Yesterday, I shared a worksheet I was using in my math course for preservice elementary teachers on Twitter. It got enough of a positive response that I thought I would share it here with a bit more context. Here is the Tweet:
Got a boring worksheet? Make it more interesting by adding 2 sentences. #mathchat pic.twitter.com/UebsbuCjJP
— David Coffey (@delta_dc) April 17, 2014
I made the point that this combined two worksheets. The original worksheet came from fractions4kids.com. This one reminded a lot of the future teachers of worksheets they did in elementary school. Some of the teachers had bad memories about those times. I told them they were not alone. A lot of students become disenchanted with mathematics once they encounter the way we teach fractions - rules without reasons.
We also talked about how pointless it seemed to do all the problems. How much practice did they really need? How much proof did the teacher need in order to know whether the kids could follow the procedure? I shared (confessions of a bad math teacher) that sometimes I might only assign the odds or evens. Still, the only choice I was offering students was the choice to do it or not do it. And many chose the latter.
Fortunately, I learned from Brian Cambourne the importance of providing learners with choice.
Learners need to make their own decisions about when, how, and what "bits" to learn in any learning task. Learners who lose the ability to make decisions are disempowered. p. 187
This lead me to begin altering my approach to assigning work, which is evident in the second worksheet. I began adding a line or two asking the learners to pick the problems they did or did not want to do and why.
There was nothing special about the first worksheet. It could be on just about any topic. But the extra instructions, the two sentences asking learners to make choices and explain those choice, seemed to make the task much more engaging. And not just for the learners. I found reading their rationale behind their selections much more interesting than simply checking their answers.
Finally, teachers could have fun with the extra instructions. A group of student teachers came up with the idea of asking their high school students, "What items would you assign your best friend? Your worst enemy? Why?" So what questions might you add and why?