EppsNet Archive: Homework

Teaching Computer Science: The Phones Aren’t Helping You

15 Feb 2018 /

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes.

The way the classes are taught, via an online curriculum, provides a great temptation to kids to get off-task, which they do, usually by entertaining themselves with their phones.

They get off-task in other ways too — web surfing, doing homework for other classes — but the main distractor is the phones . . .


“As I mentioned before, I worked with another CS class a couple years ago. No phones allowed in the classroom.

Students with cell phones

“I remember one day the assistant principal was in class observing . . . a student had a phone out, looking at it . . . he was holding it under the table so no one could see it, but this guy, the assistant principal, he did see it.

“Oh man, did he hit the roof! If a student had pulled out a gun, there couldn’t have been any more excitement in the room.

“I thought that was overkill at the time. But I have to tell you that those kids kicked ass on the AP exam. Can I say that? That was the CS A test. Hard test.

“Most of the students got a 5. Most of the students who didn’t get a 5 got a 4. Nobody got a 3, one student got a 2 and, out of about 35 students, 6 of them got a 1, including the guy who spent 47 hours playing video games instead of studying. What did you expect, right?

“Now you guys may crush it on the AP test too. We don’t know yet.

“A lot of programmers have a phone in view when they’re working . . . a lot of programmers listen to music, sometimes through their phone . . . but nobody has the phone in their hand looking at it every minute, you’d never get anything done.

“So it depends what your goals are. If your goal is to get a top score on an AP exam, I don’t think you’re helping yourself with the phones.”

More Words and Phrases I’m Sick Unto Death Of: X Hours of Homework

23 Aug 2017 /
Boy doing math problems

School is back in session and I’m listening to one of my colleagues say that his son started junior high school this year and had 6 hours of homework last night.

It’s a way of bragging: My kid’s school is more academically oriented than your kid’s school.

Maybe your kid is just slow. Maybe other people’s kids are finishing the homework in an hour.

Or maybe your kid finished his homework 6 hours after he said he was starting his homework because he worked for an hour and spent 5 hours surfing the net for pornography.

It doesn’t make sense to say the school assigned X hours of homework . . .

Teaching Computer Science: Today Was Not the Best Day to Say What You Just Said

14 Jan 2015 /

Class website

I asked the class to pass in today’s homework and a student said, “I couldn’t figure out what homework was due today.”

I wasn’t feeling at my best to begin with. I was tired because I was up late making sure the class website was updated with all relevant materials, homework assignments were listed at the top of the page under the Homework header with due dates listed in bold font next to each assignment so that there’s no way anyone looking at the website, assuming they’re old enough to read, could fail to understand what is the homework and when is it due.

So when that kid said that he couldn’t figure out what the homework was, I felt the futility of life grabbing me by the throat and I was mad . . .

Teaching Computer Science: Mindset

17 Nov 2014 /

Photo Credit: dongga BS

I’m not comfortable giving people advice that they didn’t ask for, so I usually preface it by saying “Feel free to ignore this . . .”

That being said, I want to talk about the mindset I think you should have for this class, maybe for other classes, maybe even for things outside of school.

Feel free to ignore this . . .

Education has allowed me to make a living doing things that I like and things that I’m good at. A lot of people are not able to say that. Most people, I think, are not able to say that. Most people are like “I hate Mondays” and “Thank god it’s Friday” and that sort of thing.

I have had jobs where I spent the day doing things that I don’t like and I’m not good at and it’s painful. And the amount of money you get paid to do it doesn’t seem to make it any less painful.

I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins . . . some of them were serious about education and some of them weren’t. And the ones who weren’t, I don’t want to say they’re all losers, but they’re all . . . disappointments. As I expected they would be. My wife doesn’t like when I say this — she thinks it’s bad karma or something — but I like it when people screw around in school and go on to have disappointing lives because it reinforces everything that I believe to be true about life.

It’s satisfying when people make bad decisions and suffer the consequences, isn’t it? I think it is.

My own mindset, and this doesn’t apply just to school, is that no one is going to outwork me and no one is going to outlearn me. If you’re working on homework or a programming assignment, or you’re studying for a test or quiz, and you get stuck on something, and you try to get unstuck by reading the textbook, or going to the website and reviewing lecture slides or handouts or watching a video or posting a question to the Facebook group, you’re doing things the right way. You should do well in the class, you should do well on the AP exam and I’ll do everything I can to help you do well in the class and on the AP exam.

If you hear yourself saying things like, “I spent the weekend playing 47 straight hours of video games, and by the way, I have no idea what’s going on in this class,” you’re unlikely to do well.

If you’re asking questions about assignments on or after the due date, you’re unlikely to do well.

If you miss a class and don’t check the website to see what you missed, you’re unlikely to do well. Everything we cover in class is on the website, plus a lot of extra stuff as well.

“Nobody’s going to outwork me and nobody’s going to outlearn me.”

Again, if that doesn’t make sense to you, feel free to ignore it . . .

