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I run a German website for mathematics education. We produce lessons, each of which contains various kinds of media, such as an introduction, videos, wikis, software, worksheets, and online tests. We have started to produce more material for teachers and they mostly ask for worksheets.

Trying to understand the "future of education", I am trying to find out if our planned production of ~1000 worksheets makes actually sense. If worksheets should be abandoned in (let's say) 10 years, then this immense work could be unnecessary.

I asked several (older) teachers, most of them stated they want to continue using worksheets because:

  • "different structure of worksheets"
  • "structured writing on paper"
  • "prepare for online tests"
  • "better for complex exercises"
  • "do not have to copy exercises from screen, print worksheet"
  • "better presentation of coordinate systems and tables"

Does anyone has experience if very modern schools are using still worksheets? Or can you predict the future of printed worksheets?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to matheducators.SE. I've edited your question for grammar and to eliminate material that promotes your web site. $\endgroup$ – Ben Crowell Mar 29 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ Do you specifically mean printed work sheets? If so (as a data point) I can tell that it is rare in Danish high schools to print work sheets. But rules are different in Denmark and Germany. The exam is in two parts - the second part is with a computer - and the student is expected to know a CAS program (such as TI NSpire, Maple or other). $\endgroup$ – soegaard Mar 30 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ "printed worksheets (...) it is rare in Danish high schools" - What do they do instead? (Non-exam situation, during classes or at home). $\endgroup$ – Kai Noack Mar 30 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ @KaiNoack Um, a textbook with explanations, definitions, examples and exercises and a notebook with blank paper? They have to copy exercises from a textbook and then solve them in their own handwriting, how 19th century. $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core Mar 30 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ Nobody can predict the future. What are you really asking? $\endgroup$ – Mast Mar 31 at 11:21
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It's hard to tell what will be the changes in 10 years. Maybe we will all have jacks in our heads. Then again, some things change slower. (Where's my flying car?)

Most of the reasons for getting rid of worksheets have been around for 20-40 years and they still have high demand. They still have various advantages.

Most importantly, if you look at the NPV-DCF calculation (use the beta for publishers), almost all the value of this investment is paid back in the first 10 years anyways.

So, yes, I would proceed and meet the current market demand. Doesn't stop a little playing around with electronic apps, games, etc. so you are ready for any changes. But I advise you to put most investment in current demand. (If some more modern app gets traction, of course, feed it capital at that point.)

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    $\begingroup$ Alright, if I understand you right, in plain English: Produce the worksheets as long as they are needed, make money with them within the next 10 years, and then after 10 years (around year 2030) don't care if they are still used or not 🙂 $\endgroup$ – Kai Noack Mar 30 at 16:34
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It sounds like you're producing high school math material, whereas I'm teaching mostly physics (and a little math) at a community college in California. Hopefully there is enough overlap to make my experience helpful to you.

I do a variety of paper and pencil exercises with my students, some of which could be characterized as worksheets. Below is an example of a typical exercise, which students would do together in small groups. Most of my students have the (free) book in PDF form only. Probably 25% buy the book in print. (It costs $12.) Quite a few are using the PDF on a phone, although I try to convince them not to do that. There are desktop computers in the room, but not enough that every student could sit at their own computer. Students cannot print from these computers.

Given this set of circumstances, I often do print out the exercises for my students. For the exercise below, for example, I would print out one copy per group, in order to encourage them all to focus on the activity together. I tell them to try to agree on what to write down on the paper. They also have it in their copy of the book if they want it later for reference or if they want to transcribe their own copy of their group's results. While they're working, I do laps around the room and look at what each group has agreed to write down. If they're wrong, I give them feedback. The work doesn't count toward their grade.

"structured writing on paper"

Yes. If I just popped up the figure on the screen and asked them to do this activity, without a form on paper for them to write on, they would scribble random, disorganized stuff, and I would have no way to check them and give them feedback.

"do not have to copy exercises from screen, print worksheet"

Yes. If I didn't push them to use a paper copy, many of them would be trying to do this off of the tiny screens on their smartphones, which would be ridiculous. If this was high school, then there would be the added issue that many schools don't want kids using their phones in class, so many kids do not have any digital device. There is also the theoretical issue that some kids might not have any device, but I don't encounter that at my school. (I actually don't own a cell phone myself, which my students consider a bizarre eccentricity.)

