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Math Fact Fluency vs. Memorizing Math Facts

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

Math Fact Fluency

Now you are probably saying to yourself, “But students need to memorize facts!” There is no dispute that students need to know basic math facts, however, a shift needs to occur. Having students practice isolated addition and subtraction facts, one after another with no apparent relationship, with the sole emphasis on recalling the answers is how math facts are traditionally taught. However, by focusing on relationships between facts, the students have far fewer facts to memorize and can easily, quickly and efficiently work out an answer without falling back on one by one counting.

In a 1985 study, two first grade classrooms in the same school were compared (Kamii 1985). In one room students were taught to memorize facts using drill worksheets and flashcards. In the other classroom, students worked toward automaticity with a focus on seeing the relationships among the addition and subtraction facts. The children in the classroom with a focus on automaticity outperformed the traditional classroom with a score of 76 percent to 55 percent correct on a basic addition fact assessment.

Jo Boaler, a math education professor at Stanford University and author of Mathematical Mindsets, states:

“I grew up in the progressive era of England, when primary schools focused on the ‘whole child’ and I was not presented with tables of addition, subtraction or multiplication facts to memorize in school. This has never held me back at any time or place in my life, (1 Updated January 28, 2015) even though I am a mathematics education professor. That is because I have number sense, something that is much more important for students to learn, and that includes learning of math facts along with deep understanding of numbers and the ways they relate to each other (Boaler 2015).”

Building number sense is far more important than having students memorize facts. Using Number Talks and other number sense routines is a great way to build students number sense and discourse in the math classrooms. Dedicate 5-10 minutes each day to building your students’ number sense and watch your students grow!

Katie Mallon

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