I recently read an article by The Measured Mom talking about how she defines worksheets and her general view of them. Most of the examples that she gives come from a reading standpoint. It got me thinking about worksheets in math. And since I have some experience teaching math, I thought I would share it with you. What follows are my own opinions based on teaching middle school math and my own young children. I am sure I am also influenced by my education.
While I can agree that there are times when a child needs a worksheet, say for practicing handwriting, I am not sure that I can say that there is a place for worksheets in math. Let’s see if I can explain why.
The lure of the worksheet
It’s almost time for us to do school and I don’t have everything planned. No surprise since I am planning my own curriculm for three young children…and am a habitual procrastinator. What do I do? Turn to my handy-dandy workbook. A whole book full of worksheets. Just pull one out, put it on the table and your good to go. How easy. This is the lure of the worksheet. You can fill a whole binder of work and just plug on from one page to the next without worrying. All of your standards are covered. You know your child will not be left behind. It’s comforting. You don’t need any experience to give a worksheet. It teaches itself. Don’t all of those things sound wonderful? Easy, comforting and you don’t need experience to use them. How many things in life are worth having that come easily? Eating chocolate is very easy and comforting for me. But if I ate chocolate all day long my body would deteriorate. Or if it didn’t, it certainly wouldn’t get any stronger. This is the same with the worksheet. A few after dinner won’t hurt anything, but a steady diet leaves your mind under-worked and unsatisfied.
The problems with math worksheets
* Worksheets do not help a child think critically or deeply. They leave a child thinking, “Why am I doing this?”
* They are overwhelming. Looking at a worksheet of 20 problems and not seeing any benefit to do them would make most children melt into tears.
* One method of solving the problem is encouraged. Did you know that there are multiple methods to solve 6+5? I can think of three off the top of my head. Read this blog long enough and you can know them too 🙂
* The answer is the most important part. Most worksheets that I have seen do not have much room for a student to explain how they got their answer. And if they are asked to do more problems than they have interest in, then they wouldn’t want to explain their answer. But really, the process is more important than the answer. Feels backwards doesn’t it. Right answers matter, but the process matters more. If you can see how a student came up with the answer, then you can help them fix it. Answers don’t really tell you what they were thinking.
But what to do instead?
There is sort of a hierarchy of assignments. At the bottom are the “list of problem” type worksheets. On top of that are worksheets that have pictures or drawn manipulatives, ones that attempt to make the abstract concrete. With these are ones that leave room (either in written or picture form) for the student to show their work. Above these two are activities. These encourage movement (either with their body or by using manipulatives) and involve things like: sorting, categorizing, explaining (either words or pictures)…etc. And on the top (in my opinion) are story problems! Did I just scare you? A lot of people don’t like story problems. Don’t worry. We won’t start there. Let’s talk about activities.
* Purpose beyond merely solving a math problem and
My daughter’s curriculum has a lot of worksheets. Maybe all math curriculum does. The lesson was practicing doubles facts. In the interest of learning I created an activity instead of the worksheet. Would you like to see it? I’ll do you one better and give it to you. It’s pretty cute. I’m a sucker for cute. Doubles Facts with Chicks.
I printed them out on card stock and roughly cut around them. Next, I casually mentioned to Grace that I had made a new activity for her. I showed her the two piles of mixed up chicks. “Look at these chicks. Aren’t they cute. There are problem chicks and answer chicks. But they are sad because they can’t find their friend. Look, here is the 8+8 chick and here is the 18 chick. Are they friends? No, do you think you can help them find each other?” Grace looks at them lovingly and says, “Maybe later, I want to go outside now.” “Okay Grace.” At this point I start playing with the chicks and having them cheep in a most pathetic manner. I know, I apparently need more sleep to be so easily entertained. But Grace is still next to me watching me. Finally she says, “What’s wrong with the chicks?” “Well, they are just so sad. They can’t find their friend.” Grace looks on for a few minutes and then, “Fine, I will help them now.” She spends the next few minutes matching them up. I was going to suggest that she line them up in order, but she did it already. After we took pictures, we talked about the pattern that was made. How all of the answers are even numbers. “So, does that mean that any time we add two of the same numbers we will get an even number?” “Yes!” I didn’t think of this until now, but I could have had her group her chicks by even and odd problems. Then we could have tried to figure out why the odd problems and the even problems both get us an even answer.
If all you use are worksheets
I would encourage you to branch out. Once a week try something new. Try doing an activity instead. Try using a manipulative. Start small and build up. The way to really understand math is to go slow and really look.
If you would like the activity I created go to Doubles Facts with Chicks.
For more great activities go to my TPT Store.
I linked up. Click on the image below to see the linky party: