With Homework Hotline, educators offer help for homework and testing woes

In every class there are a few pencil chewers — those who absent-mindedly bite their pencils while trying in earnest to figure out a problem on a test. Others get agitated. At home alone, students can get really frustrated trying to figure out problems on their homework assignments. Some give up. But believe it or not, turning on the television can help.

That’s public television, of course.

If you want a great message to share with your students, and their parents, encourage them to tune in to public TV Monday through Thursday – in most areas the air time is 5:30 p.m. – to find help with answers to problems in math, science, English or any other subject. They can ask a question themselves by calling 888-986-2345 to reach WXXI’s Homework Hotline.

Help is actually available daily from 4-7 p.m. through the Dial-A-Teacher program run by the Rochester Teachers Association; certain questions are then aired live on the 5:30 TV show.

Homework Hotline is staffed by teachers who host the series. Students in grades 4-12 can ask the question live on the air. Questions can also be sent via email. Host teachers who are experts in subjects across the curriculum then help students work through the assignment live on TV. The questions are challenging. Consider this one posted online:

Question: Can someone please tell me what is the answer to these math problems? 1. 18 added to a number minus 3, 2. subtract a number from 36, 3. a number plus 67, and 4. r divided by 18. Thanks!

Dial-A-Teacher and Homework Hotline are excellent resources, said Rochester teacher Donna Mineo, who is in her third season working on the program. “It gives kids access to a teacher an extra three hours a day.”

She said questions are very layered, in response to changes in curriculum through Common Core. “It’s like having class on the phone,” said Mineo, a member of the Rochester TA. As a math teacher, she is likely to answer questions about algebra inequality, for example.

There are many other ways to access this public TV program, which is funded in part by NYSUT.  Just as students are asked to adapt and change to technology, so, too, do the  producers respond. Homework Hotline is also streamed live. New this year is a series of teacher videos with recorded tutorials on common topics. Information is also provided on the videos for educational links and interactive games. Students can also view videos on math, health, animals and history through a new YouTube site, a medium which many students are comfortable and familiar with.

Questions today on Homework Hotline are becoming more focused on Common Core and testing, said Lisa Famiglietti, public TV’s WXXI Homework Hotline producer. As a result, the show devotes time to helping students work on multiple choice questions. Teachers show viewers how to work a question so that certain answers can be eliminated right away, and the televised teachers also show students how to read through a problem.

Craig Zaremba, seventh and eighth grade science teacher, hosts the show two days a week with colleagues at the studio, and also answers questions at Dial-A-Teacher. Most of the incoming questions are about math, he said.

“With Common Core,  kids have to describe and explain how they got their answers; what properties were used,” he used. On air, teachers use the Smart Board  to show the process they use to solve the problem.

He said students from across the state often call at similar times with similar questions as classes work on the same type of problems.

The series is produced by public broadcasting station WXXI in Rochester. In addition to Mineo and Zaremba, homework gurus include math coach Joe Zuniga; math teacher Stephanie Karns; computer science teacher Ed Hathaway; and Laura Drake, World of Inquiry School teacher. All are members of the Rochester Teachers Association, led by local president Adam Urbanski, which supports Dial-A-Teacher.

Famiglietti said that today more students email questions than call them in. She believes that with the overuse of technology by students, many of them are more worried about actually talking on a phone or having person-to-person voice communication.

The series is supplemented by segments on health, animals, history and special projects such as careers. The segments are produced originally for the program; information is germane to New York students. Animal features on the program, for examples, are filmed at zoos in Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. River otters at Seneca Park Zoo get a turn to be in the limelight.

Regular boosters for the show are posted on Facebook:

“This Wednesday on Hotline we will be getting historical and learning about the Haudenosaunee. We will learn about Native American culture and traditions that are still carried on from generation to generation. See you at 5:30!”

This past week a new project began on Homework Hotline. Students are guided toward careers they are interested in through televised segments on firefighters, EMT’s, sports management, cosmetology or lawyers. The public TV station is partnering with the Explorers program to introduce students ages 14-21 to particular careers.

Homework Hotline teachers also challenge students with trivia quizzes and book discussions based on books students are reading. Have you read “Wildlife” by Cynthia DeFelice? “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Vern?

You can learn more at the official Homework Hotline website or follow them on Facebook and  Twitter.

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