Successful teaching of math is often a matter of finding small ways to get students to see math in a way that makes sense to them. Constructing meaning is the goal for all students. Yet, how often are we stuck on making the child fit the method and not the strategy fit the child. There are so many simple strategies that work, require simple changes, few additional costs, and are often ignored, as people continue to try to make the square peg fit into the round hole. It amazes me why they do not put square peg into the square opening right next to it.
Today, we are going to discuss an extremely simple change, using lined paper in math. Schools and tutors for years have struggled with ways to keep place value alignment when doing math problems. The most common math mistakes occur when students move numbers into the wrong column, squish numbers together, and result in performing the wrong functions with the wrong numbers. People have used graph paper, students have been taught to use special designed papers found in their workbooks, and teachers have printed specialized papers to help students keep numbers properly aligned. While none of these strategies are bad, none of them create independent strategies for students. They do not always have graph paper, or the specialized sheets that they practice with in school. Teaching them a method that they can always use, gives them independence.
The simple strategy is basic lined writing paper. I stumbled on this strategy while tutoring, after getting tired of drawing lines to help students keep their numbers in the proper place value columns. Looking at a piece of plain lined paper I realized that turning the paper side ways, created the same effect with no effort on my part. The lines provided natural colored differentiation between the place value columns without needing to draw them. When setting the paper up, instead of having the lines established for writing, you should see lines set up for column math. This creates a quick, easy, and inexpensive math sheet for students that they can almost always recreate for themselves, at school or at home. This is a great strategy for home school parents who are looking for an inexpensive, independent strategy for children to learn as well.
Notebooks of lined paper make great math journals. Students can turn the paper sideways, label the columns to get practice on understanding place value, and have greater success in working through math problems. In addition, when mistakes are made, it is easier to trace the origin of the mistake when the problems are aligned correctly. Lastly, students can recreate this format anytime. It is rare that they can not find a piece of lined paper when they need to do a math problem and should they be without, they can remember just to draw the lines.
When we look we can find simple strategies that improve our tools, create independent learners, and do not add significantly to our financial challenges.