Or, how I eradicated the hassle of dealing kids who don’t do their homework, without resorting to detentions or any other kind of punishment
One year, I managed to ensure that nobody handed in their homework late, or not at all. I did so by the simple expedient of handing out a list of excuses at the start of the year, and telling my classes that if they didn't feel like doing their homework on occasion to simply let me know which number excuse they'd like to use. I would note that down in my markbook, and they needed to keep a record as well so that they didn't inadvertently use the same excuse twice.
There’s an app for that…
The ruse worked so well that I thought I'd digitise the system. The screenshot shows the Excel spreadsheet version. If an excuse was entered twice for the same pupil, a sad face would appear.
Behind the scenes were some quite complicated formulae, which if anyone is interested I'd be happy to share (if I can find them). The astonishing thing was that I was able to make the spreadsheet work without using any programming (in those days I employed Visual Basic for Applications a lot).
Fame at last!
Somehow or other, HEMS came to the attention of an education writer for The Guardian newspaper. He wrote something along the lines of: "And who can doubt the brilliance of the Homework Excuse Management System?!"
Very nice, to be sure, but there's a larger point to be made here I think. I developed HEMS for a laugh really. I know it's de rigeur to encourage pupils to find worthy problems that need sorting out, and to get on with sorting them (I advocate that myself). But in my opinion there's nothing wrong in creating or finding frivolous 'problems' that challenge pupils to really think about how best to solve them.
In the case of the HEMS, I could have used VBA, but I wanted to see if I could achieve the same result with no programming at all. It was a good exercise, because it really helped me to learn about a few kinds of formula and functions that I hadn't encountered before, and required a fair bit of research at the time.
Another advantage was that once I had worked out how to make the HEMS work, I was able to adapt and apply the formulae I used to other, more serious problems.
A great illustration of the fact that problem-solving, no matter how unimportant the problem, is never wasted.
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