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6/14/2016

EngagingStudentsviaInClassWorksheets|MathematicalAssociationofAmerica

Engaging Students via In-Class Worksheets

by Cindy Wyels, California State University Channel Islands

Worksheetsareaneffectivetoolinongoingeffortsencouragingourstudentstoengagetheirbrainsduringclass.
Worksheetsusedinclasscanalsohelpdirectstudents'learningoutofclass.Thefollowinglist,withlinkstodiscussion
andillustrativeexamples,givesexamplesofgoalsthatcanbeaddressedbyusingworksheets.

Helpingstudentsfocusonanunderlying?bigpicture?
Bridgingthegapbetweenwatchinganddoing
Focusingstudents?attentioninclass
Deliveringand/orsummarizingcontentefficiently
Encouragingstudentstocommunicatetheirmathematicalideas
Teachingstudentshowtolearnfromtheirtextbooks
Connectingnewmaterialtopreviouslycoveredmaterial

Oneobviousdisadvantagetoincorporatingworksheetsintoone?steachingistheextratimethatmustgointocreating
them.However,Ifindthatanimperfectworksheetoftenservesaparticularpurposealmostaswellasa?perfect?one
?afindingthatrelievesthepressureoffindingsufficienttimetocreatetheperfectworksheet.Andofcourse,
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EngagingStudentsviaInClassWorksheets|MathematicalAssociationofAmerica

worksheetscanberevisedandimprovedinsubsequentsemesterswhenrepeatingaparticularclass.Butevenbetter,
worksheets?aswithmanyteachinginnovations?canbesharedwithandimprovedbycolleagues.Mathematics
facultyatmyinstitutionhabituallysharetheircoursematerialswithcolleagues,explicitlygivingeachothertherightto
reviseandreuseworksheets.Ioftenreturntoacourseafteranabsenceofafewyearstofindthatmycolleagues
havesubstantiallyimprovedsomeworksheetsthatIinitiallycreated.Jointauthorship,bothsimultaneousand
asynchronous,bringsadditionalbenefits.Sharingworksheetsoftenspursconversationaboutteaching?forinstance,
aboutcoursegoalsandhowbesttoachievethem.Additionally,usinganother?sworksheetandattributingcredit
properlyprovidesourstudentsasubtlemodelofhowtoworktogetherinanacademicsetting.
Alessobviousdrawbacktousingworksheetspertainstoclasstime.It'salltooeasytounderestimatethetimestudents
willneedtothoughtfullyworktheirwaythroughaworksheet?andthisisourvaluableclasstime!Oftentheprocess
revealsunderlyingproblems:gapsinknowledgeorskillsthatIassumedtheyalreadyhad.(Ofcourse,identifyingsuch
knowledge/skillgapsprovidesanyinstructorsomeusefulinformation.)ThistimerelateddrawbackisalleviatedasI
gainexperience.Gettingstudentscomfortablewiththeideathattheywon'talwaysfinishaworksheetalsohelps:I
oftenhave"straightforward"and"moreinvolved"sectionsononeworksheet,andtellthestudentsthatIexpectthem
toworkthroughtheformer,thenmoveontothelatterastimeallows.Thisstrategyalsoservestokeepthemore
advancedstudentsfrombecomingdisengagedwhiletheywaitfortheirclassmatestofinish.(Example:integration
strategies)
Thesetwocostsofusingworksheetsarebothmitigatedovertime,andareoutweighedbythebenefits.Students?
benefitscanbeinferredfromthelistabove.Studentsseemtoappreciatetheextraeffortthatgoesintocreating
worksheets:ourstudentevaluationstypicallymentionworksheetsinahighlypositivemanner.Andfacultybenefittoo:
fromenhancedfacultyinteraction(asweshareourworksheets),frombecomingmoreinformedastowhatstudents
are?getting,?andfromthatsamepositivefeedbackonevaluations.Ofcourse,ourrealbenefitcomesfromthe
professionalsatisfactioninknowingwe'redoingallwecantohelpourstudentslearnmathematics.
Acknowledgment
ManythanksgotoKarrolyneFogelofCaliforniaLutheranUniversityforhelpfulconversations,fruitfulworksheet
swaps,andforalwayskeepingthefocusonstudentlearning.

