Free Learning Resources# Why You Need Tools Other Than Math Worksheets to Help Your Kid Become a Math Whiz

August 23, 2021

*By Lillie Therieau*

Math worksheets seem like an easy answer when it comes to helping your child study. However, they’re the wrong approach altogether!

Math worksheets only ask students to solve problems, not demonstrate that they understand the underlying concepts. Many students may be able to solve a problem on a worksheet, but won’t be able to explain how they got there. Or, perhaps that they went about the process in the wrong way.

Math worksheets aren’t designed to check if a student truly understands a question. They’re just there to see if they can get the correct answer.

Plus, many parents end up helping their children or giving them hints on how to solve worksheet problems that they’re stuck on, defeating the purpose and creating even more uncertainty around the subject.

Elephant Learning founder Aditya Nagrath has this example, “In a problem like 7x3, a worksheet may display seven rows of three things. The worksheet tells the child that there are three things in a row, and seven rows. Then, the student hits a mental wall because then they can’t count them. Now you know, they're not using multiplicative thinking, they're using additive thinking and counting. This is not the right approach.” A worksheet problem allows children to employ the incorrect approach, even if they get to the right answer in the end.

Even if they don’t get to the right answer, a worksheet doesn’t explain why a problem works the way it does or runs through concepts to allow the student to figure out how to go about solving the problem.

Other methods and tools are necessary for thorough and effective math education. Math worksheets just aren’t cutting it.

Students often struggle to connect math concepts to the real world. They can seem abstract or opaque when they are laid out with simple printed numbers and symbols on a page.

Students must be able to connect these concepts and ideas to the practical ways that they function. An easy example that everyone knows is using groups of items to teach a child to count. That way, they’ll fully connect the words that represent numbers to the idea of quantity.

However, we shouldn’t stop there. Using a sliced pizza to understand fractions, or a sales exchange at a store to understand addition and subtraction are all helpful ways to reinforce the understanding of math concepts with physical examples.

The physicality and familiarity of these examples help students form stable understandings of the concepts. Rather than relying on rote memorization, conceptual understanding allows children to understand new problems and know how to solve them. They already know how these types of problems function on a conceptual level, so they can adapt and apply that knowledge to new contexts.

Plus, math class is progressive, building on older lessons to develop new skills. When students have a real-world understanding of the concepts, they’re better prepared to learn the next thing and build on top of what they’ve already learned. As EL founder Aditya Nagrath says, “conceptualized learning prepares children for long-term success in mathematics.”

Gamification is a strategy that introduces elements of playing a game to learning experiences, to engage and empower students. It’s a big part of how Elephant Learning is built, and we believe that it allows children to focus on learning and trying again.

Students get scored rather than graded and can compete against themselves. However, if they answer a question wrong, the stakes are low. After all, it’s just a game!

By removing the frustration of grading and adding in the fun of a game, gamification makes room for pure growth when it comes to math education.

When a student gets a question wrong on Elephant Learning, they’ll get sent back to questions that came before it and provide the foundation for the concepts at play in the missed question. They’ll answer those and work back up to the initial question that they missed.

Gamification allows students to sit with the questions and concepts and get to a point where they truly understand them. The goal is to get to an understanding where students can solve questions based on a certain concept no matter how they are presented and in any context or situation. That’s true conceptual understanding!

Where math worksheets wander into the abstract with simple printed symbols and numbers, Elephant Learning provides an imaginative and practical way for students to connect math concepts to the real world.

The questions and exercises are built around word problems and real-world scenarios, allowing students to make connections with what they already know.

Where math worksheets encourage memorization and getting the right answer above all, Elephant Learning teaches math as a language of concepts.

Students must understand why they are solving a problem in a certain way, and be able to apply the concepts they use to different scenarios and contexts. They gain a deeper understanding of underlying ideas, allowing them to more effectively build on their math knowledge.

Where math worksheets can cause anxiety around grades and instigate negative emotions around math, Elephant Learning removes the stress and emotion from the equation.

Using gamification and adaptive algorithms, EL uses a simple pass/fail system. Either you get the question right and go on to the next one, or you don’t, and go back a while to figure out where there might be a gap in your understanding. There are no bad grades, no consequences, and no math anxiety. It’s a continuous process, where growth is stressed above everything else.

Where math worksheets don’t provide the chance to learn from your mistakes, Elephant Learning grows and adapts with you. Mistakes are just another chance for further learning!

Math worksheets allow students to make mistakes in the answer or the process of getting to the answer without any way to address what went wrong. When worksheets are graded, students only know if they got an answer right or wrong, and they don’t learn from their mistakes. When using Elephant Learning, students who get an answer wrong get help figuring out where they made a wrong turn. The system goes back with them, to test fundamental concepts behind the question they missed.

They can correct any issues they had with previous concepts and get a refresher. Then, when they encounter the same question again, they’ll be poised to understand what they did wrong the first time and how they should go about answering the question now.

Although math worksheets will most likely stick around in your student’s future classes, they shouldn't be the only tool they have to study and make progress in math. They lack the conceptual depth, flexibility, and room for growth that a tool like Elephant Learning provides.

Math worksheets often breed math anxiety in students and can make them feel helpless or hopelessly behind when it comes to math. Plus, by encouraging students to memorize or get the right answer above all else, math worksheets skew a student’s perspective of what is important in math class.

Diversify your student’s math tools, because math worksheets just don’t cut it!