We Need Better Parents

20 Dec 2011 /

Kids can’t do well in school unless their family has a lot of money, according to an op-ed in the New York Times, which goes on to argue that massive intervention by “policy makers” is needed to confront this issue head-on.

Head Start

The authors, Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske, are a husband-and-wife team of academic researchers. Education reform in a nutshell: First thing, let’s kill all the academic researchers.

Helen and Ed cherry-picked the results of a Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study to show that students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts.

But they didn’t actually link to the PISA results, because if they had, people would see that Helen and Ed just ignored the three main findings, which are:

  • Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all.
  • The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic background. [That seems obvious, given that reading a book with your kid doesn’t cost anything. Can’t afford books? Borrow them from the library.]
  • Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.

Andreas Schleicher, a member of the PISA research team, says that “just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something every parent can do, no matter what their education level or social background.”

Another recent study, by the Center for Public Education, found that parent actions such as monitoring homework, making sure children get to school, rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college.

Doesn’t this seem way too obvious for funded research?

To be sure, the Epps family doesn’t live in a poverty zone, but neither does it cost anything to teach a kid how to incorporate academics into his daily routine, or to review homework every night, or to read a book together.

I don’t think Helen and Ed have any kids of their own. They’re both white, in their 60s, maybe 70s. They’re true believers, ignoring reality and misrepresenting research findings to stake out what they imagine to be the moral high ground.

Listen, Helen and Ed, Ed and Helen: The only thing that matters in education is parents. Kids can be good at anything if that thing is important to them. And since kids are not born knowing what’s important and what isn’t, it’s up to their parents to teach them.

Are low-income parents going to focus their lives on teaching their children the importance of education? Of course not. They’re going to amuse themselves to death with the television. That’s why they’re impoverished in the first place.

Bad parenting is an epidemic in America. That’s okay. Failure is a part of life, even in America. School is a good place to learn that.

High School Seniors Do Not Appreciate 17th Century Metaphysical Poetry

7 Oct 2010 /
John Donne

“Have you read ‘Break of Day’ by John Donne?” my son asks.

“I haven’t,” I reply, “but that’s more of a failing on my part than a reflection on the greatness of John Donne.”

“John Donne sucks.”

“You can’t talk about metaphysical poetry without giving it up for John Donne.”

“I don’t want to talk about metaphysical poetry. How is that ever going to help me?”

“Someday you’ll quote a snippet of Andrew Marvell in a status meeting and people will be very impressed. Verrry impressed.”

Homework Follies

18 Nov 2009 /
Boy doing math problems

Worked some physics problems with my boy last night . . . the subject at hand was torque, which his textbook expresses in units of mN.

“Back in my day, we used to measure torque in foot-pounds,” I said. “What’s mN? Millinewtons?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess so.”

“OK, we’re off to a great start!”

What Am I Thinking About?

6 Oct 2009 /

High school roller hockey starts tonight. To prevent the use of ringers, each kid has to turn in an enlarged color copy of their school ID card.

I reminded my son about that requirement last night as he was doing homework in his room.

“Why don’t you go ahead and make the copy now while you’re thinking about it?” I said.

“I’m not thinking about it,” he said.

“You are thinking about it.”

“What am I thinking about?”

“Okay, do it your way,” I said, and left.

“What did you come in here for?” he called after me.

Hilarity is really going to ensue when he shows up for the game tonight and can’t play because he doesn’t have a copy of his ID card . . .

Things I Love to Do on a Hot Summer Evening

2 Sep 2009 /

My son’s going into 11th grade next week. He’s got a couple of honors classes, a couple of AP classes, Spanish 3 and a music class.

It looks like a very tough schedule to me — he’s also got college entrance exams this year — but that’s where his academic history has brought him and he says he wants to do it.

One thing I didn’t know about AP classes is that they start giving kids assignments during summer vacation. He’s working on ’em right now!

He asked me for a little help on the physics assignment so I get to do two things I love to do on a hot summer evening: sip premium tequila on ice with a lime, and solve problems like this:

A kangaroo jumps to a vertical height of 2.7m. How long is it in the air before returning to Earth?

Oh I’m in heaven!

Whatever Helps

5 Feb 2009 /

It was after 11 p.m. last night. I was already in bed but my son was still downstairs doing homework. He’s got a hockey game tonight in Huntington Beach and he wanted to work ahead a little bit.


I got up, went out to the stairs and yelled down, “What are you DOING?”

“It’s my homework war cry!” he yelled back.

Hmmm — having a homework war cry actually sounds like a pretty good idea to me so I let the matter slide and went back to bed . . .

Father-Son Conversations

23 Oct 2008 /

FATHER: Would you take out the trash please?

SON: Are you KIDDING?! I’m doing homework! I’ll take out the trash if you read To Kill a Mockingbird and tell me what each chapter is about.

FATHER: I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird. You want to know what it’s about? ‘Racism is Bad.’ Now take out the garbage.