Helpingstudentsfocusonanunderlying?bigpicture?
Studentsoftenviewmathematicalideasasdisjointedtopics,whereweseethemasvariousmanifestationsofone
concept.Forinstance,calculusstudentsoftenchoosetomemorizesummationformulasfordifferentnumerical
integrationtechniques.I?dpreferthattheyconsiderallthetechniquesasconsistingsimplyofdividingtheplanarregion
determinedbytheintegralintovariousshapes?rectangles,trapezoids,andfiguresformedbyreplacingthetopofa
rectanglewithaparabolicsegment.ThisunifiesalltheRulestypicallytaughtincalculusintovariationsonatheme:
subdividetheintervalofintegration,formtheappropriateshapes,findtheareasoftheseshapes,andsum.Wework
ourwaythroughanumericalintegrationsheettogether,withthemsupplyingthefirsttwo(review)rowsofthetable
verballyandmeleadingthemthroughdevelopingthelastthreerows.(Thepicturesserveasreinforcementofwhich
shapecorrespondstowhichrule.)Theworksheetprovidesahandyplaceforthemtosummarizethecritical
information.Imakeuseofitduringpartsoftwoclasses:firstreviewingandintroducingthedifferentrules,then
developingthematerialonerrorbounds.
Similarly,Iuseaworksheettointroducetheconceptofaprobabilitydistributionfunctionwhenteachingintroductory
ProbabilityandStatistics.Atthispointthestudentshaveworkedwithprobabilitymassfunctionsfordiscrete
distributions.BeforehandingouttheworksheetIuseacomputersimulationtomotivateadiscussionaboutwhatis
likelytohappenwhenlargersamplesarecollectedfromthesamepopulation.Thepicturesontheworksheet(with
theirnotes)thenhelpthemretainourconclusions.Iaskthemaboutthepropertiesofaprobabilitymassfunctionand
writetheseontheboard.Wethenfigureouthowto?translate?thesepropertiesintoanalogouspropertiespertaining
tocontinuousfunctions,whichtheythenwriteintothespacesprovidedonthefrontside.Notethattherearetwo
copiesofthebackpage:theirsismostlyblank,withjustenoughinformationforthemtofigureoutwhatI?masking
themtoprovide.Wethenusewhattheyknowaboutprobabilitymassfunctionstodeterminehowprobability
distributionsfunctions?should?work.Thisprocessmaytakeuptooneandonehalfclassperiods.
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Backtotop

Bridgingthegapbetweenwatchinganddoing
Worksheetscanprovideanexcellentmeansofteachingmathematicalconceptsthataresomewhatalgorithmic.For
instance,mathematiciansgenerallyconsiderproofsbyinductiontobetheeasiestkindofproofstoteachstudents:we
can(almost)tellthemexactlywhattodo!Startwiththebasisstep,writeouttheinductivehypothesis,andusethe
hypothesis(asnecessary)tocompletetheinductivestep.Whatcouldbeeasier?Yetstudentsfrequentlyhavetrouble
makingthetransitionfromwatchinguswriteaninductiveprooftowritingonethemselves.Mycolleaguewalksher
studentsthroughaninductionworksheetthathelpsthemunderstandwhattheyshoulddoateachpoint.Asignificant
sidebenefitisthattheythenhaveatemplateforoutofclasswork.Astheybecomemorecomfortablewiththeideas
theyusethetemplateless.Ofcourse,byexamtimethey'reexpectedtohavemasteredthetechnique.
Similar"bridgingthegap"worksheetscanbehandywhenteachingepsilondeltaproofs,creatinggeneralsolutionsto
systemsofequations,andinfact,forteachinganymultistepsolutionprocedures.Examples:breakingdownthepieces
neededtoimplementtheChainRule,interpretingandapplyingthedefinitionofavectorspace,andworkingthrough
thestepstocarryoutareductioninorderofaCauchyEulerequation.
Backtotop

