Hand Stand Homework Matters

New research suggests that a lot of assigned homework amounts to pointless busy work that doesn’t help students learn, while more thoughtful assignments can help them develop skills and acquire knowledge. How would you characterize the homework you get?

In the Sunday Review article “The Trouble With Homework,” Annie Murphy Paul reviews the research on homework:

The quantity of students’ homework is a lot less important than its quality. And evidence suggests that as of now, homework isn’t making the grade. Although surveys show that the amount of time our children spend on homework has risen over the last three decades, American students are mired in the middle of international academic rankings: 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math, according to results from the Program for International Student Assessment released last December.

In a 2008 survey, one-third of parents polled rated the quality of their children’s homework assignments as fair or poor, and 4 in 10 said they believed that some or a great deal of homework was busywork. A new study, coming in the Economics of Education Review, reports that homework in science, English and history has “little to no impact” on student test scores. (The authors did note a positive effect for math homework.) Enriching children’s classroom learning requires making homework not shorter or longer, but smarter.

She goes on to enumerate some of the aspects of effective independent assignments, like “retrieval practice,” which basically means doing practice tests to reinforce learning and commit it to memory, and “interleaving,” in which problems are not grouped into sets by type, but rather scattered throughout an assignment, which makes the brain work harder to grasp the material.

Students: Tell us how effective you think your homework is. What kinds of assignments seem pointless? Which ones are confusing or frustrating? Which ones are most engaging and interesting? Which ones are you fairly sure help you learn and grow?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment below. Please use only your first name. For privacy policy reasons, we will not publish student comments that include a last name.

Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.

At the beginning of April, we started a brand new 6-Week Handstand Challenge.

During the few weeks, we’re going to be working on different exercises you can do to help you build up to doing a freestanding handstand. Don’t be too intimidated—it doesn’t matter if you’ve been practicing handstands for a while now or you’ve never even tried to do one, this handstand challenge is for you.

During Week 1, we focused on building strength and endurance with wall handstands. Week 2 was all about protecting our wrists and avoiding injuries. During Week 3 we focused on our shoulder and hip positioning with pike rolls.

We’re about to start Week 4, but if you’re new to this challenge, no worries, you can still jump right in! To get the most out of this handstand challenge, make sure to join our private Facebook group where you can share your experience and get in touch with fellow members of the 12 Minute Athlete Community.

For Week 4 of the challenge, we’re going to be working on our balance.

There’s no question that for most people, the hardest part about learning to do a handstand is understanding how to balance.

You can be incredibly strong and be able to knock out tons of pull ups and lift really heavy stuff above your head without a problem, but if you can’t balance, you won’t be able to hold a freestanding handstand.

So far during this Handstand Challenge, we’ve talked about building strength and endurance while upside down, avoiding wrist injuries, and understanding correct shoulder and hip positioning while holding a handstand. This week, we’re finally going to look at one of the toughest parts of holding a handstand: balancing.

First, I want to address one of the scariest parts about practicing handstands when you’re first starting out: falling.

Learning to Fall

Like almost anyone, I used to get really scared of falling when I was practicing handstands.

This is why for way too long I tried practicing only on fluffy carpet and grass, so that if I did fall, I wouldn’t hurt myself too badly. (Here’s why that’s a bad idea.)

It took a while, but I was finally forced to get over my fear of falling out of a handstand. After a lot of practice, I finally accepted that the likelihood that I was just going to fall on my head (what I assumed I would happen if I fell), was pretty much zero.

The reality is that it’s actually nearly impossible to fall on your head out of a handstand, since you would have to do a nearly perfect handstand push up to do so.

Once I finally understood that, falling became a lot less scary. There are two very doable ways to get out of a handstand:

Step out. If you’re in control of your handstand, you can simply step right back out, and you’ll be standing on two feet again. This also works if you’re falling towards your palms.

Cartwheel out. If you find yourself falling to either side or towards your fingertips, simply cartwheel out to return to your feet. This technique works whether you have control or not.

That’s it! Like anything else, getting over of your fear of falling in a handstand really just takes practice. You’ll get really good at falling, I promise 🙂

You Have to Keep Moving

One of the most important things to understand about balancing in a handstand is that you have to be constantly moving in order to keep from falling.

This was seriously a revelation to me when I finally understood it after failing for so long. Because for a really long time, I used to think that once you got up into a handstand, you could just hold it there perfectly still. And I just didn’t understand why when I got up in a handstand I couldn’t hold it for any amount of time.

The reality is that balancing in a handstand requires you to make constant, tiny movements.

To really understand this concept, try this:

Stand on one foot and balance as you normally would. You’ll soon find that rather than staying perfectly still, you’re actually making constant small adjustments in order to avoid falling over.

Try the same thing, except this time don’t let yourself adjust at all. You fell over pretty quickly this time, right?

The same concept is true while in a handstand. You have to be able to make small adjustments tin order to keep yourself from falling.

These adjustments are mainly in your fingers, wrists, hips, and shoulders. They all have to work together in order to maintain balance. Yes, it’s tough—but it’s not impossible. Just like anything else, put in enough time and practice and you’ll get there.

Handstand Wall Splits for Balance

One of the exercises that helped me the most when I was struggling to find balance in a handstand was practicing splits and holds against the wall. Here’s how to do this:

  • Walk up the wall so that your hands are about a foot away from the wall.
  • Push up through your shoulders, tighten your core, and point your toes.
  • Next, remove one foot from the wall and balance it overhead so that your shoulders and hips remain in a straight line. It’s okay if your leg goes slightly past your hips.
  • Slowly remove the other foot from the wall and hold your handstand briefly (you can work on trying to extend these off the wall times as you get better). If you fall backward, just put your feet back on the wall. If you fall forward, simply cartwheel out.

The better you get at this, the further you can move your hands away from the wall. Eventually, you should aim to use the wall as little as possible or not at all.

Practice wall splits regularly and your freestanding handstands will improve. Just be patient—handstands are not easy!

Watch the short video above for a demonstration of handstand wall splits.

Handstand Challenge Week Four Homework

This week we’re building on wall handstands from Week 1, wrist health from Week 2, and pike rolls from Week 3. If you missed them, make sure to check out those posts for complete instructions for each exercise.

Here is the homework for this week:

3+ days a week:

#1: Perform 1-2 rounds of wrist stretches before you practice your handstands.

#2: Alternate between the following three times:

  • Perform 3-5 pike rolls with a Swiss ball (or non-Swiss ball option).
  • Practice your handstand wall splits. Aim for at least 15-30 seconds per round, or as long as you can stay up.

Remember, when you’re working on your handstand wall splits, your goal should be to split slowly rather than quickly moving your legs back and forth from the wall. Practice adjusting your fingers to assist with your balance and keep in mind the shoulder and hip position of the pike rolls.

Rest as needed, then:

#3:Hold a wall handstand for as long as you can for three rounds.

Remember to time your wall holds and make notes on how the other exercises are going so you can track your progress throughout the challenge.

Don’t forget to post your handstand photos and videos in the 12 Minute Athlete Facebook group to get feedback and support from us and your fellow athletes.

And have fun!


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