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ " Quite a few are using the PDF on a phone, although I try to convince them not to do that." - why is this? $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Mar 30 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ @corsiKa: Because the screen on the phone is much too small. Use the right tool for the job. $\endgroup$ – Ben Crowell Mar 31 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @BenCrowell Much too small for whom and for what purpose? I never had an iPad, thought it was way too bulky. iPad Air is much better, still the screen is too large for my taste. My tablets have 7.7" and 8.3" screen sizes. My phone is 5.5" with 227 dpi, which is quite average. I use it for everything: news, books, etc. I stopped using my tablets, and I use my computer only when I need to type a lot. There are readers like Xodo that can re-flow PDFs, or eBookDroid that can crop pages and split two-page scan into two separate pages. Do you have a link to the free book? $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core Apr 16 at 23:31
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Worksheets are useful as a fill-in-the blanks forms to sign up for a credit card or for a car registration, but are detrimental in education. They instill the thinking that all information needed to solve a problem is presented on the same worksheet the students need to fill out. They supply information and problems in piecemeal fashion. They discourage skills needed to work with textbooks. They do not foster methodical approach to solving problems.

Not to mention that printed worksheets can be used only for a specific exercise, unlike blank paper that can be used for anything. Thus, worksheets are environmentally unfriendly.

Sadly, worksheets are here to stay, if not in physical paper format then in computerized forms.

Given a choice, I would always use a traditional textbook and blank paper.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Most of your first paragraph (and that article) seem to be experiences with badly made worksheets, rather than criticisms of worksheets as a concept. Your second paragraph is also irrelevant if a teacher is printing worksheets for a known class size. Plus, there are criticisms against textbooks too $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Mar 31 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal See GFSA for formalized steps to solve a textbook problem using nothing more than a blank notebook. With worksheets, a student often writes little more than a couple of lines of an abridged solution. As for your link, Richard Culatta, who suggested to stop using textbooks, is now the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core Mar 31 at 3:17
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My daughter is at a newly-built primary school in the UK, well-equipped with smartboards and the rest of the latest technology; they also use app-based and online tools for homework.

However at this age at least, they make near-daily use of worksheets in maths and other core subjects; many if not most of the ones I've seen are from external providers. Her teachers over the last couple of years have been of a range of ages and career stages, and all have used worksheets extensively.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for this feedback. Could you ask them for their reasons? $\endgroup$ – Kai Noack Mar 31 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ @KaiNoack in principle I would, but with the current situation it's rather tricky. Here's what I do know/can conclude from it: In English they use different levels of exercise on the same topic for different groups at the same time. I believe this is also true for maths but I'm not completely sure. Paper is far more flexible than a single-screen solution in that regard. Also the kids do a lot of work directly on prepared sheets, which makes sense when copying down the problem from a board would be time-consuming and taxing for some if not all pupils, and with small-group classroom layouts. $\endgroup$ – Chris H Mar 31 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ Also: teachers, like those of us working in higher education, don't want to be solely reliant on tech. It has a habit of going wrong and after a few difficult situations early in a career you want to walk into the room knowing you can fall back if the network goes down, Windows decides to update while your back is turned, that kind of thing $\endgroup$ – Chris H Mar 31 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisH A worksheet, whether on a computer screen or on paper, is still a worksheet. A textbook, whether a paper one (preferred), or a PDF on a large-screen tablet or an electronic textbook formatted for a tablet or smartphone is still a textbook. Whether one uses a paper or electronic textbook, the exercises should be done with pen (writing), pencil (drawing) on plain paper (usually squared, or lined for language classes). Copying from whiteboard should not be an issue for kids who can read and write (that is, past 1st grade), also copying should be condensed as GFSA suggests. $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core Mar 31 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ @RustyCore I see your point to some extent, but screen-based tech tends not to act like a worksheet, and I've never seen a version that allows margin scribbling. "Worksheet" in common UK usage would mean that they actually write/calculate/draw on a printout they're given (if downloaded, it would be A4, not screen-sized) . They start younger in our system, but in terms of age, she'd be equivalent to first grade. I don't think it's that any of her class can't copy down the instructions at that age, it's that some will still be copying them while others have done nearly all of the exercises. $\endgroup$ – Chris H Mar 31 at 21:08

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