Hello, reader! If you intend to post a link to this blog on Twitter, be aware that for utterly mysterious reasons, Twitter thinks this blog is spam, and will prevent you from linking to it. Here's a workaround: change the .com in the address to .ca. I call it the "Maple Leaf Loophole." And thanks for sharing!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

All Worksheets Are Not Created Equal

Yes and no.

This is not so hot:

Disjointed. Pointless. Teaches nothing. Brain need not engage. Follow some procedure whether you know what you are doing or not. Kids either refuse to participate in the charade or tolerate it. They might be tolerating it with sweet, deceiving smiles on their faces, but they are not relishing it as a learning opportunity.

This is much better:

Believe it or don't, but you get a much different reaction from a kid, who has the appropriate background, to a worksheet like this. A narrowing of the gaze. Quiet focus. Murmuring and grunting. Meaningful questions.

I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to think about why it's better. That's not really the point I want to make right now. Propogating the myth that All Worksheets are Bad isn't just unhelpful, it's harmful. It has led to a situation where we think Good Teachers Don't Use Worksheets and Bad Teachers Use Worksheets. Textbook companies are putting out crap. Grad programs aren't showing new teachers how to make good ones.

Argue all you want about what public schools should look like, but in the schools we have in late 2009, I am looking at 30 kids for 45 minutes a day, sitting in the available chairs at the available desks. Some of them have a cell phone, a subset of those get reception in my room, some number could bring a laptop every day if we asked them to. But they all have a pen or a pencil, and none of them want to waste their time. This reality means I must, inevitably, find or make paper materials to put in their hands. If I believed all worksheets were bad, and using them made me a bad teacher, I would eventually print out some garbage provided by the textbook, close the door, and keep my head down. Thankfully I spent my first couple years, before they retired, around some very wise mentors.

Here is that exponent worksheet if you liked it.


  1. Textbook companies are putting out crap.

    Now only badly arranged, but there was that one I showed you that was actually wrong.

  2. I wonder what a counter-worksheet would look like as alternative to the one provided by the textbook one you show above. I see the value in the second worksheet, but the two examples in this post cover very different concepts. Would a better worksheet include matching? I've yet to come up w/ a homework/worksheet policy I'm satisfied with.

  3. You are right. This post would have worked better if I had found a crappy Practicing Zero and Negative Exponents worksheet. :)

    For writing equations of parallels and perpendiculars, I like this.

  4. This is great. I'm teaching a super low-level math course (think: teach addition and subtraction to high school students) and I have to do a lot of skill building and drilling, which means lots of worksheets. I've slowly come to realize that worksheets like your first one cause an immediate shut down. So I've switched to half-sheets only to bring down the intimidation factor. This matching idea gives me another tool to help them just *start* working, which is most of my battle. Keep the good ideas coming.

  5. thumbs up.
    talking about the media we actually use...
    copying machines and handwriting and so on...
    along with all the hightech (that few can afford
    and none can sustain)... looks like a big win.
    this DIY vibe of yours appears as what math ed would
    look like if it were about teaching instead of school
    (and schools were about learning not crowd control).
    thank your mentors again for me.

  6. To many textbooks look like badly designed myspace pages.

  7. My 8 year old did your matching work sheet after a 10 minute review of an hour long lecture I previously gave him on exponents and logrithms. He is bright, but the worksheet is too easy for high schoolers.

  8. I'm prrreeeeeetty sure I'm the best judge of appropriate difficulty for my own students, but thanks for your input.

  9. I was just trying to link to your Building a Better Worksheet post but can't seem to get to it now. Did you take it down?

  10. I think that might have been a casualty of the recent Great De-SITMO'ing. There were a couple posts I couldn't figure out what the equations were, so I couldn't fix them, so I just took them down. Sorry. It appears there's a cached version here for the time being.


Hi! I will have to approve this before it shows up. Cuz yo those spammers are crafty like ice is cold.