Is It Necessary For Children To Memorize Times Tables?

Is It Necessary For Children To Memorize Times Tables?

Memorizing times tables is considered to be a part and parcel of basic operational arithmetic. Almost all kids are encouraged to memorize times table up to 12 (in most cases) or 20 (ambitious but relevant nonetheless) at a very young age by their parents or teachers. Schools sometimes hold special classes to engage students in times table memorization. But here goes this question now. Is it really necessary? Is it really necessary for children to memorize times tables?

Stanford University’s Jo Boaler reckons otherwise. She reckons that using flash cards, memorizing tables etc. aren’t necessary at least at the very start of a child’s career.

She said, “Drilling without understanding is harmful. I’m not saying that math facts aren’t important. I’m saying that math facts are best learned when we understand them and use them in different situations.”

Boaler had published a paper online that reckons the practice of using flashcards, worksheets etc. to have an unhelpful and damaging effect on the student. Memorization of math times tables without comprehending the logic is a definite part of the problem. She provided a few arguments on her behalf which might sound pretty unorthodox but are undoubtedly relevant to a certain extent.

Jo Boaler’s arguments

Boaler explained that the key to succeed in mathematics is to have something called the “number sense.” It was mentioned in her paper. She also said that this number sense gets developed from engagement in “rich” mathematical problems. If a student is repeatedly encouraged to involve himself/herself in mechanical memorization, it can prevent the student from developing his/her abilities to think of numbers in a creative sense.

Boaler had presented her own studies in her paper “Fluency without fear (linked above).” She had found that students who face considerable difficulty in mathematics tend to involve themselves in mechanical memorization methods at the beginning of their career. They found considerable difficulty in interacting with numbers especially when the course toughens up with an increase in grade. According to Boaler, the lowest performing students are the ones who have developed this mindset that math is all about memorization. Now all we have to say here is that Jo is spot on in that aspect.

Boaler also takes a dig at the education system that frequently encourages students to memorize times table without comprehending the logic behind it. Such method seldom has a positive effect on the student. In fact, most students are put off by this method. Boaler also reckons that most of these students who are put off by this seemingly inefficient technique have the potentials of actually excelling in the subject.

Why isn’t memorization a solution?

The human brain is pretty forgetful in nature. This statement alone proves the fact that memorization isn’t a definite solution and especially when the subject in focus is mathematics, it doesn’t even become a part of the solution. A definite solution according to Boaler, is the development of “number sense.”

Say, for example, a student is provided with a problem that goes something like 7 X 8 and s/he has forgotten the answer. It’s possible; isn’t it? Human brain is forgetful in nature and you can’t blame the kid for forgetting that at the specific time for any reason whatsoever. What can s/he do here? There are several ways. S/he can do 7 X 7 (=49) and add 7 to it to get to the result. There are many other ways. Students just have to improvise. A student whose primary engagement is limited to the realms of memorization will find it very difficult to get to the correct result in case; s/he fails to recall the fact from memory.

It is therefore, more important for students to know the logic first. Logic first, fact later; that’s more like it. If a student does a multiplication table of 2 x 4 he must know how he gets the answer 8. Does it come from 2 +2+ 2+ 2 = 8? He, himself has to find that answer. The learning experience becomes much more gratifying.

So what do you reckon? Did Boaler’s arguments make sense? We think they did. But if you think otherwise, we’ll love to hear from you in the space provided below. So long for now.

Source- Image by Derek Bridges

Sudipto Das

Sudipto writes technical and educational content periodically for and backs it up with extensive research and relevant examples. He's an avid reader and a tech enthusiast at the same time with a little bit of “Arsenal Football Club” thrown in as well. He's got a B.Tech in Electronics and Instrumentation.
Follow him on twitter @SudiptoDas1993

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