Dianne Maxine December 19, 2020 Worksheet
Teaching needs to be more than passing out worksheets. Whether you are the classroom teacher, instructional specialist, or parent, the methods you use greatly impact the level of understanding achieved by your students. Here are five reasons why math worksheets don’t work if you want students to understand math, enjoy math, and think mathematically.
Have you ever noticed how many K-12 math content websites are devoted to math worksheets? There seems to be an increase in websites that cater to desperate teachers and parents by offering fast, free ”worksheet generation”, ”10 free fractions worksheets,” etc. Now, as a former teacher I am not saying that one should never use math worksheets; however, I do believe that many teachers are using a very superficial method of instruction that relies too much on low-level math worksheets and hands-off instructional approaches. Worksheet lessons move from reading the directions aloud, to doing sample problems as a group, to completing the worksheet independently (or at home with parents), day in and day out.
Most of even beginning algebra depends on being able to do two things–one, doing multiplication quickly and accurately in your head, two, knowing how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions. You might remember a concept in algebra called ”factoring.” Factoring means breaking up into parts that are multiplied together to give you the whole. You can factor numbers. For instance, 6 factors into 2 and 3–2×3 =6. In elementary algebra we learn to factor expressions such as x^2+4x+4. This particular expression is easily factorable into (x+2)^2. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t worry about it. Just trust me, if you don’t know your multiplication tables, you can’t factor. If you can’t factor, you won’t do well at all in algebra, geometry, or trigonometry.
Printable math worksheets can be used by both parents and teachers to help kids overcome some of their most common problems in leaning math. You see, I’m a professional educator. I teach high school. I’m also a parent. (I wear both hats!) Year after year, I see kids come into my classes completely unprepared to learn math. When I diagnose what the problem is, it’s virtually always either they don’t know their multiplication tables or, more often, they don’t know how to work with fractions. I teach the upper grades in my school, yet I continue to see kids who do not even have basic algebra skills in place.
Some students are unable to access tools that many of us take for granted when they try to complete worksheets. They may be unable to grasp pencils, control their movements within the limited spaces provided on the sheet, or be able to simply stabilize their paper while writing. Other students, including those for whom English is not their primary language or who struggle with reading, have difficulty reading the directions, words, and math terminology on the worksheets. Still other students require different visual representations or methods of engagement in order acquire an understanding the content. Most math worksheets do not provide information in multiple formats so they are inaccessible to students with a wide variety of learning styles and abilities. Well-designed technology can provide these students with access to excellent content. For example, these fractions tools and supplemental curriculum allow students with physical disabilities to access fractions content using a variety of assistive technology devices. Instructions, prompts and feedback can be read aloud, while visual models, cues combined with sounds support a wide range of learning styles and abilities.
Another problem with almost all worksheets is that they don’t prevent incorrect answers. Self-checking worksheets just let the student know they did something wrong–after the fact. I am a firm believer in the concept that, if at all possible, learning should be structured in small chunks in such a way that there is very little possibility for error. Worksheets often allow for mistakes to be made and then to be repeated many times. A mistake that gets practiced is extremely difficult to correct. This especially happens when worksheets are used as time fillers or baby sitters and the work isn’t really being supervised.
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