Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why Students Need to Memorize Multiplication Facts

I've heard many arguments why we shouldn't make students memorize multiplication facts. Reasons include: some students cannot memorize, multiplication fact testing leads to math anxiety, and learning facts is outdated.

Most students can and should learn their math facts. They are very important for moving on in math. For example, my students are learning area right now. To solve area problems students must multiply length times width. While in this case the problems are not hard to figure out with repeated addition and other strategies, the students who have memorized multiplication facts have an easier time learning new skills when they are not struggling with simple facts. When required math skills get more complicated like double digit x double digit multiplication, students who struggle with each fact are quickly frustrated and must work very hard to solve each problem without making calculation errors. 

It is true that some students have more difficulty memorizing facts or even memory disabilities that make memorization difficult or impossible. Some students have reading disabilities but we don't discourage the learning of sight words. Of course, we must make accommodations and differentiate for students with disabilities. However, we should not allow the disabilities of a few students to dictate what we require of other students. Most students are capable of memorizing multiplication facts.

Timed math fact quizzes do cause some students stress and anxiety. Some students thrive in competition and others give up. I remember studying my multiplication facts as a child. We had timed fact quizzes in my 3rd grade class. My mom made me do flash cards every night. It was hard and I didn't like it. I'm sure I cried and whined. But my mom made me do them anyway and I learned my facts. I was proud of myself as I mastered each level. It taught me to persevere through difficult tasks to become successful. When I was in school there were fewer ways to practice and test facts. Now students have access to computer games and quizzes that can be used for practicing and testing math facts. One of the things about timed quizzes that increases math anxiety is the charts that are on many classroom walls that list student's fact proficiency. Sometimes these are sticker charts or even cute creations of ice cream sundaes and the like. Students knowing their own data is important but there is no reason to post everyone's data for all to see. My students keep their own data in their binders. The only student they need to be competing against is themselves.There are other ways to make fact quizzes less stressful. Teachers can experiment with different ways of timing and various lengths of tests to reduce anxiety.

I love some of the new approaches to math. The increase in math talk in the classroom is a wonderful thing. It is great to hear students explaining different ways of solving problems to each other. Today's students understand that there is more than one way to arrive at the right answer. This approach increases students' understanding of math. I use many hands on activities, games, technology and interactive strategies in my teaching. I am truly not a teacher who is stuck in the past and is unwilling to change. I believe that fluency in math facts continues to be necessary in today's math classes.

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