Math Practice?? It is four in the morning and I am sitting in a hotel room in San Antonio thinking about math education and an article that I just read entitled,
“Drill, Baby, Drill? Study finds worksheets, practice improves math skills more than fun stuff.”
Well, I will say that this title got my cackles raised, as “drill” reminds me so much of the math timed tests that I so dislike. Those worksheets of 20, 30, 50 problems all crammed onto a page that you must get through in a minute and made me and so many kids like me feel like failures in math because I couldn’t get as many done as the person next to me. In addition, the title uses that other term that gets by hairs up, “fun stuff”, like the stuff is nothing, just that nonsense filler you find in a drier vent, it’s just “stuff”. But this title drew my attention more so than the study title Which Instructional Practices Most Help First Grade Students with and without Mathematical Difficulties? So, kudos to you Maureen Downey in doing your job of provoking outrage and interest.
In all fairness, I am a huge advocate for cooperative learning and math games to promote math learning and this article seemed to imply that it would go against that line of thinking. But it didn’t. I agree, students, in particular students with math difficulties, need repetition and practice to succeed in math. In my blog article Dyslexia, Math and Me I talk about how dyslexics need to learn mastery before moving on and mastery is obtained through practice.
I think the best comparison of mastery with fun practice comes from the experience I have had with my daughter who has played softball from age 5 to her current age of 17. She is good. And how did she get to be good? From practice. What did her coaches do to make that practice something she wanted to do? They created games. These games caused her to repeat that same motion again and again and again developing that muscle memory. We can do that same with math.
Practice doesn’t have to come in the form of a traditional worksheet. It can come in the form of a game that has a student repeating the same skill again and again with the added motivation and persistence of trying to win and enjoying time with friends that comes with game play. This game Fruit Salad is an example, students practice problem solving skills to figure out what fruits are in the salad. They have multiple cards and opportunities to start mastering this skill.