I understand the allure of worksheets. Really I do. Students need practice with new concepts, and worksheets provide an easy vehicle for that practice. Worksheets are low maintenance. You just run them off, organize them neatly for each day or class period, hand them out at the appropriate time, and put the kiddos to work. They are great when there is a substitute in your room. Worksheets are easy to send home so parents can see the work their children are doing. For all of those reasons, I understand why worksheets are so popular. But if we look a little deeper, we may realize that worksheets have their drawbacks as well. So today I’m going to debunk some of the myths about worksheets and show how easy it is to turn worksheets into workstations.

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You may think it’s easier to run off a stack of worksheets than it is to prepare the materials for workstations. In the short term, you might be right. But in the long run, you actually save time with math workstations. Throughout this post, I’m going to use as an example telling time to the hour and half-hour using the cards pictured below, which you can download for free. Skills that students need to practice include reading time on both analog and digital clocks and elapsed time. To provide students with adequate practice for these skills, how many worksheets do you think you’d need? Maybe 5-10 worksheets for each skill? That’s a lot of copying. Once I make and laminate these cards, I can use them in a variety of ways for several years to come. That means next year when I plan my time unit, I literally have zero prep time.

Think about what a worksheet would look like for reading time. I could picture it showing analog clocks and having students write the time or show it on an analog clock. With a worksheet, you are limited and it’s one and done. In other words, once students have used a particular worksheet, they can’t really use it again. Now, think about how you could use the cards to practice the same skill. With the cards I have a printable, but it’s blank. That means students can use it over and over again. They simply choose a card and show it on both the analog and digital clock on the recording sheet.

There are a number of other ways students can use the cards in a workstation.

  • Choose a subset of the cards and have students play a memory game. They lay the cards face down in an array. Taking turns, they turn over two cards. If the times on the clocks match, they keep the cards. If they don’t match, they turn them face down in their original positions.
  • Use the cards to assign partners. Give a card to each student. They move around and find another student with a matching time and that is their partner.
  • Put the times in order with the analog times on top of the digital times.
  • Select two cards and use an open number line to find the elapsed time between the two times.
  • Choose one clock card and an elapsed time card and find the starting or ending time. Geared student clocks are great to support students with this activity.

Because each time the students do an activity they will be using different cards, students are provided many opportunities for practice without making copies of lots of worksheets.

Next, let’s talk about accountability and communications with parents. Worksheets make it easy to document student work, and it’s easy to send worksheets home to parents. I would suggest, however, that there are other ways to hold students accountable and communicate with parents that are far more effective. Seesaw is a free digital portfolio that students can use to record their work through pictures, video, audio recordings, or some combination of those options. When the teacher approves a portfolio entry from a student, there is an option to immediately notify the parent via text message. What a great way to bridge the divide between home and school. So, for example, if students are playing the memory game with analog and digital clock cards, they could record a short video when they finish playing showing a pair of matching digital and analog clock cards and explain how they know the times on the two clocks match. You’re just not going to get that from a worksheet.

So here’s my call to action. Choose one worksheet you plan to use this week and think about how you could accomplish that same learning objective with a workstation activity rather than the worksheet. If you can, post a picture of the worksheet and how you plan to transform it in the comments. I’m excited to see all the ways we can transform worksheets into more active learning for students!

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