How to teach apprentices to minimize errors by organizing their work

When apprentices organize information on paper as they work through a complex math question, they improve accuracy and minimize calculation mistakes. An instructor should model how to organize work while completing a question and point out the benefits of this approach.

For example, ironworker apprentices have a rigging assignment with a plan drawing that lists the part numbers, quantities, and dimensions of each component of a complex steel structure. The apprentices have to calculate the weight of each component and then the total weight. The instructor models how to complete the calculation steps required, how to organize the work, and how the organization helps to locate all the subtotals to complete the task.

What to include

Instructors can teach that organizing work should include:

Breaking big tasks into smaller tasks

Chunking big tasks or applications into smaller tasks or steps teaches a process. Instructors should use the same steps when teaching the process on a whiteboard or worksheet. Apprentices should use the same steps each time to answer similar math questions. Organizing their work the same way each time helps them to learn the process.

Writing out the formula before plugging numbers into the calculator

This strategy helps apprentices remember to include each number needed in the formula. Writing out the formula helps them to memorize the formula. They also have a chance to check that the numbers they want to use are in the correct format. For example, ironworker apprentices have to convert inches and fractions of an inch to decimal feet before calculating volume.

Including units with calculations instead of just the numerical answer

Including the units builds awareness of the purpose of the formula or step. Apprentices can refer back to the question to see if they’ve answered it or not. It also develops common sense as it makes apprentices consider whether the answer is reasonable. For ironworker apprentices, 374 kg is a reasonable weight for an 8 650 mm beam.

Following a process allows apprentices to keep their work organized, minimizing calculation and other errors.


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