Amie Kelly December 25, 2020 Worksheet
Math worksheets rarely ask students to think critically or creatively. They usually present multiple examples of the same problem type with the hope of reinforcing a skill or procedure. They do not challenge students to use higher order thinking skills such as comparing, analyzing, deducing, and synthesizing. These skills are built through activities in which students discover concepts, explore ideas, test a hypothesis, solve a problem, and discuss their thinking with their peers. Exploring concepts and problems in many different ways builds interest and promotes critical thinking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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