Focusingstudents?attentioninclass
Asscintillatingaswemakeourpresentations,somestudents?mindsareboundtowander.Atimelyworksheetcauses
themtofocusonthematerialathand:it?ssimplythedifferencebetweenpassiveandactivelearning.Worksheetsof
thistypecanbeusedtointroducenewmaterial,particularlymaterialwithmanynewdefinitionsandterms.Inthese
casestheclassmaygothroughtheworksheettogether,individually,orinsmallgroups.Otherworksheetsask
studentstoapplyaconceptjustpresented:thesearebestdonewithsmallthanwholeclassgroupings.
Examplesintroducingnewmaterial:Stokes?Theorem(firstpart),vectorspacedefinition,characterizingdifferential
equations
Examplesapplyingnewconcepts:Stokes?Theorem(secondpart),polarareas
Backtotop

Deliveringand/orsummarizingcontentefficiently
Lecturingthroughmaterialthatcontainsmanynewdefinitionsandintroductoryconceptscantakelargechunksofclass
time.Studentsoftenfallintopassivenotetakingandremaintwolinesbehindthelecturer,nomatterhowcomfortably
pacedthelecture.Aworksheetthatprovidesaframeworkforthelecturecanspeedupcoverageofthistypeof
material,andensurethatstudentsrecordkeyitems.Inclusionofsimpletasksandquestionsabnegatesstudent
passivity.
Forexample,Section4.1ofZill?sAFirstCourseinDifferentialEquations,withModelingApplication,7thEd.(Brooks
Cole,2000)introducesseveralnewtermsincludingthekeyideasoflinearindependenceandforminggeneral
solutions.I?veusedthisChap4termsworksheettoguidestudentsthroughthemainideasofthesection,pausingto
havethemgenerateresponsesandwriteoutexplanations.Otherexamplesincludetheinductionworksheetreferredto
earlier,andthepdfs_pmfsworksheetleadingstudentsfamiliarwithprobabilitymassfunctionstotheanalogous
probabilitydensityfunctions.
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EngagingStudentsviaInClassWorksheets|MathematicalAssociationofAmerica

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Encouragingstudentstocommunicatetheirmathematicalideas
Howmanytimeshaveyouheardastudentsay?Igetit,butIjustcan?texplainit??Weallknowthattheabilityto
explainaconceptdemonstratesadeeperlevelof?gettingit?thandoesmereuse.Thetwosamplesherecouldbe
usedinvariousways,onlysomeofwhichwouldencouragestudentstotalkthroughthematerialuntiltheyreacha
goodunderstandingofit.
Iusetheintegrationstrategiesworksheetoncetheclasshasworkedthroughsectionsonvarioustechniquesof
integrationonebyone.Studentsgototheboards(orworkattheirdesksiftheclassroomhasinsufficientlymany
boards)ingroupsofthree.Theyarespecificallyandrepeatedlyinstructedtocompletethe?Novice?activitybefore
attemptingtoevaluateanyintegrals:thefocusisonanalyzingintegrandstodeterminewhichintegrationstrategyis
mostlikelytobeeffective.Groupsmustdiscusstheirchoicesthoroughlyandprovidestrongreasoningforthem.They
interactwiththeinstructorandwithothergroups,defendingtheirchoices.Imaysendemissariesfromonegroupto
another.Mostgroupshavetimetobeginevaluatingseveraloftheintegralsandtherebytoseeiftheirchosen
techniquewillwork.Notethatstructuringtheactivitiesbydifferentlevelsdiffusesthetendencytoracethroughto
completionofindividualintegrals.
Studentsbeginworkonthepolarintegrationworksheetindividually.They?reaskedtogetasfarastime(4?5min.)
allowsonthefirstfourproblems,thentocomparetheirresponseswiththeirneighbors.Oncepairsofstudentsagree
(orarestuck),theycomparetheirworktothatofanotherpair.Thewholeclassthendiscussesthefirstfourproblems?
oftenbyhavingpairspresenttheirsolutionstotheclass?beforemovingontothelasttwo.Thewholeprocesstakes
about20minutes.Separatingouttheprocessofsettinguptheregionofintegrationbreaksdownpolarintegration
problemsandhelpsthestudentsfeelcomfortablewithlatermultistepproblems.
Backtotop

