Seriously, this is a debate that’s been raging for generations.
People who say looks matter are considered shallow…
People who say they don’t are told that they should take more pride…
There will be advocates for both sides of this question until you and I are dust in the ground…
But still, I must ask, time and time again…
Should how you present your Maths work really make a difference to your marks?
The fact is that as students work through increasingly challenging questions, it becomes more and more important for educators (be they teachers, tutors or fellow students) to be able to follow their work and understand their thought processes.
Without the ability to see steps, methods and ideas in written work, we as educators find it near-impossible to isolate problem areas and thus actually help students to improve.
Because, let’s face it, students always want to write the minimum amount possible. Which means that we are constantly challenged at every turn when students show us the answer without the steps.
“Seriously, how did you get that answer?!”
It’s exhausting. But at some point, it got taken to the next level. And thus, the horrid phrase that plagues students daily was uttered
But at some point, it got taken to the next level.
The tale of Matheticus*
Many thousands of year ago, the great teacher Matheticus was correcting his Ancient Math Student’s homework, and was once again fed up with his students showing him answers to questions without any inclination of how they arrived at their conclusion.
He ranted, raved, and swore in ancient Mathelese, and dreaded the thought of another night of meticulous trial and error to attempt to discover HOW his student had arrived at a thoroughly incorrect answer. Suddenly, in the middle of a particularly vicious rant about the exponential decay of brain cells, a thought struck his brilliant mind…
The next day, Matheticus arrived into his classroom, and assigned the usual load of questions to his students. But just as they were about to put quill to paper, he uttered a phrase that would shape generations of Math students for centuries to come.
The phrase to this day plagues students across the nations, and is cursed approximately 14 times per minute. The phrase consists of five simple words that are burned into the mind of every Maths students as far as the eye can see…
“You must show your work.”
Was Matheticus right?
In a way, yes. Teachers need the ability to be able to map out their students’ thinking. A teacher’s job is more than just teaching the right stuff. It about recognising how students have the wrong stuff, and showing them how to get back on track.
In Maths, this is arguably the most important part of the job. By being able to see what students have done and how they have moved from step to step, teachers can help their students to grow and develop.
But some teachers can tend to take it a little far…
Where’s the line?
Many teachers have a tendency to take this mantra just a little far. There is a difference between showing your method and conforming your style.
Showing your method allows teachers to understand thought patterns, and also allows students who are revising to be able to clearly see what they have done later on. If they are using these questions for test or exam revision, being able to understand the process as well as the answer is crucial.
Conforming your style is simply laying out your work in a precise manner that is aesthetically pleasing to whoever happens to be receiving and assessing your work. It’s ruling the right margins, using the right colours, lining everything up neatly, and perfectly using the same notation as everyone else.
So what really matters?
The fact is, your working and method matter. And your presentation matters too (albeit to a lesser extent).
If you or anyone else looks at your work, they should be able to read and understand it. They should be able to follow your process and see how you arrived at your answer. Which means it needs to be neat enough to understand and clearly see everything.
If a teacher asks you for that, it completely reasonable. Trust me, they’ve got your best interests at heart.
But if they’re going beyond that, they’re probably just being fussy.
*DISCLAIMER: Look, the fact is that Matheticus probably didn’t exist and that stuff probably didn’t happen. But I can dream, right?
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