Emmeline Jennah November 18, 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.

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.

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.

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.

Rather than using worksheets, a better method is to use individual size white boards and have the child writing entire facts many times. Having a child writing 9 x 7 = 7 x 9 = 63 while saying ”nine times seven is the same as seven times nine and is equal to sixty-three” is many times more successful than a worksheet with 9 x 7 = ___ and the student just thinks the answer once and then writes that answer on the duplicate problems.

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