Jeanee Elena December 1, 2020 Worksheet
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.
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.
The same is true for mastery of working with fractions. So, in general, kids who don’t learn their multiplication tables and arithmetic with fractions usually don’t do well in math. It’s been proven that success in science depends to a great extent on success in math. So, these same kids usually don’t do well with science, either. In other words, they’re locked out of most of the growth that our economy is going to experience in the future. According to the federal government, eight out of ten jobs in the next twenty years are going to be computer related. If you want your child to have access to the major portion of jobs in the future, your child must master math. It’s that simple.
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.
At the grassroots level, teachers in schools are given a packed curriculum for the year. Schools try to teach the students a number of procedures without delving much into its finer details. Hence, the student is left in a confounding position as to when a particular procedure must be used. The key ingredient to understanding math is constant practice and math assignment help. Unfortunately, this is not a common scenario among the popular math classes.
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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