Perusing Twitter just now, I saw this tweet from the @CSTeachingTips account, and it got me thinking about the general topic of homework as it applies to our discipline:

Downsize homework because, like a job, students should be able to do the work during business hours.

I personally struggled a lot with what and how much homework to assign my AP students this past year. I wanted it to be effective and not just "homework-for-homework's-sake."

I found students worked more effectively on coding when I was in the room and they could ask for help. If they hit a brick wall at home, they were stuck until a) they got to class the next day or b) they received an email from me (presuming they took the time to send one and I got it in time to reply in a timely manner).

On the other hand, the content required in an AP class, especially CS50 AP, seems to necessitate some work be done at home. There's a lot to cover, and class minutes are at a premium, so if homework can reinforce the day's work and/or give a head start for the next day, it's worth it. Yet, as with the tweet's sentiment, I want to honor the lives of students outside of just my classroom.

For my question, I'm thinking particularly of honors-level HS students (either AP CSP or AP CS A - I think this would apply roughly equally to both).

What homework assignments do you and your students find beneficial? What type/amount of work done at home is most effective for increasing student learning?

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    $\begingroup$ I think CSTeachingTips is more aimed at college teaching than HS teaching, but, in any case, students might have outside jobs or responsibilities so they shouldn't be given unnecessary homework. As your question suggests, the hard part is figuring out what assignments are valuable. Your high school might also have policies about the amount of homework. $\endgroup$ Jun 9, 2017 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ We do have a policy of up to 30 minutes/class/night or 45 minutes/class/night if it's AP/Honors, but that's a ceiling and doesn't speak to what exactly gets assigned. Good to know about CSTeachingTips - I find following it really valuable. Case in point, it inspired me to ask about homework and how best to approach it. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Jun 9, 2017 at 2:02
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    $\begingroup$ Can you tell us, what AP is? (this is an international website, and we don't all know what the acronyms mean) $\endgroup$ Jun 10, 2017 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ Have you considered flip classroom? Flipped classroom is an instructional strategy and a type of blended learning that reverses the traditional learning environment by delivering instructional content, often online, outside of the classroom. It moves activities, including those that may have traditionally been considered homework, into the classroom. In a flipped classroom, students watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home and engage in concepts in the classroom with the guidance of a mentor. — en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flipped_classroom $\endgroup$ Jun 10, 2017 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ @richard Advanced Placement in High School usually means that the student can test out of College courses, or get credit for having taken them. It advances the student's placement in the college curriculum. I don't think of it as 'honors' (which was always meaningless to me as a student, like saying I was 'tall') I think of it as: I get to skip boring weed courses and move on to something more interesting when I finally get to college. And it was more interesting in High School. Learn early and often! $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jun 15, 2017 at 15:33

3 Answers 3


My students are already slammed with homework, so when possible, I try not to add to their misery. I have done some formal polling of my students several years back, so I have used real data to balance my own approach. Of course, as of this writing, I cannot find those numbers any more, so I will be working from rough memory here:

I mentally aim for 50% of the kids to be able to finish labs during provided lab time. In reality, it is usually closer to 15-20% of the kids who are able to finish the labs during the provided lab periods, but there remains a large portion are able to complete their work in <3 hours of outside work (something like 60%). Only the remaining 20-25% had substantial work from the labs. While I offer help outside of class, I have not found a reasonable way to prevent this problem; kids who are slow at labs will always take more time than I can provide.

If I am teaching a brand-new course with a brand-new curriculum, all bets are off, as I have very little sense of how long the activities will take.

However, I once found a Williams College professor's labs posted online, and she added a short question to the end of every lab to the effect of, "How long did this portion of the lab take you? This answer will have no bearing on your grade, it is only used to help me adjust student workloads in future years."


I never explicitly assign homework. It's easier on everyone, and I don't think that they're getting that much out of homework anyway.

We spend a majority of our in class time working on labs and projects. What I noticed is that most confusion can be cleared up with a 30 second conversation with me or another student. If the same thing came up at home it would take at least a couple of emails back and forth, and it's usually much more difficult to explain that way.

Sure, sometimes students don't finish assignments by the due date and need to work on it at home. But my calendar isn't designed for that to be the norm for a majority of students. And pretty much everyone will study for a test at home the night before. But I don't assign review assignments or anything like that, so nothing is required.


For starters, since it's primarily AP students that your question focuses on, homework will become a standard of life soon, and adjusting to the demands of that now can't hurt. Specifically, in the US, at the college and university level you can expect that every hour of class time is expected to be accompanied by three hours of study time outside of class. That's why 12 credit hours, in most places, is considered as a "full-time" class load. Admittedly, some courses may require less, and others more, which can also vary by student. Yet, the average will still come out to around 36 hours of out-of-class study time for 12 hours of in-class time.

In the early portion of the term, homework assignments need not be coding-based work. Rather, they can be assignments that are based on the textbook, and lectures, that are designed as reflection for students. Reading assignments to be discussed at the beginning of the next class, or questions asked at the end of class that will be quizzed in the next session.

After the first quarter of the term, or there about, coding assignments should become the norm. During the week, relatively small sections should be expected, with the Friday assignment being a larger work. The amount of thought, if not work, involved should increase as the term progresses. If the assignments are chosen such that there are three or four "projects" for one assignment, design most to be reinforcement of two sessions prior, and only one, or at most two, that cover the "new" material. The material from two sessions prior is the foundation that should be available, and that they have had an additional class session to raise questions, and see how it was built upon in the last session. Therefore, they should have less confusion about that material and only need to "do the work" for the assignment. The one assignment that does cover the new material can be discussed at the opening of the next class session, and the students should be encouraged to try discovering for themselves, from the textbook, class notes, or Google, how to resolve what they don't understand in doing that assignment.

If, however, you are going to make yourself available via email after school hours, you should still have "office hours" during which you will be open to emails, and able to respond, and outside of which you will not respond. AS an example, from 5pm to 7pm you will accept emails, and reply by 7:30pm, or sooner. Anything received prior to 5pm will not be handled until then, and anything received after 7pm will be "collected" and addressed in class the next day. On weekends, and holidays, you could have longer hours, or multiple windows of time available.

All students should be learning the material from class. They should also be learning how to "think" for themselves as well. Those in AP classes, in any discipline, should be able to think independently even more so.


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