I am in charge in my institution of a class where students prepare math interviews to enter university. Part of the time is devoted to the review of the topics of PreCalculus and Calculus the students studied the previous. This time is mostly filled with problem solving: standard practice problems and examination problems, together with problems tailored for interviews.

To help students review, I prepared many summaries (called "cheat sheet") of various topics. I feel unsatisfied with these cheat sheets. First of all, because it is time-consuming. Secondly, because I believe they should be made by students. My rationale is that

  1. actively making cheatsheets and summaries help students to memorize them.
  2. The other reason is that, by making a summary, students show they understand the bigger picture of a topic, how things are related and what are the key points on a topic.

I will have soon have some time that I planned to have students make their own cheatsheet on a given topic. Since it will be my first time doing it, I am concerned about

How should I organize such an activity?

I am interested in people's experience on the question.

For the sake of the question, you can consider it will be three times one hour spread in a week. The students are senior high-school students (12th grade, so about 18 years old). I would qualify their average organizational skills are low (with a high standard deviation): the best of them will use highlighters to... highlight important information in their textbook, together with additional comments in their margin. Seldom have I seen them writing summaries (while it is customary of senior high school students in my own country, France). This happens in Asia (but I don't think it really matters).

Note: I am open to answers that challenge the premise of the question and explain why cheatsheets/summaries made by students are a bad idea.

I think it is a great idea. Given their age and organizational skills, I don't think you will get total victory. At the same time, I have learned from weight training that the often the beginners make the biggest gains (easier to improve from weakness). So you should feel good about anything that introduces the method and that helps them some.

If you have 3 sessions, I recommend to try the following exercise [just BSing, never done it.]

A. Session 1: individual work. Have each student prepare a 1 page "cheat sheets". Should be limited to cover material they already know. Limited to in class time. To be graded based on appearance, completeness, selectivity (yes, these two conflict), prioritization, innovations, etc. [have a 5 minute discussion ahead of time, for the value of cheat sheet summaries.] Let the students know they will be graded. (low point count, but something, and on a curve, maybe gentle like 8/9/10, don't tell them you will be gentle ahead of time though...and if you have someone completely blow it off...slam them of course, but any honest attempt should get 8+). Also give the student with the best one a big bar of chocolate (let them know they all compete for a small prize, but keep the prize a secret for the fun aspect).

B. Session 2: First hand out the graded results of the first session, and the chocolate. Avoid much class discussion and move to the main work...paired work. Same thing, but pair the students (you assign them) and have them make a best version together. [Use your judgment on how much to debrief the previous work assignment. My gut is not to debrief too much, so they have some uncertainty and freedom to innovate. Also so as not to derail the purpose of session 3.]

C. Session 3: debrief and discussion. Give grades out again for the paired submissions. Go over (on the overhead, or better yet, hand out copies) of the "best submission. Do another bar of chocolate for the winner. Have class discussion (what was missing, what was too much, what were things they disagree with). Let them all out 10-30 minutes early as a group reward assuming they played along the past two sessions (or give them free time in class if wandering halls not allowed is not allowed).


I think that is plenty. If you wanted to do less, you could probably just do two sessions (second paired one, not graded, and shorter, with in class discussion last half hour). Anyhow, this will totally give them an exposure to making their own cheat sheets. As well as some effort to think about how to do the best ones. After that, it is up to them to progress and use them. But you have exposed them enough to "fishing" that they have some potential to feed themselves.

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