Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Death of Worksheets - guest post

The Death of Worksheets

Educational technology has the power to dramatically transform classrooms and enhance learning for students of all ages.  This blog alone contains links to hundreds of amazing apps, websites, and tech tools.  But what is it that those online resources should be replacing in schools?  

I hereby nominate... the worksheet.  “Death by worksheet” has become a common occurrence in schools, so much so that some teachers (and even students) can no longer imagine learning taking place without them.  Yet worksheets are static, unable to adapt to individual students’ answers as they work through a lesson.  Worksheets are also fake: students’ work on them is generally not spent solving real problems or communicating with real audiences.

It’s time for a new vision.  With the help of technology, we can replace the worksheet with the following:

  • Adaptive, differentiated content:  The work we ask students to do should always be in their zone of proximal development.  Adaptive technologies exist that can give students harder or easier math questions, for example, based on their previous answers.  This should be the new norm.
  • Project-based learning:  Turning the whole model of student work on its head, project-based learning allows students to learn through real-life, hands-on, complex projects instead of worksheets.  Which task is more genuine: having a middle school class run a government simulation where they actually take on governmental roles and work to pass laws and govern fairly, or having that same class complete a collection of worksheets covering that same government information?
  • Multimedia content:  Students should given the opportunity to learn content by watching engaging videos, looking at photos, and listening to podcasts instead of simply reading from worksheets.
  • Genuine audiences:  Student work should have real value and be directed to real audiences.  Instead of completing worksheets, students should be doing things like writing blog posts, creating podcasts, and designing artwork for others to actually enjoy.

What if you weren’t allowed to use any worksheets with your students for one week?  Completely banning worksheets from your practice for a set period of time will force you to find other methods of instruction, practice, and assessment for your students.  Who knows?  You might find that a short no-worksheet experiment leads to the end of “death by worksheet” in your class, perhaps even replacing it with the death of worksheets.

About the Author:
Neven Jurkovic’s interest in teaching mathematics with technology developed while pursuing a Master of Science degree at Southwest Texas State University. Apart from publishing a number of papers on the application of artificial intelligence in elementary mathematics problem solving, Neven is the creator of Algebrator, a widely used math tutoring software.  Currently, he lives in San Antonio, TX and is the CEO of Softmath:  


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