The 2020–2021 school year was the year online learning took over the education landscape. With school buildings closed across the country, teachers, students, and administrators had to work quickly to make remote learning as effective as possible. In most cases, that meant adopting new digital curriculums or expanding the role online curricula played in students’ classes. Printed materials—the long-time cornerstone of American education—took on a secondary role.
As you look to the fall and the 2021–2022 school year, it’s a good time to reflect on what worked in your classroom and what you’d like to change. Maybe you noticed students were having trouble communicating their thinking online or some students struggled to engage with or access their materials. If so, you may want to consider how print materials can be reincorporated into your instruction.
Here are 11 reasons why we think you should include print materials in your math class this fall:
1. Mathematical thinking takes more working memory than most people naturally have.
Doing math in your head is harder than writing it out because you have to hold so many pieces of information in your short-term (i.e., working) memory at once. When you bump against the limits of your working memory, bits of information get dropped, and you can’t do what you set out to do. When students write down their work, they free up memory space to think about more complex ideas. Writing is the ancient, universal solution to the brain cramp.
2. Writing is good for thinking, and paper is good for writing.
Research shows that the act of writing by hand helps students synthesize and retain information better than typing. What better way to encourage students to write than by giving them printed materials to write on?
3. Flipping through books is a joyful experience.
It’s a special moment for students when they get shiny, new worktexts and get to discover what’s inside. Comparing fun pictures with classmates and wondering over the titles of unfamiliar material is the movie trailer of math class previewing the year to come and a KonMari™-esque ritual of new beginnings.
4. Print materials can go anywhere you go (except maybe the shower).
Need to lie down? Work in the car? On a plane? In the yard? Books are good to go! Want to sit upside down? No problem! Grab a clipboard, clip your worksheet to it, and put your feet in the air until you’re blue in the face.
5. Marginalia is like having a conversation with the text.
If you have an idea or question, you can write your thoughts next to the text or image that sparked it. Because your thinking is right in there with the original material, it’s much harder to lose or forget than things jotted down on separate pieces of paper or untitled Word® documents. With marginalia, there’s also no question of whether or not your changes were saved.
6. Printed materials are easy on the eyes.
There are no screen-related eyestrains or blue-light migraines with printed materials!
7. Printed materials are great for stickers and sticking on the fridge.
When students get back an A+ on a quiz, you can put a scratch-and-sniff sticker on it. Then, they can take that paper home and display it with pride on the fridge. They can also put it in a scrap book, mail it to less tech-savvy loved ones who want a chance to dote on them, or tuck it into a shoebox or folder to take out and enjoy in the future.
8. Printed materials ensure more equal access for all students.
Since printed materials require basically no accessories or peripherals beyond a pencil (and maybe a clipboard if you’re fancy), they’re budget-friendly options for schools and families. Similarly, printed materials have almost no learning curve to use, never run out of batteries, and never need technical support to work as they should, removing barriers to using them.
9. Screen-free learning can help some students focus.
Some people—adults and children alike—find it nearly impossible to focus while using electronic devices. Providing students with printed materials gives them an opportunity to work without digital distractions.
10. It’s easier for students to communicate written mathematical ideas.
If you’ve never tried to type out your work for an algebra problem, please go try it now. I’ll wait. Unless you have lots of practice, a stylus, or special software, it can be incredibly frustrating to solve math problems or communicate mathematical ideas through word-processing or document apps. Trying to format an equation and solve it while learning to do both is harder than trying to do either separately. They’re separate skills for students to master. When students have printed materials they can directly write on, this barrier to learning is removed.
11. It’s easier for teachers to give feedback.
Giving students clear feedback is one of the most important things teachers do, so getting it right is crucial. Just like students, educators can struggle with communicating their mathematical thinking via typing. Although many programs or apps come with built-in annotation tools that make it possible to comment on students’ work, they can be hard to use and can’t match the simple, precise, efficient action of jotting a quick note on a student’s work with a felt-tip pen.
KonMari™ is a registered trademark of KonMari Media, Inc.
Microsoft Word® is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.
We are continuously improving i-Ready Classroom Mathematics, our blended core mathematics curriculum. Updates for the 2021–2022 school year include more options for assigning interactive practice, student-designed learning games, and much more.Learn What’s New for 2021–2022
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