Homework and tests — no one really enjoys either. Kids avoid studying in their own time, parents dread having to nag their kids about it and teachers aren’t thrilled about grading. But homework and tests are a traditional part of school; the accepted wisdom is that both are necessary and many people can’t imagine what school would be like without either.
Research suggests, however, that accepted parts of school — homework, exams and grouping kids by ability — don’t contribute to students’ love of learning and may, in fact, be making it more difficult for kids to learn.
The trouble with homework
Testing, homework and ability tracking can actually impede learning if used incorrectly.
According to a study from Stanford University, homework can negatively impact kids. Some children may have in excess of three hours of homework a night, causing stress and sleep deprivation, neither of which is conducive to good learning. The study also found — unsurprisingly — that kids with more homework have less fun. The more homework a child has, the less likely they are to see friends and family, participate in extracurricular activities or engage in the hobbies they enjoy.
Meanwhile, research from Harvard found that high-stakes testing can make instruction worse as teachers — under pressure to produce high test results — devote large periods of class time to preparing kids for exams.
Much of this isn’t the teachers’ fault. Teachers are often required by law to test students and sometimes homework is the only way to squeeze in much-needed instruction and practice time. Nor can teachers help it when schools sort children into groups based on kids’ level of ability, (something the National Education Association (NEA) wants eliminated, because it can lead to discrimination).
But the fact that schools are set up this way doesn’t mean it’s good for kids.
“In traditional schools, no matter what subject the kids are learning, most of the curriculum, lesson plans and teachers, tend to restrict kids’ learning process,” says Julieth Macol Tobar Lima, an Uruguay-based teacher.
Macol, who teaches programming at Tekkie Uni, has worked in several schools since she began her teaching career. Traditional education, she says, can sometimes hamper kids’ learning.
“The structures used in most traditional schools are very rigid and kids have few chances to think outside the box and be active in their own learning process,” she says.
How Tekkie Uni structures classes
At Tekkie Uni, we believe that kids learn best when they’re driven by their own interests and curiosity, guided by a caring teacher and working with supportive peers.
“The relationship between students and teachers in schools is in some ways restricted by laws and instructions,” says Batool Zyoud, a Palestine-based Tekkie Uni teacher who has also taught in traditional schools. “But at Tekkie Uni, the relationship between the instructors and students is close to friendship.”
Our classes meet online, two hours a week for nine months. One of the two weekly hours of instruction is a practice session, so students do all their classwork while they’re actually in class. If they want to come back to it and work on their projects outside of class, it’s entirely up to them and there’s no pressure associated with it.
“In general, there’s no homework,” says Zyoud. “But when it rarely happens, they know that they won’t be punished if they don’t do the homework.”
The work in Tekkie Uni’s courses is also entirely project-based, so there are no tests. During practice sessions, kids can ask questions about their projects and receive feedback from the teacher. If a project isn’t working the way a student would like, they can ask for help during practice. They can do this through their microphone, or if they want to ask for help privately, they can open a live text-based chat with the teacher. They can also open text-based chats with one another to make friends and help each other with projects.
“What’s good about Tekkie Uni is the chance it gives kids to work on their creativity,” says Macol. Kids work on open-ended projects, which allows them the freedom to be imaginative, creative and really explore the subject matter in the assignment, she says.
Encouraging a lifelong love of learning
The only thing that gets tested in a Tekkie Uni course is whether or not a project works as intended. Because everyone wants student projects to work, students don’t feel like they’re at odds with the course material, their teachers, or even other children.
Part of the reason kids aren’t in competition with one another is because they’re not separated by ability. Everyone learns together and at their own pace, so there’s no pressure to keep up, nor is there a “gifted” or a “remedial” group.
“When kids don’t feel pressure and they are not stressed about grades and tests, they tend to enjoy the learning process more,” says Macol. “Without homework, tests and grades kids are encouraged to learn at their own pace and there’s a high probability that they feel less frustrated when they make a mistake.”