I once caught an 11th-grader who snuck a cheat sheet into the final exam.
At first, he tried to shuffle it under some scratch paper. When I cornered him, he shifted tactics. “It’s my page of equations,” he told me. “Aren’t we allowed a formula sheet? The physics teacher lets us.” Nice try, but no dice. The principal and I rejected his alibi and hung a fat zero on his final exam. That dropped his precalculus grade down from a B+ to a D+. It lingered like a purple bruise on his college applications.
Looking back, I have to ask myself: Why didn’t I allow a formula sheet? Cheat sheets aim to substitute for memorization, and I hate it when my students memorize things.
"What’s the sine of π/2?" I asked my first-ever trigonometry class.
"One!" they replied in unison. "We learned that last year."
So I skipped ahead, later to realize that they didn’t really know what “sine” even meant. They’d simply memorized that fact. To them, math wasn’t a process of logical discovery and thoughtful exploration. It was a call-and-response game. Trigonometry was just a collection of non-rhyming lyrics to the lamest sing-along ever.
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YES. A million times YES.
I think this is why I am so bad at math. I cannot memorize long strings of numbers or “nonsense”. Formulas do not stick in my head. Coding does not stick. I am not able to memorize these things and no ones explains how or why something is how it is so I just fail.
The best math teacher I ever had let us have formula sheets. He said to the class on the first day “I love mathematics because I understand it. And I am not of the school of thought that memorization is equivalent to understanding.”
When I tutor, I literally write out equation sheets for my students for them to use on their homework. It’s so much easier than looking up the formula in the book every time.
I think I’ve reblogged or facebooked this before, but so true. Sooo many of my students have a “oh that makes so much more sense” reaction when I explain simple concepts (distance formula, volume of a cylinder, SOH CAH TOA).