The Globe and Mail’s editorial this weekend praised the governments of Ontario and Alberta for making the memorization of the multiplication tables part of the school curriculum.
And well they should.
As I have mentioned many times in this old blog of mine, I am not a fan of “homework”; however, when I taught grades 4 and 5, I always sent the kids home with multiplication tables at the beginning of the year. I told them that if they could memorize their facts (up to 9×9) their lives would be sooooo much easier and happier that it would more than make up for the time they spent playing flash cards with mom or being quizzed by dad in the car. Once you know your multiplication facts, you know your division facts. Some kids need to spend extra time committing their addition and subtraction facts to memory (especially subtraction…this is often difficult for kids), but it’s worth it.
Students who don’t have their facts down by late elementary often struggle with all the other math concepts. You may know how to find the area of rectangle, but if you can’t multiply the two numbers that make up length by width quickly and accurately, you aren’t going to be able to solve the problem.
Once you have your basic facts locked away in the big file cabinet in your mind, you can move on to doing actual fun math things, like making graphs about who likes baseball vs. hockey (kids love that stuff) . If you are still using your fingers to subtract seven from 15, it is going to take you a long time to figure out any multi-step math problems.
Of course I think it’s important for kids to understand what it means to multiply and divide and add and subtract. And, as teachers, we teach that. We start teaching that in pre-school and kindergarten with pictures and songs and hands on materials. Parents teach it every time they give their child an allowence or let them count the change in mom’s change purse.
But for pete’s sake.
6×7 = 42. It did when I was a kid. It did when you were a kid. It does now and it will continue to do so in the future.
No one needs to discover that or figure that out. Thank you. That’s been done. No need to reinvent the wheel.
Now…what is 8×4? 6×3? 5+2?
Important exception to the rule: Everyone learns differently. With lots of practice and repetition, most kids will be able to memorize their facts. BUT some kids can’t memorize their facts due to problems with their working memory or a learning disability or the fact that they just learn differently. If you have tried and tried and tried to help your child memorize their facts but to no avail and now everyone is miserable and dissolves into tears every time the term ‘math’ is mentioned, invest in a nice slim calculator and teach your child how to work it quickly and accurately. Remediate until remediation has been proven ineffective and then compensate.