In fifth grade, I hated doing math work sheets, commonly called “math drill and kill worksheets.” I despised learning my multiplication facts. It was boring. To this day, I wonder if this was the reason I failed math in sixth grade due to lack of motivation. Luckily, a tutor in the next summer inspired me to do better in math. I ended up teaching math in middle school for a few years. The idea of teaching math was the furtherest thing from my mind in elementary school.
Most students do not like drill and kill worksheets. They usually consist of some 20 – 50 math problems to complete for homework. They methodically go through the basic math skills of adding, subtraction, multiplying, and dividing that you should know for your grade level. The student does problem after problem until their minds becomes a scorched field. My parents, threats were the only thing that conquered my boredom and motivated me to finish the worksheets.
The nightly battle was intense, if not completely a lost cause on my part. The school and my parents won out each night. It didn’t cause me to put in any extra effort. In fact, I shut down in math, doing only the minimum. Hence, my future failure.
There is a paradoxical problem in teaching math. Students need to know certain mundane facts so they can move on to problem solving. A student who has to look up every multiplication fact on a cheat sheet lengthens their homework algebraically. On one hand, a teacher needs to make sure the students know their math facts. On the other hand, the teacher risks mind numbing boredom on the part of the students doing the homework.
I have been on both sides of this problem. The numbed brain fifth grader who dropped any interest in math was me. I also became the teacher trying to balance student’s knowledge of basic math facts with their propensity to fall like flies at the call “Raid” of drill and kill worksheets.
There is a solution.
From my dual point of view, I think that the root of the dilemma is found in the length of the worksheets. I was asked the question, “If a student can demonstrate that they know how to divide a three-digit number, by a two-digit number 100% of the time with five problems, why do they have to do an additional 45?”
Teachers don’t have to assign more problems than necessary for the student to demonstrate mastery of the math skill. Five problems will do just as well as 50. You have students who are learning their basic math facts. In turn, they aren’t wilting in the field out of boredom doing the last 45 problems.