Cherise Jeanne November 22, 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.
Numerous research studies have found that when students are actively engaged with the content, they have a much better chance of understanding and remembering what they have learned. Unfortunately, math worksheets tend to bore most students, especially those who need the most help in math. Engagement entails much more than rote repetition of a procedure. Math worksheets tend to present very similar problem types over and over, leading to mundane practice of disassociated skills. For students who understand the material and successfully complete an assignment, another worksheet becomes meaningless. On the other hand, for the students who don’t understand the material, an alternative method of instruction is what’s needed. Another worksheet simply adds to the student’s frustration, or worse, contributes to a belief that ”I’ll never understand math.” A cute image or a ”fill-in-the-blanks” riddle does nothing to increase engagement or learning (and let’s face it, those riddles are not funny!). Instead, teachers need to increase engagement by providing students with exercises in which they discover patterns and relationships, solve problems, or think creatively about math relationships.
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.
I will admit that there is one type of worksheet that I used in the past and found relatively beneficial, although it had a different kind of flaw. For my Basic Math, Pre-Algebra, and Algebra classes, I had several books of ”self-checking” worksheets. These worksheets had puns or puzzle questions at the top, and as the students worked the problems they were given some kind of code for choosing a letter to match that answer. If they worked the problems correctly, the letters eventually answered the pun or riddle. Students enjoyed these worksheets, but there are a couple problem areas even with these worksheets. Some students would get the answer to the riddle early and then work backward from letter to problem answer, so they weren’t learning or practicing anything.
As a parent, I’m very aware of what my own children are learning in school. For the most part, I’ve been happy with their progress, but as they rise in grade level, I’m starting to see more emphasis on a loose understanding of the concepts and less emphasis on skills–particularly skills with arithmetic of fractions. The main problem with what I see with my students and my own children is that kids are taught ”concepts” and are not taught skills–unless they’re lucky enough to have a teacher who knows better. Most particularly, children are not taught mastery of arithmetic with fractions. Unfortunately, virtually all of their future math education depends on being able to do fractional arithmetic.
Great, fun and free math worksheets should be able to present a mathematical problem in different ways. Math is after all nothing more than a numeric expression of some of life’s simplest questions: How much money do I have left if I buy a soda? By the end of the week, how much of my daily allowance will I be able to save if I don’t? When a child learns to relate math to everyday questions, he will be great at it from the simplest addition all the way to trigonometry. To convert percentages, decimals and fractions is thus one essential skill. How much of an apple pie has been eaten? The answer to this question can be expressed in percentages, 50%; or in decimals, 0.5; or in fraction, ½. In other words, half of mom’s delicious apple pie is gone. How many kids in school have done their homework? Again this can be answered in several ways: in percentages, 70%; or in ratio, 7:10; Both of these mean out of ten kids in class there are seven good ones who did and three not-so-good ones who didn’t. The bottom line is that kids learn math much better when it makes sense.