Maree Syana November 30, 2020 Worksheet
When I was growing up we didn’t have home computers let alone PlayStation to entertain ourselves. Handheld camcorders were barely coming to the retail market by the time I was in 8th grade, but still a long ways away from the YouTube and Facebook arena we now see today. Times were extremely different back then and so was school. From a teacher’s perspective our competition is tough. Passing out a handout of 30 problems that are all in a format of 534×25= is not as stimulating in the students’ eyes as playing games such as Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil. Granted, that will always be a tough uphill battle for math to win out over most video games, but the point is, students today are much more immersed in technology than ever before. So even if you need to pass out a math worksheet to review concepts and formulas, it will greatly benefit your cause if you design the worksheet to be as stimulating as possible.
Another important point I keep in mind is that I never want this regular math review time to take up and hour of class time. I want it to be quick but effective. This is not instructional time, but time for the students to review material they have already learned. In my 5th grade classroom, we use a math review series that’s engaging and entertaining at the same time. In essence they are simply halfpage handouts with ten standards based math problems woven into a special picture or exciting scene. Remember, I want to keep the math review time quick, but effective.
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.
The first secret you need to discover is that your children will follow your lead. Not a big secret to most parents, but sometimes we are unaware of the influence we have on our children. How often have you sat faced with a list of figures – balancing the check book, credit card statement or filling out tax forms – and muttered about how much you hate math, how hard it is, how you just don’t have a head for math? You need to stop yourself right now! What you are telling your child is that math is a horrid chore, a difficult task, and one that you either have the talent to do, or you don’t. You are making your child anxious about a school subject that they will have to do for many years – and a skill that they will need for the rest of their lives. You are also telling them that if they struggle with math, it just means that they don’t have the talent for it – and it is therefore not their fault, and there is nothing they can do about it.
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.
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.
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