Dyann Evy November 22, 2020 Worksheet
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.
Most teachers are familiar with the long delay between when students complete a worksheet, and when they get their correct page. Most don’t get anything back until the next day or the next week. In the meantime, the students continue to practice incorrectly. It’s no surprise that immediate feedback has been shown to increase student performance and diligence. Unfortunately, math worksheets have no mechanism for keeping a student from moving to the next problem until after they demonstrate understanding. Good curriculum software can address this issue by giving students instant responses and strategic feedback. The use of visual cues and auditory feedback helps students quickly recognize their fraction errors and self-correct. This just-in-time feedback system eliminates practicing incorrectly, while promoting self-correction and independence.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, there is a place for math worksheets. After some instruction has occurred, math worksheets can provide extended practice and support development in fluency, provided the teacher is engaged with students as they work. Teachers who are effective at grouping students can use math worksheets as a springboard for discussions, discovery, and communication. So the next time you do a search for curriculum materials, skip the worksheets. Instead, consider resources that provide interactive experiences or consider sites that provide students with challenging problems. These sites will more likely engage students, foster discussion, and build a true understanding of the purpose and joy of learning math.
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