I’ve been getting real tired of having to sift through my students chicken scratch to find the few nuggets of information they have hidden in their “work.” It kind of came to a head the other night as I was grading our most recent geometry test. It became clear that many of these students really have not been taught what it means to show work in a clear and organized manner. I have modeled it many times, pointing out how one should line up the equal signs, how arithemetic isn’t necessarily showing work, etc. However, I think that when I’ve tried to explain this, all they hear is Charlie Brown’s teacher. “Wha wha wha…wha wha whaa.”
I decided to give them a taste of their own medicine. I took the warm up I had planned and dumped it into Wordle (I figured Wordle must be good for something). Yesterday’s warm up:
”But Mr. Cox, what are we supposed to do?”
“The directions are all there. It’s worth 100 pts. you know, so ya better make it snappy.”
“It’s hard to understand.”
“Ok, you don’t like this one; how about this?”
“That’s no better.”
They’re on to me by now.
“Yeah, of course I’m proving a point; but what is it?”
The conversation went something like this:
“You think this is confusing? Well that’s what you do to me whenever you show your work. Why is it that in your Language Arts classes you all understand that we start writing in the top left, we work left to right and top down, but in your math class, you seem to think that starting right in the center of your workspace and then going any which way is a good idea? How in the world am I supposed to understand what you’re telling me?”
So I threw up some examples of what to do…
and what not to do…
and we discussed what made one student’s work acceptable and the other’s unacceptable. We also discussed the difference between “showing your work” or “showing your steps” and that which belongs on scratch paper.
Oh, we also agreed that starting in the upper left hand corner of the workspace is acceptable in a math class as well.