Teachingstudentshowtolearnfromtheirtextbooks
Firstandsecondyearstudentshaverarelydevelopedtheabilitytoreadandlearnfromtheirmathematicaltextbooks.
Worksheetscanbeusedintentionallytohelpguidestudents?developmentofthisability.Havingstudentswriteout
responsesencouragestheirengagementwiththetextthequestionschosenindicateareasonwhichtofocus.
Explicitlydiscussingtheworksheetsandwhyparticularquestionsareaskedhelpsstudentsreflectonwhatis
important.Followupdiscussionsdrawingsimilarinformationfromstudentsonsubsequentsectionsreinforcelessons
onhowtogleanknowledgefromtheirtextbooks.
Examples:aworksheetintroducingStokes?Theorem,aworksheetdesignedtobeusedwhenworkingthrough
Section4.1ofZill?sAFirstCourseinDifferentialEquations,withModelingApplication,7thEd.(BrooksCole,2000).
Backtotop

Connectingnewmaterialtopreviouslycoveredmaterial
Learningtheoryshowsthatstudentsabsorbnewmaterialbestwhentheyhavemental?hooks?uponwhichtohang
newideas.Thesehooks,ofcourse,consistofpreviouslygraspedconceptsmakingconnectionsbetweenconcepts
equatestohangingthenewideaonanappropriatehook.Makingconnectionscanbeachievedbyaskingstudentsto
review,andpossiblyrephrase,previouslycoveredmaterialatthebeginningofaworksheet,andthentousethis
materialtoinvestigatenewideas.Forexample,aworksheetintroducingStokes?Theoremdirectsstudentstoreview
Green?sTheoreminthecontextofa3Dvectorfieldwithzerozcomponent.Throughcompletionoftheworksheetand
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EngagingStudentsviaInClassWorksheets|MathematicalAssociationofAmerica

simultaneousdiscussioninclass,studentsthenapproachStokes?TheoremasageneralizationofGreen?sTheorem.
Similarly,studentsinanintroductoryProbabilityandStatisticsclassbeginstudyofprobabilitydensityfunctionsby
reviewingthekeycharacteristicsofprobabilitymassfunctions,thentyingtheseideastogether.Seep.2ofthis
example.
Backtotop

CindyWyels(cindy.wyels@csuci.edu)isanAssociateProfessoratCSUChannelIslands,California'syoungeststate
university,whereshedirectstheMSinMathematicsprogram.HerBAisfromPomonaCollegeandherPh.D.isfrom
U.C.,SantaBarbara.Herrecentresearchinterestshavefocusedongraphpebblingandgraphlabeling,andshe
stronglyadvocatesstudentparticipationinresearch.Herpedagogicalinterestsincludeincorporatingtechnologytoaid
studentlearning,improvingstudents'communicationskills,andincreasingtheparticipationofunderrepresented
minoritiesinmathematics.

TheInnovativeTeachingExchangeiseditedbyBonnieGold.

MathematicalAssociationofAmerica
P:(800)3311622
F:(240)3965647
E:maaservice@maa.org
Copyright2016

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