Digital Activities in Math Should Still Require Showing Work

One challenge math teachers face using digital activities in the classroom is that students put down their pens/pencils and don’t pick them up at all while working on the assignment. How many times have you given a digital test and students do not work problems on paper? Do you notice they sit and stare at the screen and try to answer questions without the aid of working the problem out by hand? I think this is a big mistake on our part as teachers. We need to train students to show work even if they are filling out answers online.

Most math teachers require a journal or a notebook for notetaking. I believe that this is the perfect place to show work. Require students to date and title a page in their journal and work problems in an organized manner in the journal. The page can be a part of the overall grade of the assignment. Showing work will allow students to show steps, explain reasoning and they will have the ability to go back and find mistakes. A teacher only needs a quick glance to confirm the students did what they were supposed to do. Here are three things to consider:

  • If a student has hardly any work done, that is a sign that the student may not know what to do.
  • If students miss all the problems and don’t show work, they are clueless.
  • If students get all the problems correct and don’t show work, they may be cheating.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of work shown and how much a student understands.

For example, I use Boom Cards in my class. My students know, when working on the cards, they have a page in their journal dedicated to showing work on the assignment. I allow students to work the boom cards as many times as they want to get the grade they want. When they show work, they are able to look back at the work and see if they can find a mistake. I haven’t tried this next part but, what if I took this a step further? Have the students highlight incorrect problem(s) and, if they find their mistake(s), they write a quick statement analyzing the mistake. How much better will the math “stick” if they analyze their own mistakes? If you’ve never used Boom Cards, click on the picture below:

The one time I would not use the journal to show work is for tests. I like to provide a colored sheet of paper for showing work on a digital test. The paper must be turned in when the test is completed. Even better is to have a piece of paper that has space for each problem. If you don’t have time to print one, then have students fold the paper in half, then in half again and then again if you need that many places for answers. When students open up the paper, it is separated into 8 boxes on the front and back if the paper has been folded three times.

I recommend taking up the paper after the test rather than have them take a picture and upload it. Here is why: students take a picture of their work to upload it. Now, they have that picture to send to whomever, like a friend in a later class.

A digital place to show work could be on a Google Jamboard. I used Jamboards alot during Covid. Students can easily open a Jamboard if they have a Gmail and use a separate slide for each problem. The Jamboard only comes with 20 slides, so think about this before having them use it. The Jamboard can also be shared with whomever so, be sure they put their name on it.

Example of a Jamboard

As math teachers, we tend to make a big deal about getting the right answer, but just as important as a correct answer is HOW to get the answer. If we constantly use digital activities in our classes and we are never looking at student work, then we have no clue if students really understand what they are doing. Looking at the work does not have to be time-consuming. You can quickly know if the work is legitimate or gibberish. You can catch cheaters by requiring work as well.

If we get away from having students show work, we are doing them a disservice. Our job as math teachers is to create problem solvers. It is hard to solve problems without going through steps or explaining how the solution is derived. Let’s change the way students think about digital activities and train them to show their work.


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Math teacher dedicated to sharing teacher tips, ideas and resources.

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