Efficiency Workshop Helps Students Handle Homework Overload

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Marc Montgomery, with Debbie Ourfalian, explains how students can become more efficient in their studies during a workshop at La Cañada High School last week.

La Cañada High School 9th-grade student Ava Hulett learned the difference between multi-tasking and finishing a project at a recent efficiency workshop designed for students and parents.
Marc Montgomery, former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory productivity improvement manager, led the presentation, which showed how focusing and finishing a project was a time saver compared with multitasking. He and Debbie Ourfalian, who works at NASA JPL, showed the audience how to use a large white “productivity” board with Post-it Notes for homework assignments in various subjects. The board had a to-do list, a doing list, a done list and awaiting review/feedback list for homework.
“I think I’m going to try it out because the classes I’m taking this year are a lot harder than what I’ve done before. I think it’s interesting to see a new way that I can try to manage those,” Hulett said after the workshop presentation. “It’s separate from writing something down in a planner.”
Before the presentation, Montgomery said a simple change in personal productivity would help students in all aspects of their life.
“Maybe the thing you love is science and math or maybe it’s soccer but you’d like to have time in your week and in your month to enjoy the things you’d like to do,” Montgomery said. “We’re going to show you some ways to get some of that time.”
Montgomery and Ourfalian used slides, large markers and a large white board with Post-It Notes to illustrate their points.
Montgomery detailed how students could start with breaking a homework project into “local pieces” that take a few minutes to a couple of hours to complete. He said they should brainstorm on Post-it Notes the steps — one per note — needed to finish the assignment. Next, students were told to place the notes in the order they plan to complete the steps.
Using a calendar, he said, students should decide what date they need to finish the step to meet the due date and write that date on the note in the right corner.
Students were told to prioritize their tasks — written on the Post-it Notes — with no more than three tasks “active at one time,” Montgomery said.
Upon completion of these steps, a white board or open wall was to be used to create the productivity board.
There were to be no more than three tasks, or Post-its, in the “doing area” with the top priority listed first. The rest of the tasks would be placed in the “to-do area.”
Students were told to work on the No. 1 priority task until it is complete.
Ourfalian told the students they should identify the scope of the project, such as a book report and break it down into steps, such as how many pages would it take and the due date before determining its priority on the white board.
Afterward, Rachel Brachman said the time management presentation was going to help her son Ben get his homework done in less time and have more time to do more fun activities.
“I think it’s going to be very useful both short term and long term,” Brachman said.
Ben, a 9th-grader at LCHS said he has been using a 20-minute per subject limit for better efficiency.
He said the presentation “mostly reinforces what I’m doing” but he found it useful.
LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal said after the presentation that high school officials were trying to help with efficiency by trying to determine the amount of homework time a student should take. He said if students are enrolled in a college preparatory course, it should have up to 30 minutes of homework per evening. Advance placement classes can have up to 60 minutes, he said.
Cartnal told the audience parents should pay attention to their kids’ homework.
“Kids, I know you don’t like when you have adults say that, but there are a lot of things that can take them away from their work and that adds to the time of the task,” Cartnal said. “Be involved.”

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