SON: Mom said my dinner was going to be ready by now and she hasn’t even started cooking it yet.

FATHER: You’re a big boy. Why don’t you make something yourself?

SON: I’m really not happy with the service I’m receiving here.


SON: So was Mom pretty horny when you first met her?

FATHER: Oh Jesus . . .

Homework Follies

30 Sep 2008 /
Boy doing math problems

My son just came downstairs for a visit . . .

“‘What’s due tomorrow?'” he says in his Dopey Dad voice.

Then back in his normal voice: “Math and Spanish. (Dopey Dad voice) ‘Are they done yet?’ (Normal voice) Spanish is done. I still have a little bit of math. (Dopey Dad voice) ‘Do you need me to check anything?’ (Normal voice) No.”

Now he’s waiting for a reaction from me, which he’s not going to get.

“I just did your job for you,” he says.


The Dog Ate My Homework

20 Nov 2007 /

It’s an old joke but does it ever really happen?

My son’s science homework for last night was to build some Lewis dots using Froot Loops. This morning, the dog ran out and managed to take a couple of bites of a Lewis dot before we were able to fend him off . . .

Homework Follies

8 Oct 2006 /

“This is racist,” my son says.

I look over to see what he’s talking about. He’s sitting on the sofa doing math homework.

Boy doing math problems

“What’s racist?” I ask. “The math book?”

“Yeah. They have answers in the back for problem 9 and problem 13, but not problem 11. Because I’m a Mexican.”

“You’re a Mexican?!

“I’m a mixed kid,” he corrects me. His mom is Asian.

“You think the white kids’ book has the answer to number 11?”

“Yup. The Asian kids’ book has got all the answers.”


“Dude, check this out. Jackson collected s seashells. Petra and Tyrone collected 13 less than twice s. Now here’s the stupid part: I have to figure out how many seashells each person collected! COME ON! And the racist book doesn’t have the answers!”

I say, “Jackson’s pretty lame if a girl collected more than he did.”

“He’s pathetic!

A Lesson in Procrastination

10 Sep 2006 /

My son’s supposed to be finishing up his first 8th grade assignment — a math collage for his Algebra class — but instead he’s bouncing a basketball around the house.

Boy bouncing basketball

“Finsh the assignment!” my wife says. “No more procrastinating!”

“I’m not PRO-CRAS-TI-NA-TING!” the boy yells, punctuating each syllable by slamming the ball on the floor.

“You are procrastinating,” I say.

“Stay out of it,” my wife says.

“You see how long it took him just to say ‘procrastinating’? That’s procrastinating.”

Homework Follies

12 Jun 2006 /
Boy doing math problems

My son asks for help with a homework problem in math. The main point of contention with math homework is that when he asks for help, he’d like me to just do the problem for him, while I prefer to try and steer his thinking in the right direction, even though it takes a lot longer.

“This is like the problem you helped me with last night,” he says. “Let’s try not to have a one-hour conversation about it this time.”

How Homework Gets Done at My House

26 Apr 2006 /
Catherine, Called Birdy cover image

My son’s reading Catherine, Called Birdy for his 7th grade Language Arts class. The book is set in medieval England and written in the form of a 14-year-old girl’s diary.

“It’s got no theme, no plot, no flow, no fun, no nothing!” the boy says. “It’s gay!”

I sympathize with him — it reads like a 13th century MySpace blog — but that doesn’t change the fact that he has to read it.

“I refuse to read this book!” he says.

“You can’t,” his mom replies.

“I have a restraining order! Catherine has to stay 10 feet away from me.” And he tosses the book into the middle of the living room.

I look over at my wife . . . her eyes are now closed and she’s biting on her lower lip, accompanied by a slow, dramatic intake of breath, all of which suggests that clowntime is just about over . . .

101 Ways to Say No

21 Apr 2006 /

My son’s got a seemingly endless number of ways to answer no to the question “Are you done with your homework yet?”

Some recent examples:

— Pretty much all done, yeah.
— Yes I am! (Long pause) Except for a little reading…
— What?

Why I Don’t Own a Hatchet or a Gun

25 Jan 2006 /

I’m in the processing of converting all the old content here into WordPress, which among other things, lets me assign categories to each item.

I filed one item, principally about a woman who ran over her husband with a car, under several categories, including Murder and Kids.

My son, who’s sitting next to me on the sofa doing homework, says, “You’re posting stuff about murdering kids?!”

I say, “No, it’s about murdering husbands.”

“You’re posting stuff about kids murdering husbands?!”

“No, it’s about wives murdering husbands, which happens a lot, unfortunately.”

“It would happen around here if Mom had a hatchet or a gun.”

“That’s exactly why we don’t have those things.”

Great Orators of the 7th Grade

17 Sep 2005 /

I can’t really hear what my son is holding forth on downstairs — just snippets about tyranny, racism, slavery, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, civil rights and child abuse — which means his mom must have asked him to turn off the TV and get started on homework . . .

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