As I read more and more about the power of the modern Internet (yes–it has been around long enough to warrant such a term), I understand that it is more and more about turning consumers into producer-consumers, and then connecting these new beasts together and unleashing them upon a task. Creative individuals are great, but creative networks are the ultimate.
As tech-savvy teachers (see how I know my audience?), we are all aware of the synergistic effects of collaboration. Digitally-networked teachers are constantly sharing successes (and failures), asking for help, and looking for new ideas. Enter the worksheet–did I hear an audible groan? “Worksheet” is simply not a term that
inspires. But for teaching skills where practice is important (i.e. almost all of them!), a worksheet is a necessary part of the learning process. You don’t get better at riding a bike by listening to a riveting lecturer tell you how to do it, or watching fantastic high budget videos–though these things help–you get better by practicing. Worksheets/practice problems/whatever-you-want-to-call-them are absolutely critical to learning, yet they are often given cursory treatment.
Which leads me to the idea: Mass-collaboration on worksheets. If I look at the worksheets I use most frequently, they are almost always the product of a single person–or maybe a small team, in the case of publisher-provided worksheets (which I find myself almost never using). This leads to the kinds of weaknesses associated with a “one-mind” approach: The internal understandings of the author are not shared by reader. In other words, subconscious assumptions are made by the person writing the worksheet, which later translate into confusion by the student.
A good worksheet is not easy to produce. Characteristics of an effective worksheet:
- Progressively complex practice opportunities
- A variety of problem types (AKA interleaving)
- Multiple attempts to accomplish the task — but not so many as to overwhelm or waste time
- Thorough treatment of all of the material expected to be learned
In an attempt to bring the power of collaboration to the not-so-romantic field of worksheets, I have set a simple goal for myself: Create, from scratch, a worksheet in which 3 or more people are active contributors. I already have 1 collaborator in mind (he’s a fellow chemistry teacher in my school), and I have put out the call out on Twitter (and soon, my beloved NSTA listerve) and hope to find someone else, outside of my school.
Real-time digital collaboration is a relatively new, beautiful phenomenon, and I hope to help apply it to a reliable, humble teaching tool: the worksheet.