Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Foundation of Success In Mathematics

It's a necessary, but not sufficient, tool for success in math.  What is "it"?  Memorizing the times tables:
During grades one, two and three, your 10 fingers and a scratch pad are pretty much all you need to get by in math class. Then comes multiplication, and things change: There is simply no way that a typical student can solve these problems quickly without memorizing the basic grade-school matrix we call the multiplication table. Aside from a number line, this square matrix is arguably the most important single pedagogic tool that an elementary student will ever master. And any style of teaching math that does not require its memorization is one that should be rejected out of hand.

Until one masters the multiplication table, basic math is slow and frustrating. Then you memorize that magic box and the skies open up. Suddenly, you have the tools to calculate area and volume, speed/time/distance problems, unit conversion, and currency — not to mention division, exponents, algebra and all the rest.

Knowing the multiplication table makes math fun — or at least less non-fun...

I realize that the multiplication table is old school. But old school is making a comeback — at least in some parts of this country. A while back, Alberta switched to a “discovery” model for teaching math, whereby children were permitted to use “creative” methods to pursue correct (or correct-ish) answers to math problems. In an open letter to Alberta Education Minister, University of Alberta education specialist Ken Porteous blasted the program as follows: “The discovery approach has no place in arithmetic at the junior elementary level. There is nothing to discover. [It] just leads to confusion which ultimately translates into frustration, a strong dislike for mathematics and a desire to drop out of any form of mathematics course at the earliest opportunity.”

Apparently, someone was listening. According to a report in today’s Globe & Mail, “The Alberta government has bent to pressure from parents for curriculum changes and will require students to memorize their multiplication tables starting this fall, dealing a setback to the creative-math movement.”
"Rote" is not a pejorative, and in this case especially, there's nothing wrong with rote memorization.  I dare say that students who do not have the multiplication table memorized (either up to 10x10 or, as Mrs. Barton required of us, 12x12) are at a distinct disadvantage vice those who do.


Auntie Ann said...

Took me a couple of days to track this post down. From Kitchen Table Math:



After introducing timed worksheets two years ago, my district has some of the best math scores in Westchester County, a development that required a mere 10 (or was it 12?) years of sustained local Math War, annual Parent Uprisings, the creation of Kitchen Table Math and the Irvington Parents Forum (followed by threat of legal action issued by the union), and the election of two anti-Trailblazers members (here, too) to the Board of Ed. (Three now, counting last spring's election.)

All this to get Mad Minutes.

Turns out Mad Minutes is enough to raise student achievement.

Darren said...

Doesn't surprise me at all. Mrs. Barton drilled us all the time. I remember timed quizzes in 4th grade as well. In fact, at Open House our 4th grade teacher had us challenge our parents to these timed drills! I think there are two reasons the parents always seemed to win:
1) they had been drilled, too, when they were kids, and knew the stuff cold, and
2) they were more dextrous, able to write more quickly than we were at age 9 or 10.

Ellen K said...

Mrs. Barbier, my third grade teacher, made the class write times table facts every morning as she took roll and took up lunch money. Every day was a different set. By the end of the year I had them internalized backwards and forwards. I can still figure out tips faster that a calculator on a cell phone.

maxutils said...

Rot3 9w one of the few cases where i wholly agree to apply it to times tables ... good knowledge of fractions is the other.