t want to do.

And then there’s the fact that there’s little to no empirical evidence that homework has any benefit at all at any level. Alfie Kohn (h/t Ben Brooks) reviews recent research that finds little correlation between time spent doing homework and school grades in high school. The problem is that all of the research I’m aware of has the same terrible omitted variable bias that my own half-baked study had. That is, students who know the material well already or are just smarter can complete their homework more quickly and often do better on exams. That has nothing to do with the causal effect of doing homework on any particular individual. If anyone knows of a study that tries to address this issue (maybe an experiment?) I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, we’ll be doing potty math at home.